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City of Second SightNineteenth-Century Boston and the Making of American Visual Culture$
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Justin T. Clark

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469638737

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469638737.001.0001

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Transcending the Gallery

Transcending the Gallery

Chapter:
(p.82) 3 Transcending the Gallery
Source:
City of Second Sight
Author(s):

Justin T. Clark

Publisher:
University of North Carolina Press
DOI:10.5149/northcarolina/9781469638737.003.0004

Even more effectively than outdoor vistas, indoor galleries offered reformers the ability to manipulate what urbanites saw. Embracing the arts as a form of moral instruction, late-Federal Bostonians established public exhibition spaces to divert the city’s growing middle-class from more fashionable and sensualist attractions. Yet the 1820’s public exhibition culture that emerged at the Athenaeum and elsewhere was ridden with anxiety, as moralists warned that connoisseurship concealed a shallow and fashionable sensualism. To avert this danger, art gallery patrons absorbed themselves in visions that transcended the material art object and the social imposture of their fellow viewers. These supersensory flights from the urban gallery proved a key template for Transcendentalist encounters with nature, epitomized by Emerson’s famous “transparent eyeball” metaphor.

Keywords:   Transcendentalism, Boston art galleries, Spectatorship, Boston Athenaeum, Romanticism

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