In mid-19th century America, artists were faced with a dilemma. Living and working in a relatively new nation, they did not know exactly how to define American art. While Europe would seem like a useful place to find examples, it had a deeper well of culture from which to draw; in the United States there was a paucity of viable artistic subjects. The country did not have a breadth of historical accounts or myths, monied patrons were few, and cultural infrastructures like art schools and museums were not available to build and foster art-minded communities. Yet these artists did find one national characteristic that seemed unique to their country, one that could easily be viewed, rendered, disseminated to the public, and lay the foundation for the first national school of art.
Butt CA. Sunset on the SeaJohn Frederick Kensett. JAMA. 2016;316(12):1244-1245. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.14499