National Museum of American Art Announces 1998 Winner of the Annual Charles C. Eldredge Prize


Sarah Burns, professor of fine arts at Indiana University, is the 1998 winner of the annual Charles C. Eldredge Prize, awarded by the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Her recent book, Inventing the Modern Artist: Art & Culture in Gilded Age America (Yale University Press, 1996), is recognized as an outstanding example of art historical scholarship that reaches beyond the visual arts to explore the broader cultural context of late 19th-century America.

Burns' winning book is a series of self-contained essays that expands our understanding of an important period in America's cultural development-the late 19th century-when the path toward American modernity was established. She examines quintessentially American artists Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase and James McNeill Whistler, all of whom helped establish ideas of artistic genius, individuality and virility that have endured as perceptions of artistic identity throughout the 20th century.

"This book breaks new ground with its wide-ranging, thorough, and imaginative examination of how artists and their reputations are connected to the broad cultural concerns of the modern era," the Eldredge Prize jurors wrote in their decision. The three jurors who awarded the $2000 prize were: Bruce Robertson, chair of the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara; Trevor Fairbrother, curator of Modern Art at the Seattle Art Museum; and Josephine Withers, professor in the Art History Department at the University of Maryland, College Park. They added that the book shows "that the history of American art, at least since the Civil War, shares more common concerns than differences, with perhaps the central question being: "What does it take to be a successful artist in America?"

In this book, Burns argues for a cultural construction of the "artist" created not only by successful artists and the new critics who wrote about their work and their lives, but also by the burgeoning art market, businessmen as collectors, and the dramatic rise of mass-marketed magazines and illustrated journals.

She writes, ". . . artists responded, reacted to, and were remodeled by new conditions of producing and marketing their work, and themselves, in a rapidly urbanizing and incorporating society in which mass culture, spectacle, commercialism, and consumerism were fast becoming common denominators of modern experience."

Bums is a professor of fine arts and director of American studies at Indiana University. She studied under Joshua Taylor, a former director of the National Museum of American Art, at the University of Chicago, and then went on to do graduate work at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Her ground-breaking doctoral dissertation explored the work of George Fuller and Thomas Wilmer Dewing. Burns has written a number of articles relating to late 19th-century American art, as well as the book Pastoral Inventions: Rural Life in Nineteenth Century American Art and Culture (Temple University Press, 1989).

The Charles C. Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art, named in honor of a former director of the museum, is sponsored by the American Art Forum, a patrons' support organization. The prize seeks to recognize originality and thoroughness of research, excellence of writing, and clarity of method. It is especially meant to honor those authors who deepen or focus debates in the field, or who broaden the discipline by reaching beyond traditional boundaries.

published 7/22/98

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 11/28/11

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