Before the museums came : a social history of the fine arts in the twin cities
Harris, Leo J.
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American history has evolved through many decades of discovery, settlement, independence and wars. While artists, writers and musicians were at work over these years, it was not until the middle of the nineteenth century, mostly following the end of the Civil War, that the fine arts really began to flower. Continued improvements in communication and transportation (the postal service, railroads, the telegraph, and the press) all made it easier for knowledge of the arts to circulate and the art itself to travel. When the entrepreneurs who brought about the Industrial Revolution became wealthy, there were large fortunes to be spent in the new or growing American cities. These millionaires of the Gilded Age built mansions, decorated them in a grand style and, in several cases, shared their art collections with their communities. Aiding these new collectors were art dealers, critics, academics, and the artists themselves, whether American or foreign. The story of art creation, education, training and collecting has already been documented for a few cities, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Pittsburgh, but its development in the Twin Cities of Minnesota is certainly less widely known. The story is worth telling. This book will trace the origins and growth of the fine arts in the Twin Cities, from 1835 when the first working artists appeared, through the remainder of the nineteenth century, to the opening of the first permanent museum in the Twin Cities, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts building in 1915.1 Other events also made this latter date relevant. Locally the St. Paul art patron and collector James J. Hill died the same year, and that was also the date by which the art collections of Minneapolis art patron Thomas B. Walker were essentially completed. Nationally, the 1914 International Exhibition of Modern Art, held at the New York City Armory, changed the provincial American attitude towards art and sculpture, brought on in part by such internationally known European artists as Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne. Modern art was soon to be broadly accepted, and the American art market and collecting, even in Minneapolis and St. Paul, would never be the same. This 1835 to 1914 period is the time during which the seeds of the Twin Cities flourishing arts community were planted. We will explore the institutions which were created to support the fine arts, we will review the events, including art exhibitions which resulted, and we will consider the collectors, dealers, and artists whose efforts, understanding, generosity, and creativity made all of this possible. Finally, due to its content, this work should be considered to be social history rather than art history.
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