New York

The American Scene

Hirschl & Adler Galleries

“The American Scene” affords a very good example of how badly the presentation and the understanding of art can suffer when the market goes crazy. Subtitled, very impressively, “A Survey of the Life and Landscape of the 19th Century,” it is not a survey at all, just a miscellany from a dealer’s stock, and while it includes several decent things, only one or two are really outstanding.

The rest are poor, and it is alarming to consider the assiduity with which reputations like that of Roesen are being promoted (for myself, I was thankful not to find anything by Bunker in the show!). Since it is in no way a survey of 19th-century American painting, and since it makes no points at all as an ensemble, there is no way to review it beyond noting the few good things it includes. These are: a Colombian scene by Church, which was very prosaic, as Church often is when he need not be, and which raises the question of what historical landscape meant for a painter who could view a South American marvel as Kensett saw Bash-Bish Falls; a good Clonney, no doubt very icky in its humor and indeed in its entire anecdotal quality, but very well designed; Cole’s L’Allegro, much more successfully sensuous than Cole usually is; very free, sketchy little oils by Cropsey of the four seasons, of which spring, in particular, is stunning; a painting of orchids and hummingbirds by Heade that provides “material” rich beyond the wildest hopes of any psychoanalyst, and an excellent marsh scene by him, too; a Head of a Bull and a Head of a Cow by Hinckley, which for some reason had hitherto gone unnoticed as the ultimate and essential sources of present-day Pop, although they were shown elsewhere about a year ago; a Homer watercolor, Plowing, which is easily the finest thing in the show; a beautiful Lane that suggests what he might have done had he been less precise in an engraver’s way, and closer to the painterliness of his remote models, Cuyp and Van de Velde; and a Moran watercolor of a site in Yellowstone in which color is used with unusual sensitivity for this artist.

Jerrold Lanes