Art: Unfinished Feast

Boston of the 1820s had no doubts that Washington Allston was a great painter—the greatest that the U.S. had yet produced. His English friend Samuel Coleridge wrote: "To you alone of all contemporary Artists does it seem to have been given, to know what Nature is—not the dead shapes, the outward Letter—but the Life of Nature itself." His friends and admirers were transatlantic giants of the day: Wordsworth, Southey, Bryant, Longfellow, Washington Irving, Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Then the blazing colors of impressionism came in, and the taste for his dimly lit, Italianate landscapes went out. Not since 1881 had Washington Allston's work...

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