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The Hudson Valley School, the first generation of American painters, specialized in landscape, and flourished from around 1850 to 1876. Thomas Cole, whose landscapes captured the distinctly rugged American terrain, led the Hudson Valley painters.
Cole did the grand tour in 1829 and was exposed to the monuments of Western art. Hudson Valley painters included Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt. The landscapes captured American ideals of transcendentalism, or the divine in nature; and Manifest Destiny, a widely held belief that the young country’s God-given duty was to take full control of the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
In the early 20th century, the Ash Can School artists painted daily life in the city and country. Their painting style is related to the Political Realist style from Paris that started in the 1940s. The artists were fascinated by the modern lifestyle available from the Industrial Revolution.
The Ashcan painters influenced Edward Hopper. He continued the realist style, yet his paintings capture a stillness and melancholy – an emotional distance between the characters, as they deal with modern life. His paintings are reminiscent of French Impressionist paintings, showing, for example, the mark of industrialization on the countryside.
After WWII, America became the tastemaker for the international art world. Before then, Europe regarded America as a backwater for art production. American art from the 1950s onward is usually called Modern or, at the later end, Contemporary Art, rather than American
Oil paintings by Edward Hopper sell at contemporary art prices. His "Bridle Path," 1939, sold at Sotheby’s New York for $10.4 million on May 17, 2012
Renowned 19th-century painter Winslow Homer painted poignant images of an American life from a previous generation. He sought to deal with the deep national wound left by the American Civil War