Looking for Paradise

Series 1 - Episode 1 Looking for Paradise

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Review

The latest leg of Andrew Graham-Dixon’s world tour (which has already taken in Spain, Italy, Russia and Germany), takes us to the USA. The art historian's aim is to sum up, as only he knows how, the story of American art. The result is captivating, not just as art history, but as a tale of how settlers shaped the DNA of American civilisation.

One painting he discusses shows William Penn making a treaty with American Indians when he founded Pennsylvania. Graham-Dixon says the white cloth held by a trader echoes images of the adoration of Christ’s birth. But he also points out a killer irony: by the time this was painted settlers were again at war with the native Americans. During treaty discussions they presented Indians with blankets taken from a local smallpox hospital, a grim piece of germ warfare. It’s one of many sharp insights in a fascinating film.

Summary

Andrew Graham-Dixon charts the history of American art on a coast-to-coast journey, beginning in the east, where he discusses how the country's rise to power was underpinned by the destruction of Native American cultural heritage. He examines portraits of Puritan settlers in Massachusetts, tells the story of a famous painting of Quaker settler William Penn, reads one of the world's most expensive books in Philadelphia and explore the wilderness landscapes that inspired artist Thomas Cole.
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