Art: Down-Home Populist

With his vignettes of rural Yankee life, William Sidney Mount was America's first genre painter

It's doubtful whether anyone is ever going to look back on William Sidney Mount (1807-68) as a great American painter; the charm of his work is too modest, its range of feeling too circumscribed, for that. And yet, as the show of his paintings, drawings and prints at the New York Historical Society in Manhattan (before traveling to Pittsburgh, Pa., and Fort Worth, Texas) makes clear, there were reasons for his popularity, and he has a special place, very much his own, in the making of American art. Why? Because, with the slightly younger George Caleb Bingham, he was the first...

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