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True Grit: American Prints from 1900 to 1950

Stephanie Schrader, James Glisson, and Alexander Nemerov

In the first half of the twentieth century, a group of American artists influenced by the painter and teacher Robert Henri aimed to reject the pretenses of academic fine art and polite society. Embracing the democratic inclusiveness of the Progressive movement, these artists turned to making prints, which were relatively inexpensive to produce and easy to distribute. For their subject matter, the artists mined the bustling activity and stark realities of the urban centers in which they lived and worked. Their prints feature sublime towering skyscrapers and stifling city streets, jazzy dance halls and bleak tenement interiors—intimate and anonymous everyday scenes that addressed modern life in America.

True Grit examines a rich selection of prints by well-known figures like George Bellows, Edward Hopper, Joseph Pennell, and John Sloan as well as lesser-known artists such as Ida Abelman, Peggy Bacon, Miguel Covarrubias, and Mabel Dwight. Written by three scholars of printmaking and American art, the essays present nuanced discussions of gender, class, literature, and politics, contextualizing the prints in the rapidly changing milieu of the first decades of twentieth-century America.

This volume is published to accompany an exhibition on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center October 15, 2019,  to January 19, 2020. 

Stephanie Schrader is curator of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum. James Glisson is interim Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Alexander Nemerov is Carl and Marilynn Thoma Provostial Professor in the Arts and Humanities at the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University. 

“True Grit offers an altogether fresh roster and interpretation of earlier 20th-century prints from the United States. It should be required reading for all Americanists as well as print specialists. Not only is its roundup of prints punctuated by many unfamiliar examples, the extremely well-written essays by Stephanie Schrader, James Glisson, and Alexander Nemerov offer diverse and innovative perspectives on the assembled artworks. All three authors stress the overarching importance of the largely empathetic perspective of the great artist-teacher Robert Henri, but they otherwise investigate a variety of topics. Schrader excels in assessing the role of gender in driving subject choice, Glisson is excellent on the entanglement of urban experience and print technologies, and Nemerov, brilliant and surprising as always, presents a gripping account of the impact of George Bellows’ 1925 death on Edward Hopper’s signature work.”
—Hollis Clayson, Northwestern University

“The catalogue offers fresh interpretations of favorite artists such as Edward Hopper and Peggy Bacon along with striking works by rediscovered artists who addressed both the collisions and the anomie of American cities in the first decades of the twentieth century. Its essays place these works within innovative contexts from literature and film, while examining aspects of technique, burr, and paper with a curator's eye. Good reproductions and revealing details encourage readers to look closely at a wealth of expression in black and white.”
—Rebecca Zurier, University of Michigan

“The essays in True Grit draw out the nuances of black-and-white printmaking, admirably attending to the visual effects of specific techniques, from the “jagged directness” of Peggy Bacon’s drypoints to the “frank linearity of etching” as practiced by John Sloan. Lesser-known figures dazzle as much as the greats in their treatments of the city after dark, and artists better known as painters are shown to have been innovators on paper, too. By redrawing the contours of early 20th-century American culture through the printmaker’s eyes, True Grit enriches our views of the period and its art.”
—Jennifer Greenhill, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Southern California

True Grit is an enjoyable and stimulating tour of American realist graphics and social realism of the inter-war era.”
Alexander Adams Art

112 pages
10 x 10 inches
83 color illustrations
ISBN 978-1-60606-627-0

Getty Publications
Imprint: J. Paul Getty Museum