Animal Pursuits: Hunting and the Visual Arts in Nineteenth-Century America

Piper, Corey, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
McInnis, Maurie, As-History, University of Virginia

Hunting and its aftermath formed a major theme in nineteenth-century American art, appearing in natural history illustrations, grand paintings of human-animal combat, popular prints, and other visual media. Considered as both a subject matter for art and a material aid in its creation, hunting offers a means by which to trace how a specific form of human intervention in the environment shaped the nation’s attitudes toward nature, national identity formation, and the naturalization of social hierarchies throughout the long nineteenth century. Focusing on the work of five artists—Charles Willson Peale, John James Audubon, George Catlin, Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer—this project offers new insights into the role that art played in mediating the relationship between nineteenth-century Americans and nature by turning attention to images that pictured the destruction of animals. Rather than an expansive survey of hunting in American art, this dissertation examines hunting imagery through three main frameworks that constitute the central chapters: natural history, western expansion, and elite forms of hunting. The ideal of a shared ownership of nature formed a central facet of American national identity throughout the century. Images of hunting, which were characterized by direct and often violent intervention in nature, represent the utmost expression of this ideal. Indeed, a critical appraisal of images that picture the despoliation of nature is essential to fully understanding Americans’ historical relationship to the natural world and its important role in American culture and history. Artworks that pictured the nation’s natural bounty with awe or reverence (particularly landscape painting) have dominated the discussion of nineteenth-century American art. However, a closer analysis of hunting imagery demonstrates how artists and their publics readily employed representations of environmental and ecological destruction in order to promote a shared ownership of nature, justify the nation’s expansionist impulses, and naturalize divisions within American society.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
American Art, Hunting
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: