English Painters Part 10

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A somewhat similar spirit manifested itself in the works of John Vanderlyn (1776--1852), Rembrandt Peale (1787--1860), Samuel F. B. Morse (1791--1872), and Cornelius Ver Bryck (1813--1844).

JOHN VANDERLYN is best known by his _Marius on the Ruins of Carthage_, for which he received a medal at the Paris Salon of 1808, and his _Ariadne_, which forms part of the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy. Vanderlyn, as the choice of his subjects, coupled with his success in France, shows, was a very good cla.s.sic painter, trained in the routine of the Academy. The _Ariadne_ is a careful study of the nude, although somewhat red in the flesh, placed in a conventional landscape of high order. A large historic composition by him, _The Landing of Columbus_, finished in 1846, fills one of the panels in the Rotunda of the Capitol at Washington. As a portrait painter Vanderlyn was most unequal.

REMBRANDT PEALE--the son of Charles Wilson Peale, best known through his portraits--deserves mention here on account of his _Court of Death_, in the Crowe Art Museum of St. Louis, and _The Roman Daughter_, in the Boston Museum. Technically he stands considerably below his leading contemporaries.

S. F. B. MORSE, whose fame as an artist has been eclipsed by his connection with the electric telegraph, was a painter of undoubted talent, but given somewhat to ostentation both in drawing and colour.

Good specimens of his style are found in his _Dying Hercules_, Yale College, New Haven, and the rather theatrical portrait of Lafayette in the Governor's Room of the City Hall of New York. Morse essayed to paint national subjects, and selected for a theme the interior of the House of Representatives, with portraits of the members; but the public took no interest in the picture, although it is said to have been very clever, and the artist did not even cover his expenses by exhibiting it.

CORNELIUS VER BRYCK painted Bacchantes and Cavaliers, and a few historic pictures, with a decided feeling for colour, as evidenced by his _Venetian Senator_, owned by the New York Historical Society. He stands upon the borderland between an older and a newer generation, both of which, however, belong to the same period. Thus far the influence of Italy had been paramount; in the years immediately following Dusseldorf claims a share in shaping the historical art of the United States. The only names that can be mentioned here in accordance with the plan of this book, which excludes living artists, are Emmanuel Leutze (1816--1868), Edwin White (1817--1877), Henry Peters Gray (1819--1877), W. H. Powell (died 1879), Thomas Buchanan Read (1822--1872), and J. B.

Irving (1826--1877).

LEUTZE was a German by birth, and his natural sympathies, although he had been brought to America as an infant, carried him to Dusseldorf. The eminence to which he rose in this school may be inferred from the fact that he was chosen Director of the Academy after he had returned to America, and almost at the moment of his death. Although of foreign parentage, he showed more love for American subjects than most of the native artists, but the trammels of the school in which he was taught made it impossible for him to become a thoroughly national painter. His most important works are _Washington crossing the Delaware_, _Washington at the Battle of Monmouth_, and _Washington at Valley Forge_; the two last named are at present in the possession of Mrs. Mark Hopkins of California. In the Capitol at Washington may be seen his _Westward the Star of Empire takes its Way_; _The Landing of the Nors.e.m.e.n_ is in the Pennsylvania Academy; _The Storming of a Teocalle_, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

EDWIN WHITE, an extraordinarily prolific artist, who studied both at Paris and Dusseldorf, also painted a number of American historic pictures, among them _Washington resigning his Commission_, for the State of Maryland. The bulk of his work, however, weakly sentimental, deals with the past of Europe.

H. P. GRAY'S allegiance was given, almost undividedly, to the masters of Italy, and his subjects were mostly taken from antiquity. In his best works, such as _The Wages of War_, he appears in the light of an academic painter of respectable attainments; but there is so little of a national flavour in his productions, that the label "American School" on the frame of the picture just named is apt to provoke a smile. Gray's _Judgment of Paris_ is in the Corcoran Gallery at Washington.

W. H. POWELL is best known by his _De Soto discovering the Mississippi_, in the Rotunda at Washington, a work which is on a level with the average of official monumental painting done in Europe, in which truth is invariably sacrificed to so-called artistic considerations. As a portrait-painter he does not stand very high. T. B.

