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Embracing the Middle Kingdom

Posted on June 15, 2017 by in The OFI Blog

As the country’s first collection of American Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) boasts more than 1,000 permanent major artworks and 33 traveling exhibitions across the United States since 1951. Last month, from 5/3/17 to 5/5/17, SAAM hosted a “Fellows Lectures in American Art” event to further the museum’s goals in embracing American art. The event featured lectures on a variety of topics from portraits to pop art by the museum’s research fellows. SAAM fellow Dr. Patricia Johnston from the College of the Holy Cross had some interesting insight onto a particular trend that occurred in early America.

In her lecture, “The China Trade and the Classical Tradition in Federal America,” Johnston talks about the effect that Chinese and East-Asian aesthetics had on life in the newly-freed colonies. Since the period of 1785 to 1810 was such a critical time for establishing national identity, it was thus a critical time for establishing international identity. Through trade with Asian countries, the West soon intermingled with the East. Those of both the colonial merchant class and the elitist class owned Asian luxuries and objects that imitated the aesthetics of the East, such as silk clothing, porcelain bowls, and wooden furniture.

Portrait of Mary Toppan Pickman with silk dress and umbrella painted by John Singleton Copley

You can see a video of Patricia’s here!