Aestheticism and the American Businessman
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Melody Barnett Deusner
Assistant Professor of Art History
Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
In turn-of-the-century America, paintings associated with the Aesthetic Movement were promoted through the collecting practices of a network of businessmen/art patrons who knew each other, exhibited and traveled together, and donated foundational collections to national museums. Although it may seem strange that soft, ethereal canvases painted by James McNeill Whistler, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, and Dwight Tryon appealed to Gilded Age industrialists, merchants, and bankers, contemporary publications frequently used the same language to describe successful Aesthetic artists and effective businessmen: both valued a selective and logical mind, a quick eye, and a decisive character. Installed in harmonious, fully coordinated interiors, Aesthetic paintings became much more than mere status symbols, serving as tangible tokens of friendships and business partnerships, while simultaneously evoking a networked world controlled by and shaped around the patrons themselves.