After the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which marked the official beginning of the American national identity, the new nation needed a history, and part of that history would be expressed visually. Most of early American art (from the late 18th century through the early 19th century) consists of history painting and especially portraits. As in Colonial America, many of the painters who specialized in portraits were essentially self-taught; notable among them are Joseph Badger, John Brewster, Jr., and William Jennys. The young nation's artists generally emulated the style of British art, which they knew through prints and the paintings of English-trained immigrants such as John Smibert (1688–1751) and John Wollaston (active 1742–75). Robert Feke (1707–52), an untrained painter of the colonial period, achieved a sophisticated style based on Smibert's example. Charles Willson Peale, who gained much of his earliest art training by studying Smibert's copies of European paintings, painted portraits of many of the important figures of the American Revolution. Peale's younger brother James Peale and four of Peale's sons—Raphaelle Peale, Rembrandt Peale, Rubens Peale and Titian Peale—were also artists. Painters such as Gilbert Stuart made portraits of the newly elected government officials, which became iconic after being reproduced on various U.S. Postage stamps of the 19th century and early 20th century, while John Singleton Copley painted emblematic portraits for the increasingly prosperous merchant class, including a portrait of Paul Revere (ca. 1768–70). The original version of his most famous painting, Watson and the Shark (1778), is in the collection of The National Gallery of Art while there is another version in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and a third version in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Benjamin West painted portraits as well as history paintings of the French and Indian War. West also worked in London where many American artists studied under him, including Washington Allston, Ralph Earl, James Earl, Samuel Morse, Charles Willson Peale, Rembrandt Peale, Gilbert Stuart, John Trumbull, Mather Brown, Edward Savage and Thomas Sully. John Trumbull painted large battle scenes of the Revolutionary War. When landscape was painted it was most often done to show how much property a subject owned, or as a picturesque background for a portrait.
Read more about this topic: Arts In The United States
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