The “Gilded Age” and the Grand Tour

In the decades shortly following the American Civil War, 1861-1865[i], America began the process of rebuilding. During the war, and the years shortly following, the United States took a much more intrusive view; focusing on repairing and rebuilding a country ravaged by war and struggling to come to terms with their own future. Only after the war was over and most of the south was on its way to being rebuilt did the country feel that they had adequately dealt with the problems caused by the Civil War and could then view themselves as a power in the world. The 19th century is marked by the notion of Imperial Powers and the term the “Gilded Age” (a term coined by Mark Twain). Perhaps the most noted of these Imperial Countries is Britain, the empire where the sun never set on its territories and colonies[ii]. In the period between the Civil War and the first decade of the 20th century, American began to join in the Imperial mentality exemplified by Great Britain. In 1898, The US fought in the Spanish-American War where American gained control of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, nations where we still own land gained by this war[iii]. This war is considered an important event in the history of the United States and marks an “abandonment of political isolationism”[iv]. Many historians claim that the reason America embarked on such a war was “a new spirit of aggressive nationalism and a fear of being left behind in the race for empire”[v]. In 1904, America began work on the Panama Canal, which would become the most frequented trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and would remain in American hands until 1999[vi]. This two events show that American began to view itself as equal in power to some of the largest countries in Europe and began to acquire other lands and territories outside the Contiguous United States to show off its military prowess and its power. This time period is also known as the “Gilded Age” because of its corruption and greed, but at the same time this era was responsible for of the industrialization of the economy as well as the invention of the automobile[vii]. Although often viewed in a negative sense today, the “Gilded Age” “enabled post–Civil War Americans to create a solid foundation for the world leadership and economic growth of the century that followed”[viii]. Andrew Fisher Bunner’s trips and subsequent paintings of Venice and other European scenes fit into the greater context of Americans beginning to see themselves as part of the rest of the world after the conclusion of the Civil War.

The American Grand Tour became popular in the 19th-century, but the Grand Tour was originally an aristocratic British tradition in the 17th and 18th century[ix]. The wealthy citizens of America who took these tours saw themselves “as heirs of a great Western Tradition”[x]. During these tours, Americans would collect works from the ancient Greek and Roman past, as well as, the Renaissance to bring back home as a way of honoring their Western and European roots[xi]. Americans in this time felt that they could “traced their cultural lineage from the Greeks, through the Roman Empire, to the European Renaissance, particularly the Venetian Renaissance”[xii]. For Americans, “Venice’s democratic society of well-to-do merchants and traders who collected the world’s wealth, loved architecture and enjoyed a strong sense of public responsibility, appealed to them on the basis that it was both what they were becoming and what they aspired to”[xiii]. Andrew Fisher Bunner fits into this new American ideal in two ways. He is a fairly wealthy young man, and as such, it was a status symbol to be able to travel to Europe, and secondly he created paintings of places in Europe that wealthy Americans could add to their collections. By having these paintings, the elite could show that not only had they been to these great and noble locations, as well as to show that American was a new Venice. Andrew Fisher Bunner’s paintings of Venice were a way of Americans to document their travels as well as to paint an ideal for American society to achieve, namely that of early modern Venice.


[i] “Civil War, American”  The Oxford Essential Dictionary of the U.S. Military. Berkley Books, 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Mary Washington. 4 December 2008 <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t63.e1682>

[ii] “British empire”   A Dictionary of World History. Oxford University Press, 2000. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.  University of Mary Washington.  3 December 2008  <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t48.e561>

[iii] “Spanish-American War”  The Oxford Dictionary of English (revised edition). Ed. Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson. Oxford University Press, 2005. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Mary Washington. 2 December 2008 <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t140.e73982>

[iv] David F. Trask  “Spanish-American War”   The Oxford Companion to United States History. Paul S. Boyer, ed. Oxford University Press 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Mary Washington. 3 December 2008 <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t119.e1442>

[v] David F. Trask  “Spanish-American War”   The Oxford Companion to United States History. Paul S. Boyer, ed. Oxford University Press 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Mary Washington. 3 December 2008 <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t119.e1442>

[vi] Panama Canal”  The Oxford Dictionary of English (revised edition). Ed. Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson. Oxford University Press, 2005. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Mary Washington. 2 December 2008 <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t140.e55979>

[vii] Lewis L. Gould  “Gilded Age”   The Oxford Companion to United States History. Paul S. Boyer, ed. Oxford University Press 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.   University of Mary Washington.  4 December 2008  <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t119.e0620>

[viii] Lewis L. Gould  “Gilded Age”   The Oxford Companion to United States History. Paul S. Boyer, ed. Oxford University Press 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.   University of Mary Washington.  4 December 2008  <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t119.e0620>

[ix] “History of the Grand Tour”, http://www.grand-tour.org/history.htm (Accessed on 27 November 2008).

[x] History of the Grand Tour”, http://www.grand-tour.org/history.htm (Accessed on 27 November 2008).

[xi] History of the Grand Tour”, http://www.grand-tour.org/history.htm (Accessed on 27 November 2008).

[xii] History of the Grand Tour”, http://www.grand-tour.org/history.htm (Accessed on 27 November 2008).

[xiii] History of the Grand Tour”, http://www.grand-tour.org/history.htm (Accessed on 27 November 2008).

Next: Biography of A.F. Bunner

Responses

Hello,

I’m french!

I was trying to found the sense of The “Gilded Age” and the Grand Tour and thank’s to google I have had the privilege to read your article!

Congratulations! This article is so well writting than even a french girl not-so-good in english was able to read easily!

I’t was so instructive!

So thank you very much!

All the best

Laure-Myriam Jouili from Paris

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