ART: THE EPIC OF THE CITY

AS THE CENTURY TURNED, THE ASHCAN PAINTERS CHRONICLED A NEW FRONTIER: THE URBAN SCENE

UNTIL ABOUT 1880, THE ACCEPTed epic subject of American painting was the Western frontier. By 1900 this had slid into nostalgia; it was no longer in synch with social reality. Most Americans lived in cities, and the myth of the West was just that: a myth, however durable. The real frontier was urban--a place of hitherto unimagined overcrowding, of cultural collision enforced by huge-scale immigration, of rapid change, where class ground against class like the imperfect rollers of a giant machine. Its epitome was New York City--Bagdad-on-the-Subway, as the writer O. Henry called it--a city in convulsive and continuous transition, bursting...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now

Subscribe
Subscribe

Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on TIME.com

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!