Three Hundred Years of American Painting

Three Hundred Years of American Painting
(New York: Time, Inc., 1957)

300 Years of American Painting “American art matters,” declared Eliot in his pitch to write the definitive history of American painting. His compelling anecdotes about the artists, as well as over 1,000 superb color plates, proves that it does. In 1962 John F. Kennedy selected Eliot’s extraordinary and complete history of American painting as one of his favorite books of the year.

In a memo to his colleagues, after fifteen years of serving as the Art Editor at Time, Inc., Eliot wrote: “We now have the opportunity of producing the first really handsome historical survey of American art ever published. The raw material for such a book is already ours.” By raw material, Eliot meant an impressive collection of 1,069 color plates printed in the Art section since 1951, when he began regular use of full-color pages to illustrate the section.

“On the Time-honored principle that human beings are interested primarily in other humans,” he wrote, “chief emphasis of the text would be on the artists themselves—their lives, philosophies and working methods. The next emphasis would be on their work, describing the qualities that made each picture alive and unique. Finally the time, place and spirit surrounding the artists and inspiring their art should be evoked.”

From the Time Inc. Press Release:

Three Hundred years of American Painting (328 pp.; 250 full-color plates) rolled off the Chicago presses of R. R. Donnelley & Sons in 1962.  Author Eliot, 38, is an art editor with deep roots and long training in his field. A child dauber, he was ten when he first became aware of others’ paintings. Borrowing his father’s bicycle one day to visit a cubist exhibition at Smith College, where his father is a professor, he promised to be back in two hours, so father could ride to his English class. When Professor Eliot stormed into the gallery five hours later, his son was staring at an early Picasso “with the gaze small boys usually reserve for double banana splits. A fatherly swat brought Alex to, but it also woke him, he recalls, to the sudden awareness that for him a painting might be more important than a bicycle.”

“Yes, I met Matisse in the south of France in his later years,” Alex says. “He wasn’t well and Matisse was making those vibrant paper collages while confined to his bed. Well, I was given an audience with Matisse and as I was leaving something got into my head. There was a question I needed to ask. I had made it to the top of the mountain as it were and I was not going to leave without finding out the answer. I had gone to Black Mountain to learn to be an artist and then on to the Boston School of Fine Arts but I needed to know from the master. So I turned back to Matisse and asked, “What should I do next?” In response Matisse propped himself up on his bed and like a mantra repeated one word -”Draw, draw, draw …”

Read the entire press release.

Posted in Writing

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