Forging a Modern Identity: Masters of American Painting Born After 1847 – A Review

identityThere are many books written about modern American painting. Many serve as a general overview of the period and some go into great detail and discussion over a specific artist or movement. What sets James W. Tottis’ catalog apart from other art books such as these is that along with strong, well-researched essays, he has also included high resolution details of larger works that coincide with specifics discussed in the text.

Such an inclusion helps to further engage the reader about the material that is being debated and discussed. It offers readers a different view, a more in-depth vision of the works themselves as well as the period of art history with which they were created in. They truly bring a part of art history to life.

America Forges Its Own Identity

Moreover, looking at the period in general, James W. Tottis has chosen a significantly interesting time to further explore and present. Tottis includes works from the later 19th century and first half of the 20th, a time where America was changing drastically. In art alone, there was a large movement from away traditional landscape and historical narrative paintings. At this time, America itself was forging ahead, creating a new identity and moving towards a modern nation. Artist of the time were creatures of their environment and what was being created was largely based on the study of human form, society figures and everyday scenes.

Laying the Ground Work for the Abstract

From this breaking away from the traditional artists such as Mary Cassatt and Marsden Hartley were laying the ground work for what would inevitably follow in movements to come – abstraction of the human form and a general moving away from it all together.

Tottis does a great service to his readers by including many of the more well-known artists of this transitional period within the American art historical timeline. The text that he includes along with such examples bring to life this period and help readers to begin to make connections to varying art forms and artists who would follow this period.

Overall, James W. Tottis has done an excellent job in editing Forging a Modern Identity – Masters of American Painting Born After 1847. Both seasoned art historians as well as budding art history students would greatly benefit from Tottis’ work.

Forging a Modern Identity – Masters of American Painting Born After 1847 edited by James W. Tottis is available for purchase through D. Giles Ltd. with ISBN 1904832067

Anton Gill’s Art Lover – A Review

peggyPeggy Guggenheim is known for many things – the death of her father on the RMS Titanic, her sexual escapades and most importantly, her hand in the founding of Modern Art.

Anton Gill paints a colorful portrait of the late Peggy Guggenheim in his biography entitled, Art Lover. It begins where Peggy began, being the young daughter of a Jewish family in New York’s elite inner circle at the turn of the last century. From there, the book unfolds into Peggy’s illustrious life abroad.

Donna Seaman explains it best in Booklist, “Gill patiently records every battle in her two violently contentious marriages, her compulsive promiscuity, miserable failure at motherhood, and peripatetic lifestyle, then, with a sigh of relief, concentrates on her vision and generosity in supporting avant-garde writers and artists and her influential role as gallery owner and pioneering modern art collector. In spite of much chaos and unhappiness, Guggenheim–flamboyant and audacious, a magnet for gossip and a champion of artistic freedom–did move culture forward in the face of fascism, virulent anti-Semitism, and pervasive sexism.”

Guggenheim was Neither

Guggenheim was not one of her richer relatives, nor was she known to be a great beauty, however Gill focuses on not only how this would later form her life, but also how it would change it. Peggy preferred Europe to America and often used her sexuality to claim the things that she wanted- whether they be an artist or a painting.

Private Life

Gill outlines Peggy’s early life in a series of re-tellings about Peggy’s early marriage to the Dad sculptor, Laurance Veil. Together they would have two children and a very tumultuous relationship that would inevitably end in divorce. Gill depicts her life in New York with Veil, their move to Europe which seemed to only strengthen the intensity of Peggy and Laurance’s arguments, culminating in the destruction of furniture and prized possessions more often than not. Laurance’s affair with Kate Boyle would ultimately destroy the marriage and Peggy would go on to marry Max Ernst for a brief time.

Her Gift to Modern Art

According to Gill, Peggy lived out the remainder of her life in Venice where her collections still remains. In recent years, her home has opened as a museum, inviting guests from all over the world to see what was once only privy to Guggenheim and a select few of her artistic circle.


Following her death, Peggy Guggenheim was laid to rest in Italy. Her marker lays next to a plaque remembering all of the dogs that she had owned during her life.

Art Lover: A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim by Anton Gill can be purchased online through ISBN 006095681X from Harper Perennial.