Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Jayme Yahr

Second Advisor

Craig Eliason

Third Advisor

Heather M. Shirey


Home is often interpreted as a safe and comforting location for families, away from the
uncertainty and constant changes of the outside world. However, within the field of art
history, specifically within the context of the American Gilded Age, there is an absence
of scholarship that challenges the notion of “home equals safety.” The existing research related to the painter Thomas Hovenden consists of interpretations of his painting Breaking Home Ties, and often superficial overviews of this life, career, and other paintings. This paper investigates the idea of home from a different angle, using existing scholarship as a foundation from which to challenge traditional readings of Hovenden’s work, specifically through critical analysis of travel narratives related to dislocation and uprootedness. This paper utilizes theories related to the sociological effects of nostalgia in American history as a framework for understanding Hovenden’s work and emphasis on the home. Throughout his own lifetime, Hovenden witnessed and experienced dislocation. Naturally, humans reflect and become nostalgic in moments that are uncertain. The longing is a result of, or amplification of, uncertainty.
In the life cycle of humans, home is only temporary and not entirely fixed. This seems
contradictory to the vision of home as representative of a family rooted in a specific
location, the beginning and end of an expedition. I argue that Thomas Hovenden’s
domestic genre paintings, specifically Bringing Home the Bride, 1893; Breaking Home
Ties, 1890; When Hope was Darkest, 1892; The Founders of a State, 1895 (unfinished); and The Old Version, 1881; depict transitional points in life that are centered in the home, or on the act of finding and making roots. The artist’s often mundane genre scenes are emotionally incomplete domestic arrangements. In their incompleteness, they offer no safety, comfort, belonging, or sense of home; instead, they offer unrest and longing.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.