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American Art and Architecture: 17th Century to 20th Century

Updated on September 16, 2019
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Ancient art and architecture isn't only for historians, but for people like us who’ve always been interested in anything olden and periodic.

In 17th century America, fine art and architecture styles were not things of interest to the early colonial settlers. Just trying to settle down to life in the United States, they encountered a great number of challenges and difficulties while setting up their new communities. There was so much happening that having an interest in the visual arts was nowhere near being important.

Early American art and structures had humble features. In the early 1600s, buildings were modest and were built with locally sourced wood while little thought was given to aesthetics or design. Furniture was handcrafted and crude, and were often uncomplimentary copies of Jacobean, Carolean and William & Mary art period designs.

Early American Home Interior - Humble interiors without aesthetics and with only basic needs.
Early American Home Interior - Humble interiors without aesthetics and with only basic needs. | Source

Early American Art – 17th Century

In the mid-17th century, a group of artists and artisans emerged in the metropolitan areas of Boston and New York. Their works were based on portrait art and figurative compositions that showed a mix of different styles borrowed from Europe. Their art styles became the foundation for the development of American art.

By the turn of the century, there was an obvious refinement in art and architecture, including interior and furniture design. Artisans began to pay more attention to detail, and the copies of Chippendale, Sheraton and Hepplewhite forms became a bit more accurate and pleasing and by the 1720s, there was a gradual introduction of Georgian architectural designs with a bit more attention paid to details of forms and structures.

The few works of art were mostly confined to still-life paintings of landscapes and portraiture, so, the only opportunities opened to the few artists was painting for the wealthy and prominent Colonial class.

18th Century American Colonial Art and Architecture

Art and architecture of colonial settlers are described as American Colonial Art and some of the prominent painters that eventually emerged include:

  • Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) - One of the best portrait artists of the 18th century.
  • Benjamin West (1738-1820) - The first American artist to achieve international fame.
  • Ralph Earl (1751-1801) – An 18th-century portraitist.
  • John Trumbull (1756-1843) - A portrait/history painter

Some of the famous architects of the early American art period include:

  • Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) - One of the best Early American architects of the late 18th century and the third President of the United States.
  • Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844) - One of the best-known American architects of the late 18th to early 19th century and a leading advocate of the Federal Style of Neoclassical architecture.
  • William Thornton (1759-1828) – He was significant for his experimentation with classicism and attained early fame for his neoclassical design of the United States Capitol Building in Washington DC.

American Art and Architecture - 19th Century

Between the 1840s to 1880s (referred to as the American Victorian era), industrial movements suppressed the interest in the decorative arts with eclecticism dominating architectural styles, furniture designs and decorative objects. There was Gothic and Romanesque influence in architectural features and Belter, Eastlake and Louis XV’s influence in furniture and interiors.

This period of American art is a good example of how the cultural awareness of a people is reflected in their appreciation of art. According to art historical sources, the people of the American Victorian period were interested in almost everything, except the fine and decorative arts.

20th Century America and the Arts

The late 19th century to the early 20th century (1870 – 1925) art styles was an extension of Victorian Period art. Equally, there was the architectural influence of the French National School of Fine Arts, Paris's most prestigious fine arts school, and the influence of Colonial, Italian, French, Spanish and English designs on residential and furniture styles.

The end of this era in American history witnessed the beginnings of the struggle against and resistance to the revival of art styles. The period, on the other hand, ushered in a recognition of functionalism as a dictate of artistic style.

From the mid-1920s, modern art, designs, and forms of building structures, including interior design/décor, furniture, and the industrial arts, are fashioned to fulfil our modern-day requirements and lifestyle. And as the years progress into the 21st century, there lie vast potentials for new creative art and architectural materials, dominating the decorative arts scene while determining today’s style directions.

© 2011 artsofthetimes


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    • artsofthetimes profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thank you so much Vicki for your nice comments.

      Im so glad you found it informative.


    • vicki goodwin profile image

      Sojourner McConnell 

      9 years ago from Winchester Kentucky

      Very interesting hub. I did not know this information and you presented it in such an enjoyable manner. Thank you!


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