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FA 521 Nineteenth Century American Painting (Spring 2013) Writing and Speaking Enhanced

FA 0521 Nineteenth Century American Painting

(Writing and Speaking Enhanced)

University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

248 Biddle Hall

T-Th 3:30-4:50 p.m.

Spring 2013


Dr. Valerie S. Grash, Associate Professor of Fine Art

Office: 230B Biddle Hall

Phone: 269-7164       



Office Hours: Tuesdays & Thursdays, 12:30-2:00 p.m., and by appointment.



During the nineteenth century, America underwent considerable political, religious, social and economic change, as it moved from being an agrarian backwater culture to an urban industrial society. This transformation is visually documented in the themes and subject matter addressed by American painters of the era. In this course, we will closely examine those issues, as we focus on the most important painters and artistic movements of nineteenth century America, through readings, classroom discussion and visual/contextual analysis. Questions we will consider include:

  1. How did nineteenth century Americans define themselves through art?
  2. What role did art once play in American society?
  3. How were political or social tensions (whether race, gender, class or ethnicity) dealt with in art?
  4. Who were the major artists and how did they create their works?


We will approach this task by focusing on historical events; examining pertinent literary and religious sources; and thoroughly examining the individual works of significant artists. At the conclusion of the course, you should:

  1. Possess a strong understanding of themes present in nineteenth century American painting.
  2. Recognize the characteristics of specific styles and genres of painting.
  3. Comprehend the uniqueness of individual artists and their major works.
  4. Have detailed knowledge of a specific painting and artist, acquired through formal visual analysis and research.


Required textbook

David Bjelajac, American Art: A Cultural History, 2nd edition (ISBN 978-0131455801) Pearson, 2004.


Course Web Site:

Additional textual and visual materials for this course (including monuments and terms covered in lecture); additional required readings; your grades; and pertinent announcements concerning class meetings and examinations are found at:


Cell Phones:

Be certain your cell phone is put away and turned OFF, as it is both annoying and disruptive to the entire class when it rings. Anyone sending or receiving text messages will be asked to leave-this course deserves your full attention. If you can't do that, drop the class immediately.

Course Policies


Faculty Statement:

My role is to facilitate learning through lecture and clarification of specific points through questioning and discussion, whether in the classroom, during office hours or via electronic correspondence. It is your responsibility to attend class, take accurate notes and approach me with any questions and issues for clarification in a timely manner.



While there is no attendance policy for this course, be forewarned that what you will be tested on is discussed thoroughly in class. Even with the textbook, nothing replaces viewing the images projected on screen. Therefore, regular attendance is necessary to succeed in this course. In addition, as classroom discussion and participation is expected, poor attendance will adversely affect you if it comes down to a borderline decision on your final grade.


Notes and Note Taking:

Under no circumstances do I provide notes for missed classes. It is your responsibility, if you miss a class, to acquire the lecture notes from a classmate. Class assignments and announcements are available on the course website. You may tape-record lectures as long as you do not disturb others in the class.


Makeup Exams:

I give make-up exams only in cases with legitimate, documented reasons (death in the family, personal hospitalization, required fieldtrips, etc.). In such cases, inform me in advance and provide written confirmation of your absence. Do not assume every absence is excused or warrants special consideration. The alternative make-up exam (all essay questions) must be taken within one week of the scheduled test; only one makeup exam per student will be permitted. No one can make-up the final exam, which must be taken at the scheduled time.


Late Assignments:

No extensions are granted for class assignments. Due dates are clearly noted on the syllabus at the beginning of the semester. You should start each assignment in a timely manner and even complete assignments early. Illness or any other excuse has no bearing on the fact that your work was not turned in on time. Any assignment not turned in by the due date will not be graded, thus earning 0 points for the work. No exceptions are permitted so do not ask!


Academic Integrity:

Please read carefully the Academic Integrity Guidelines in your student handbook. They will be followed to the letter in this course. There is ZERO tolerance for cheating or plagiarism. Any time that you use another person's words or thoughts as your own without giving them proper credit is plagiarism, including copying and pasting from the Internet. Any instance of cheating or plagiarism will result in an automatic "F" (0 points) for that assignment, and steps will be taken, according to the University's Academic Integrity Guidelines, to receive an "F" for the course and for action leading to expulsion from the university. I will not permit re-writing any suspected plagiarized assignment.



