a1 Purdue University
From 1883 to World War I, disputes over art tariffs roiled America's art community, drawing preeminent painters, sculptors, architects, and illustrators into national lobbying campaigns. This essay exposes artists’ agency in tariff politics, illuminates their ideologies, and explains congressional debates, legislation, and diplomacy regarding U.S. art schedules, while demonstrating how the art tariff imbroglio often challenged longstanding partisan patterns in Washington with respect to tariff protectionism. It also contributes to Atlantic world studies by exploring how artists’ anti-tariff positions derived from transoceanic systems of art pedagogy and exhibitions and by showing how protectionists (including a minority of artists) capitalized upon persistent popular stereotypes of national cultural inferiority. Finally, this essay argues that growing disparities of wealth and class sensitivities increasingly affected turn-of-the-century tariff discourse. Protectionists demanded punitive retribution against the international collecting activities of America's ostentatious plutocrats; free-art proponents craved tariff reforms for the didactic purpose of elevating popular taste through exposure to European masterworks.
Robert E. May, professor of history at Purdue University, is the author of three books, most recently Manifest Destiny's Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America (paperback reprint, 2004). He and his wife, Jill P. May, are working on a book-length study of the Gilded Age illustrator and author Howard Pyle.
1 The author would like to thank his wife, Jill P. May, professor of curriculum and instruction, Purdue University, Norma Sindelar, archivist at the Saint Louis Art Museum, and Bert Chapman, professor of library science, Purdue University, for their help with this article.