As America's economic might surged in the last half of the 19th century, culminating in the Gilded Age, a growing class of wealthy industrialists wanted fine art to furnish their grand homes. Elegant portraits, verdant landscapes, and lush still-lifes were popular, and such artists as John Singer Sargent, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Thomas Eakins obliged.
But Americans also suffered hardship during those years, weathering at least four financial panics—in 1857, 1869, 1873 and 1893. Some artists weighed in with works commenting on the recessions and the financial inequities they produced. "Taxing Visions: Financial Episodes in Late Nineteenth-Century American Art," which is on view through Dec. 19 at the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State University and then travels to the Huntington Library near Pasadena, Calif, showcases that strain of American art.
Fortunately, the exhibition itself is not depressing, for as the catalog notes, artists knew that their paintings could not be too "squalid," or they would not sell. Some, then, put a hopeful gloss on their works, while others injected humor and still others settled for straight reportage.Share