READ, the "painter-poet," enjoyed one of those fict.i.tious reputations which are unfortunately none too rare in America. Without any real feeling for colour, and with a style of drawing which made up in so-called grace for what it lacked in decision, he attained a certain popularity by a cla.s.s of subjects such as _The Lost Pleiad_, _The Spirit of the Waterfall_, &c., which captivate the unthinking by their very superficiality. Several of his productions, among them his _Sheridan's Ride_, may be seen at the Pennsylvania Academy. J. B. IRVING, a student at Dusseldorf under Leutze, was a careful and intelligent painter of subjects which might be cla.s.sed as historic _genre_, including some scenes from the past history of the United States.

Among the foreign artists who came to America during this period must be named CHRISTIAN SCHuSSELE (1824--1879), a native of Alsace, who has exercised some influence through his position as Director of the Schools of the Pennsylvania Academy, in Philadelphia. His _Esther denouncing Haman_, in the collection of the inst.i.tution just named, shows him to have been an adherent of the modern French cla.s.sic school, in which elegance is the first consideration.

A place all by himself must finally be a.s.signed to WILLIAM RIMMER (1816--1879), of English parentage, who spent much of his life in the vicinity of Boston. Dr. Rimmer, as he is commonly called, since he began life as a physician, is of greater importance as a sculptor than as a painter. He, nevertheless, must be mentioned here on account of the many drawings he executed. To an overweening interest in anatomy he added a somewhat weird fancy, so that his conceptions sometimes remind one of Blake. His most important work is a set of drawings for an anatomical atlas, in which special stress is laid upon the anatomy of expression.

His oil-paintings, such as _Cupid and Venus_, &c., are marred by violent contrasts of light and dark, and an unnatural, morbid scheme of colour, which justifies the a.s.sumption that his colour-vision was defective. But Rimmer will always remain interesting as a brilliant phenomenon, strangely out of place in s.p.a.ce as well as in time.

The same absence, in general, of a national spirit is to be noticed in the works of the _genre_ painters. Among the earliest of these are to be named CHARLES ROBERT LESLIE (1794--1859), many of whose works may be seen in the Lenox Gallery, New York, and at the Pennsylvania Academy, Philadelphia; and GILBERT STUART NEWTON (1794--1835), a nephew of Stuart, the portrait-painter, who is represented at the New York Historical Society and in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. These two artists are, however, so closely identified with the English school, and draw their inspiration so exclusively from European sources, that they can hardly claim a place in a history of painting in America.

The one American _genre_ painter _par excellence_ is WILLIAM SYDNEY MOUNT (1807--1868), the son of a farmer on Long Island, and originally a sign-painter. No other artist has rivalled Mount in the delineation of the life of the American farmer and his negro field hands, always looked at from the humorous side. As a colourist, Mount is quite artless, but in the rendition of character and expression, and the unbia.s.sed reproduction of reality, he stands very high. His _Fortune Teller_, _Bargaining for a Horse_, and _The Truant Gamblers_, the last named one of his best works also as regards colour, are in the collection of the New York Historical Society; _The Painter's Triumph_ is in the gallery of the Pennsylvania Academy; the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, has _The Long Story_. Several inferior artists have shown, by their representations of scenes taken from the political and social life of the United States, how rich a harvest this field would offer the brush of a modern Teniers. But in spite of the popularity which the reproductions of their works and those of some of Mount's pictures enjoyed, the field remained comparatively untilled.

[Ill.u.s.tration: A SURPRISE. _By_ MOUNT.

_Copyright, 1879, by Harper and Brothers._]

Of other painters of the past, HENRY INMAN (1801--1846), better known as a most excellent portrait-painter, executed a few _genre_ pictures based on American subjects, such as _Mumble the Peg_ in the Pennsylvania Academy; and RICHARD CATON WOODVILLE (about 1825--1855), who studied at Dusseldorf, became favourably known, during his short career, by his _Mexican News_, _Sailor's Wedding_, _Bar-Room Politicians_, &c.; while among the ma.s.s of work by F. W. EDMONDS (1806--1863) there are also several of specifically American character; but the majority of artists preferred to repeat the well-worn themes of their European predecessors, as shown by W. E. WEST'S (died 1857) _The Confessional_, at the New York Historical Society's Rooms, or the paintings of JAMES W. GLa.s.s (died 1855), whose _Royal Standard_, _Free Companion_, and _Puritan and Cavalier_, are drawn from the annals of England.

