Artists, movements & Ideas

The following essays address specific artists, movements, and ideas that influenced American poets, American writers, and the composition of American art song.

Anne Gilchrist

Englishwoman Anne Gilchrist was a close friend of Walt Whitman’s, and an early champion of his poetry.

Artists of the American West: Albert Bierstadt & Frederic Remington

The best-known of the artists who tried to capture the drama of the American West and its inhabitants were the painter Albert Bierstadt and the illustrator/writer/painter/sculptor Frederic Remington.

Concord, Massachusetts

Crucible of American political and intellectual history, the town of Concord, Massachusetts was not only the cradle of American independence, but also the spiritual and actual home of the American Transcendentalists.

Daniel Chester French

Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) was one of the country’s leading monumental sculptors. His major works include the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and The Minute Man in Concord, Massachusetts.

Daniel Decatur Emmett and the American Minstrel

Banjoist, fiddler, singer, comedian, and author of plays and songs for minstrel shows, Daniel Decatur Emmett (1815-1904) is best known as the composer of the walk-around “Dixie,” originally presented by Bryant's Minstrels in 1859, and of a tune later arranged by Aaron Copland, “De Boatman Dance.” Emmett is but one of many in a succession of entertainers and composers who used the minstrel stage as a popular platform.

Edward S. Curtis

In an effort to chronicle a world that was rapidly vanishing, American artists and ethnologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries launched a variety of projects designed to reclaim--at least for history--the Native American culture so thoughtlessly destroyed during 200 years of white settlement and westward expansion. One of the most ambitious of these was the twenty-volume photo documentary compiled by Edward S. Curtis from 1896 until 1930 and published as The North American Indian.

General William Booth

General William Booth was the founder of the Salvation Army, the worldwide religious and humanitarian organization. He and his missionary family were key players in the Revivalist Reform Movement of the 19th century. Believing that religion should alleviate the sufferings of the poor and convert sinners into ministers of salvation, Booth organized his new church based on fiery sermons, military-styled ministry, and a grass-roots campaign throughout the slums of the world.

Harlem Renaissance

In the 1920's and 30's, the upper-Manhattan district of New York City called Harlem was the flourishing capital of African-American culture. Writers, musicians, artists, photographers, philosophers, and intellectuals created works that probed the black American heritage with a psychological intensity and a fierce pride.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

"So this is the little lady who caused the great war."

These are the words legend attributes to Abraham Lincoln when he was introduced to Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862, shortly before he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves for whom Mrs. Stowe had been such a passionate advocate. Indeed, her best-selling novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin had given an incendiary voice to the Abolition Movement.

Henry David Thoreau

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

From Walden, by Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

Henry Ossawa Tanner

One of the first African-American artists to achieve a reputation in both America and Europe, Henry Ossawa Tanner worked in the Naturalist and genre traditions of American art. Though his work grew increasingly mainstream and allegorical, his early depictions of humble black folk going about their daily lives are regarded as classic statements of African-American pride and dignity.

Hudson River School

The Hudson River painters, the first coherent school of American art, helped to shape the mythos of the American landscape. Beginning with the works of Thomas Cole (1801-1848) and Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), and evolving into the Luminist and late Romantic schools, landscape painting was the prevalent genre of 19th-century American art.

Margaret Fuller

Margaret Fuller, America's first true feminist, holds a distinctive place in the cultural life of the American Renaissance. Transcendentalist, literary critic, editor, journalist, teacher, and political activist ultimately turned revolutionary, she numbered among her close friends the intellectual prime movers of the day: Emerson, Thoreau, the Peabody sisters, the Alcotts, Horace Greeley, Carlyle, and Mazzini--all of whom regarded her with admiration and sometimes even awe.

Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens

Mark Twain was the nom de plume of Samuel Longhorne Clemens (1835-1910), one of 19th-century America’s literary giants. The writer carefully constructed a life story that transformed real life events into folklore and fiction, drawing on his childhood experiences along the Mississippi River to create The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Mathew Brady

Mathew Brady (1822-1896) was America's most sought-after portrait photographer, who numbered eighteen Presidents among his sitters. But his historical legacy rests not only on the "Gallery of Illustrious Americans" he recorded; it is also based on his work as a pioneer of photo journalism in America. His classic black and white images of the Civil War remain one of the most powerful studies ever of the horrors of armed conflict.

Norman Rockwell

Throughout much of the 20th century, Norman Rockwell’s illustrations--gentle, humorous, and profound--embodied the ideals of American life.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Sage of Concord and the central intellectual figure of the American Renaissance, Ralph Waldo Emerson--as preacher, philosopher, and poet--embodied the finest spirit and highest ideals of his age. Emerson was a thinker of bold originality, and his essays and lectures offer models of clarity, style, and thought; this made him a formidable presence in 19th-century American life.


As an intellectual and aesthetic phenomenon, Romanticism dominated cultural thought from the last decade of the 18th century well into the first decades of the 20th century. Works by Romantic writers and artists often portray a journey exploring both Nature and its mirror, the Soul.

The Alcotts

The Alcotts were a remarkable family, embracing reform movements and leaving a lasting legacy in the worlds of philosophy, education, and literature.

The American Renaissance and Transcendentalism

Transcendentalism was a visionary way of thinking that was widespread in 19th-century American art and thinking. Among those associated with the movement were Emerson, Thoreau, and the Alcotts. Composers who were influenced by Transcendentalist thinking include Edward MacDowell, Charles Ives, and Charles Griffes.

The Great Awakening and Revivalism in America

The Great Awakening was the name given to the evangelical religious movement that swept the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Shakers

One of the numerous Protestant sects that immigrated to American shores in search of religious freedom, the Shakers followed Mother Ann Lee from England to the United States in 1774. Here they established several colonies--the first in 1776 at Niskayuna near Albany, New York--with governing principles that included celibacy and agrarian communal living.

Thomas Carlyle

Scottish philosopher, writer, historian, and critic Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) dominated European and American thought in the 1830's and 1840's. A passionate Germanophile, his translations of Schiller, Goethe, and other German Romantics were profoundly influential on both sides of the Atlantic and formed a linked between German, English, and ultimately American Romantic thought. To these he added his own masterpieces, The History of the French Revolution (1837), On Heroes and Hero Worship (1840), Past and Present (1843), and his spiritual autobiography, Sartor Resartus (1833).

Thomas Moore

Irish poet and composer Thomas Moore used his gifts to champion the cause of Irish freedom, and his many volumes of Irish Melodies were influential across Europe and America.

W.E.B. Du Bois

Author, journalist, social reformer, activist, poet, philosopher, and educator, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) wielded one of the most influential pens in African-American history. For 66 years he functioned not only as a mentor, model, and spokesman for generations of black Americans, but also as the conscience of all Americans who yearned for racial equality and social justice.

Walker Evans

Walker Evans (1903-1975) was already established as a photographer when he documented American life for the Farm Service Administration during the Great Depression.

William Sidney Mount

Though not the first American genre painter, William Sidney Mount (1807-1868) was the foremost 19th-century artist to work in that style, documenting the daily life of the common man. His paintings lies at the core of a tradition that continued into the 20th century. His naturalistic portraits and narrative scenes, with their psychological perception and democratic treatment of human beings, form fascinating artistic parallels to the musical compositions of Stephen Foster and the poetry of Walt Whitman.