The Art and Thought of John La Farge: Picturing Authenticity in Gilded Age America offers an unprecedented portrait of one of the most celebrated artists of the Gilded Age and opens a window onto nineteenth-century American culture. The book reveals how the work of John La Farge contributed to a rich philosophical dialogue concerning the trustworthiness of human perception. In his struggle against a 'common truth' of iconic symbols presented by a new mass visual culture, La Farge developed a subversive approach to visual representation that focused attention not on the artwork itself, but on the complex, real encounter of artist, subject and medium from which the artwork came. Katie Kresser charts La Farge's efforts to assert his own reality - his own intrinsic uniqueness - in a postwar society that increasingly based personal identity on standardized vocational labels and economic productivity. La Farge's work is contrasted with that of Kenyon Cox, James Whistler and Henry Adams, all of whom (for La Farge) had fallen prey to the crass new visual environment - albeit in very different ways. This innovative study suggests that La Farge dealt with issues still relevant in a world characterized by ubiquitous mass media and the proliferation of 'normative' visions.
'The language and thought of art historian Katie Kresser are by turns painterly and poetic, then sharply penetrating in their logic and analytic edge. … As a reader, I not only felt the presence of the nominal subject of the book but also "heard" the author in genuine conversation with the dead artist and with the living reader. This is a refreshingly honest and vulnerable stance …' Books & Culture
Contents: Preface; Introduction: the real John La Farge; The scent of the real: a life in art; Counterfeit classicism: John La Farge vs. Kenyon Cox; Modernist mysticism: John La Farge vs. James Whistler; Drive and doubt: John La Farge vs. Henry Adams; A meditation: La Farge on the brink; Epilogue: recovering the figure; Appendix; Bibliography; Index.