This gallery features work by artists who depicted the daily life of people at home, on the farm, and out West, in what are known as genre paintings. These images spin out sentimental, humorous, and often nostalgic figural narratives in outdoor settings that would have been familiar to their audiences. Some depict unique “American” characters—the Yankee, the westerner, and the yeoman farmer—types that also appeared in theater, literature, and popular culture of the nineteenth century. Idealized rural life was often presented as a beneficial contrast to congested cities, where most of the patrons who enjoyed these paintings lived and worked. American lifestyles have continued to fascinate and preoccupy artists as they have undergone dramatic redefinition over the twentieth century and into the present. As was the case for many genre painters of the nineteenth century, humor and hyperbole often serve contemporary artists who consider or question the customs of this country.
All of the works on view in this area—portraits, still lifes, interiors, and household objects—offer a window onto the private, domestic spaces for which they were produced, and which a number of them depict. Then, as now, houses and their contents revealed the taste, status, and values of their occupants. Portraits can reveal the ambitions, attainments, or personal relationships of their sitters. Still lifes can suggest the preference of an artist or his audience for humble or lavish arrangements of objects. Interior scenes and furnishings provide a more immediate sense of lifestyle, whether opulent or humble. The lives of women, so integral to the notion of home life in any period, are the focus of a particular group of objects in this section.
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