Dr. Wendy Katz
Date of this Version
Brown, Rebekah Hoke. "The Midwestern Aristocracy: Anders Zorn's Portraits in Gilded Age St. Louis." Master's Thesis., University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2023.
To the American aristocracy of the Gilded Age, painted portraits functioned as pictorial symbols of one’s taste, power, and status. This thesis evaluates the motivations of a provincial elite in St. Louis, Missouri, and sees their taste for portraits by Swedish artist, Anders Zorn, as the result of the intersection of myriad cultural and ethnic allegiances. Situating Zorn as a trans-Atlantic artist, this thesis functions as a patronage study, evaluating the portraits and goals of specific St. Louis patrons and analyzes Zorn’s role as an active agent in the art market, leveraging his public persona to establish aesthetic authority over his patrons.
The first section of this thesis evaluates the nuances of conspicuous consumption, gender roles, politics, and ethnicity which undergirded Gilded Age St. Louis. The second section is a formal and contextual analysis of Zorn’s portraits of Adolphus Busch, Lilly Eberhard Anheuser, and Halsey Cooley Ives, that reflects these contemporary St. Louis realities. It examines the complicated concept of “American-ness” negotiated by the city’s upwardly mobile German American art patrons, the elite’s efforts to establish European and Aesthetic art through the School and Museum of Fine Arts at Washington University, and how art contributed to setting and policing boundaries of status and taste in the city.
The latter section discusses the circumstances around Anders Zorn’s lawsuit against St. Louis millionaire and patron, Henry Clay Pierce, analyzing competing Gilded Age conceptions of a portrait’s purpose. Zorn’s dispute with Pierce soon became public, with the conflict drawing in many local artists, revealing the industrial age tension between economic control wielded by the patron and the aesthetic authority granted the socially entrenched artist.
Advisor: Wendy Katz