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While growing up in Iowa, William Bunn spent time absorbing theabsorbed the sights, smell,s, and sounds of the Mississippi River. His later paintings of steamboat river scenes evoke a sense of nostalgia for the industrial innovations of his childhood. To prepare for these works, Bunn researched nearly every technical and historical detail of steamboats. He collected newspaper and magazine clippings, tourism brochures, and postcards to use as visual references.
Bunn’s painting American Venus incorporates an unexpected source: Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (ca. 1480s). Bunn’s version of the Roman goddess emerges from the river, the ripples of water echoing that in his source. The composition communicates the onset of a prosperous and peaceful era in America.