The American School


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Artists and Status in the Late Colonial and Early National Era

Susan Rather

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An in-depth look at the changing status of American artists in the 18th and early 19th century

This fascinating book is the first comprehensive art-historical study of what it meant to be an American artist in the 18th- and early 19th-century transatlantic world. Susan Rather examines the status of artists from different geographical, professional, and material perspectives, and delves into topics such as portrait painting in Boston and London; the trade of art in Philadelphia and New York; the negotiability and usefulness of colonial American identity in Italy and London; and the shifting representation of artists in and from the former British colonies after the Revolutionary War, when London remained the most important cultural touchstone. The book interweaves nuanced analysis of well-known artists—John Singleton Copley, Benjamin West, and Gilbert Stuart, among others—with accounts of non-elite painters and ephemeral texts and images such as painted signs and advertisements. Throughout, Rather questions the validity of the term “American,” which she sees as provisional—the product of an evolving, multifaceted cultural construction. 

Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

Susan Rather is a professor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas, Austin.

“A narrative that is both revealing and surprising . . . a savvy account . . . What Rather provides in The American School is a portrait of the artist as a young concept, an idea long in the making and slow in the realization.”—Bryan J. Wolf, Critical Inquiry

“This is as handsome and well-produced a volume as we can expect from Yale, and a vital addition to the canon of American art history.”—Loyd Grossman, Burlington

"The American School will join other prominent studies of early American art published in 2016 . . . as required reading for anyone seeking to excavate the complexities of acting as a British colonial artist in a place that was not Britain—or negotiating one’s Americanness for a place that was not yet America."—Wendy Bellion,


"Omitting only a discussion of the American South, Rather provides an in-depth study of the struggle for status among American artists, whether born in the Colonial years or after the Revolution."—K.P. Buick, Choice Reviews

"Susan Rather’s The American School stands out for its high production values—perfectly calibrated color illustrations and marvelously detailed color bleeds embellish almost every page."—Margaretta M. Lovell, Journal of American History

The American School is an important and timely intervention into the history of eighteenth-century American art. . . . [T]his extensive study of a significant, although previously underestimated, artist included within the book opens new avenues of inquiry.”—Marie-Stéphanie Delamaire, Panorama

Winner of the 2017 New England Society Book Award for Art in the Art & Photography category.

Shortlisted for the 2017 William M. B. Berger Prize for British Art History

Susan Rather has been awarded the Charles C. Eldredge Prize for distinguished scholarship in American art for her book “The American School: Artists and Status in the Late Colonial and Early National Era,” (published by Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2016) .
ISBN: 9780300214611
Publication Date: March 22, 2016
Publishing Partner: Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
316 pages, 8 1/2 x 11
100 color + 80 b/w illus.
For America

Paintings from the National Academy of Design

Edited by Jeremiah William McCarthy and Diana Thompson

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