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American Art, 1900–1950: Henri, Stieglitz and Their Circles

David Gariff, senior lecturer, National Gallery of Art. As a teacher at the New York School of Art in the early 20th century, Robert Henri urged his to reject genteel subjects in favor of gritty depictions of urban life. George Bellows, Edward Hopper, and John Sloan typify the range of personalities and artistic styles in Henri’s first crop of students. Alfred Stieglitz, Henri’s contemporary, is best known as an early promoter and practitioner of photography as a fine art. He was also a champion of modern painting and sculpture. From 1908 to 1917 his gallery, 291 (named for its address on Fifth Avenue), introduced New York audiences to new European art movements and new American artists. Stieglitz’s promotion of photography had two opposing effects on painting. Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and others felt liberated by photography’s realism, which allowed them to invent bold styles of painterly abstraction. “Precisionists” such as Charles Sheeler, by contrast, began to emulate the sharp detail of photography and to take photographs themselves. As part of the series Celebrating the East Building: 20th-Century Art, senior lecturer David Gariff explores the contributions made to modern American art by Henri, Stieglitz, their students and followers. This lecture was presented on July 17, 2018, at the National Gallery of Art.