John Wilmerding has been an original and sustained scholarly voice in American art history for six decades. This elegant hardcover celebrates one small slice of his work: the twenty-five “Masterpiece” columns he has written for The Wall Street Journal between 2006 and the present. Each succinct, accessible essay integrates a detailed visual analysis of a major American cultural artifact with insights not only into the art and its creator, but also into the national context at the time of its execution. The book features a full-sized reproduction of each sculpture, painting, piece of architecture, and photograph discussed, plus an additional detail selected for extended consideration. It’s surely the most intelligent picture book we’ve seen in some time. Anyone with a taste for American art and art history will be thrilled by this broad, representative, and eclectic selection of the best this country has produced.
The pieces here assembled cover the full spectrum of American art, both in terms of genre– painting, sculpture, architecture, public monuments — and time period, ranging from the Colonial era through America’s Gilded Age to modernism and the current moment. To be sure, boldface names like Thomas Eakins and Andrew Wyeth are here, but there are also less well-known figures such as Robert S. Duncanson and Richard Caton Woodville… Besides John’s encyclopedic knowledge of American art and culture what unites these essays is his ability to take readers to the heart of a work of art or an artist’s intention in the most succinct yet penetrating prose.
— Eric Gibsson Arts in Review Editor The Wall Street Journal