If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and the Office of Health & Wellness Services (OHWS), G-10 Student Union Building, (814) 269-7119 to schedule an appointment as early as possible in the term.  OHWS will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.

Grading and Course Requirements


Overall, you can earn 500 points during the semester. On this scale:


500-490 (A+)    489-465 (A)                464-450 (A-)

449-440 (B+)    439-415 (B)                 414-400 (B-)

399-390 (C+)    389-365 (C)                364-350 (C-)

349-300 (D)       299 and below (F)

Your grade will be determined in the following manner:

Examinations (375 points):

There will be three exams during the semester (February 14, March 21, and April 22), each worth 125 points. The format will be multiple choice and essay questions drawn from class notes and readings. The final will not be comprehensive, but will cover only the material since the previous exam.

In-Class Discussion (25 points total):

Indispensable to the learning process is constructive, open discussion. To that end, you are expected to contribute to classroom dialogue on a regular basis. To stimulate this, additional readings (beyond your textbook) will be posted on the course web site, along with specific questions you should be prepared to address in class. Some of these discussions will be done in small groups during class time, while others will be more broadly based. Points will be awarded based not simply on the number of times you speak up in class, but more on the thoughtfulness and depth you consistently bring to the discussion.

Catalogue Essay and Oral Presentation (100 points):

The purpose of this assignment is to assess your ability to analyze (critically and formally) a specific painting that you have viewed in person. Fortunately, our area houses several museums that possess rich collections of 19th century American painting, specifically examples of the Scalp Level School. In consultation with the professor, you will select a painting from a pre-approved list of works, and, after viewing it in person, compose a well-written catalogue-like essay on your work that: provides biographical information on the artist; describes and evaluates the painting's content; places the work within the overall framework of American painting; and provides a personal response to the work. Further guidelines for this assignment will be posted on the course web site. Students must submit a draft of this essay on or before March 28; it will be returned on or before April 9 with suggestions for improvement (if any). The final polished composition (worth 50 points) is due the last day of class-April 18.

During the first week of April, each student will present a 5-7 minute oral presentation using PowerPoint, on his or her selected painting. Points are earned based on instructor (30 points) and peer (20 points) evaluation.


Notice Regarding Course Changes:

I reserve the right to modify the timing, order and content of the course schedule. It is your responsibility to attend class and be aware of any changes. Check the course website regarding any class cancellations should they become necessary due to adverse weather conditions or other situations.

Course Schedule


January 8         Course Introduction

January 10       Defining America in Art, and the European Influence in Colonial Portrait Painting


January 15       Benjamin West and Grand Manner History Painting

January 17       Portraiture for a New Nation: Charles Wilson Peale and Gilbert Stuart


January 22       John Singleton Copley 

January 24       Early America's Love of Nature in Folk Art and Illustration


January 29       Washington Allston and the Origins of the Romantic Landscape

January 31       Epic Landscapes for a New Nation: Thomas Cole


February 5       The Hudson River School

February 7       Frederic Edwin Church


February 12     Luminism

February 14     Exam I


February 19     American Life: Genre Scenes in Jacksonian America

February 21     Midwestern Life: David Gilmour Blythe and George Caleb Bingham


February 26     Native Americans and the West: Romantic and/or Documentary Visions

February 28     Landscapes of Western Expansion: Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran


March 5           The Civil War Era and Issues of Race: Eastman Johnson

March 7           Winslow Homer


March 12         No Class-Spring Recess

March 14         No Class-Spring Recess


March 19         Female Domesticity: Genre Paintings of Lily Martin Spencer

March 21         Exam II         


March 26         Trompe l'Oeil and Still-Life Painting

March 28         Visual Reactions to Industrializing America 


April 2             Student In-Class Presentations

April 4             Student In-Class Presentations


April 9             Romanticism and the Visionary Art of Albert Pinkham Ryder

April 11           Thomas Eakins, Master of Realism


April 16           American Impressionism

April 18           Visions of Urban America: The Ash Can School  *Catalogue Essay due



Final Exam:   Monday, April 22, 3:00-5:00 p.m.