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Picturing Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau in American Visual Culture

Mark W. Sullivan

As we approach the bicentennial, in 2017, of the birth of Henry David Thoreau, there is considerable debate and confusion as to what he may, or may not have, contributed to American life and culture. Almost every American has heard of Thoreau, but only a few are aware that he was deeply engaged with most of the important issues of his day, from slavery to “Manifest Destiny” and the rights of the individual in a democratic society. Many of these issues are still affecting us today, as we move toward the second quarter of the twenty-first century. By studying how various American artists have chosen to portray Thoreau over the years since the publication of Walden in 1854, we can gain a clear understanding of how he has been interpreted (or misinterpreted) throughout the years since his death in 1862. But along the way, we might also find something useful, for our times, in the insights that Thoreau gained as he wrestled with the most urgent problems being experienced by American society in his day. « less more »
Lexington Books
Pages: 240Size: 6 x 9
978-0-7391-8906-1 • Hardback • January 2015 • $85.00 • (£54.95)
978-1-4985-1103-2 • Paperback • March 2017 • $44.99 • (£29.95)
978-0-7391-8907-8 • eBook • January 2015 • $41.99 • (£27.95)
Mark Sullivan is associate professor of Art History and is director of the Art History Program at Villanova University.
Sullivan is incisive about how and why people portrayed Thoreau and the uses they made of those images. . . .It is an enjoyable and informative book, one that both provides solid information on many images as well as challenges us to respond to Sullivan’s interpretation of them.
Resources for American Literary Study

What [the author] set out to do, and he does it well, is to present Thoreau as a pivotal and seminal figure who, like Abraham Lincoln, came to be portrayed in paintings, prints, photographs, and cartoons, as a symbol and reflection of the ideological or political point the artist supported.... Sullivan has done an excellent job in examining our icons and heroes in just the way we need to do in contemporary American Cultural Studies.
Journal of American Culture