4 Genre Painting & Everyday Life

Genre painting allowed artists to portray the daily life within their community. Depictions of interior, domestic and street scenes were portrayed realistically or romanticized depending on the goals of the artist. Early 19th century American genre paintings have their European influences. As America was beginning to tell its story, genre painting became another voice and shaping agent of what it meant to be American.

American genre painting began in the 1850s; as art studios were established in major cities, artists were able to move away from pure portraiture to images of courtship, families and community life. When the Civil War began, images turned away from urban depictions to rural scenes. Many artists, distraught over the division in the nation, chose to focus on the past union and harmony of the country.

This theme continued through the late 19th and early 20th century as seen in the works of George A. Hays (1854-1945), who depicts a romanticized view of farming and agriculture, a staple in the American economy and a return to ordinary rural life.

By 1900, an abundance of paintings looked back towards the frontier frequently depicting women metaphorically as the preservers of culture. Genre painting was used by artists not only to create an American identity, but an idealized filtering of its past. It gave narratives to the new nation as well as embodying its fundamental ideals in an attempt to define what America represented and what it offered to the world.


Weinberg, H. Barbara, and Carrie Rebora Barratt. "American Scenes of Everyday Life, 1840–1910". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/scen/hd_scen.htm (September 2009)

"At Home in America: 19th Century Genre Painting." At Home in America: 19th Century Genre Painting. Cahoon Museum of American Art, 2008. http://www.high.org/~/media/Sites/HMA/Res/PDF/Press/2012/Nov/HMA_American-Encounters.ashx

Genre Painting Featured Artists & Paintings