American Masterpieces: Singular Expressions of National Genius

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 Gibson | Arts in Review Editor | The Wall Street Journal

The Boston publisher David R. Godine has long championed fine bookmaking. Witness John Wilmerding’s American Masterpieces: Singular Expressions of National Genius, a gathering of essays contributed to the Wall Street Journal by this distinguished former curator of American art at the National Gallery. Some of Wilmerding’s masterpieces will be familiar — Mary Cassatt’s “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair,” Saint-Gaudens’s memorial for Clover Adams (in the District’s Rock Creek Cemetery) — but others will be surprising, such as Henry H. Richardson’s Crane Memorial Library in Quincy, Mass.

Michael Dirda | Book Critic | The Washington Post



John Wilmerding is currently a Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, a member of the Board of Trustees at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and serves on advisory boards for committees for Smithsonian Studies in American Art and Harvard University Art Museums. Wilmerding was a visiting curator in the department of American Art at the Met, and is also the author of many books and catalogues on American art.