The Indian tribes found delineators in GEORGE CATLIN (1796--1872) and C.

F. WIMAR (1829--1863), while WILLIAM H. RANNEY (died 1857) essayed the life of the trappers and frontiersmen. None of these artists, however, approached their subjects from the genuinely artistic side. As an ornithological painter, scientifically considered, JOHN JAMES AUDUBON (1780--1851), the celebrated naturalist, occupied a high rank. The animal world of the prairies and the great West in general was the chosen field of WILLIAM J. HAYS (1830--1875). A large picture by him of an American bison, in the American Museum of Natural History at New York, shows at once his careful workmanship, his ambition, and the limitation of his powers, which was too great to allow him to occupy a prominent place among the animal painters of the world.

The skill in realistic portraiture, eminently shown by the American painters of the preceding century, was fully upheld by their successors of the third period. Most of the historic painters named above were well known also as portraitists, and their claims to reputation are shared with more or less success by J. W. JARVIS (1780--1851), THOMAS SULLY (1783--1872), SAMUEL WALDO (1783--1861), CHESTER HARDING (1792--1866), WILLIAM JEWETT (born 1795), EZRA AMES (flourished about 1812--1830), CHARLES C. INGHAM (1796--1863), J. NEAGLE (1799--1865), CHARLES L.

ELLIOTT (1812--1868), JOSEPH AMES (1816--1872), T. P. ROSSITER (1818--1871), G. A. BAKER (1821--1880), and W. H. FURNESS (1827--1867).

Specimens of the work of most of these artists, several of whom were of foreign parentage, will be found in the collections of the New York Historical Society, the Governor's Room in the City Hall of New York, the Pennsylvania Academy, and the Museum of Fine Arts at Boston. The most prominent among the later names is Charles Loring Elliott, who was born and educated in America, but whose work, when he is at his best, nevertheless shows the hand of a master. E. G. MALBONE (1777--1807), whose only ideal work, _The Hours_, is in the Athenaeum, at Providence, R.I., is justly celebrated for his delicate miniatures, a department in which R. M. STAIGG (1817--1881) likewise excelled. As a crayon artist, famous more especially for his female heads, SETH W. CHENEY (1810--1856) must be named.

The most interesting, however, because the most original, manifestation of the art instinct in this period is found in landscape. In this department also it seemed for a time as if the influence of the old Italian masters would gain the upper hand. But the influence of Dusseldorf, aided by that of England, although not through its best representatives, such as Constable, gave a different turn to the course of affairs, and in a measure freed the artists from the thraldom of an antiquated school. Although, naturally and justly enough, the landscape painters of America did not disdain to depict the scenery of foreign lands, they nevertheless showed a decided preference for the beauties of their own country, and diligently plied their brushes in the delineation of the favourite haunts of the Catskills, the Hudson, the White Mountains, Lake George, &c., and, at a later period, of the wonders of the Rocky Mountains and the valley of the Yosemite. It has become the fashion in certain circles to speak rather derisively of these painters as "the Hudson River School," a nickname supposed to imply the charge that they preferred the subject to artistic rendering and technical skill. There is no denying that there is some truth in this charge, but later experience has taught, also, that a more insinuating style is apt to lead the artists to ignore subject altogether. It is precisely the comparative unattractiveness of the methods employed which enabled these painters to create what may be called an American school, while, had they been as much absorbed in technical processes, or in the solving of problems of colour, as some of their successors, they would probably have rivalled them also in the neglect of the national element. It is worthy of note that the rise of this school of painters of nature is nearly contemporaneous with the appearance of William Cullen Bryant, whose "Thanatopsis" was first published in 1817, and who is eminently ent.i.tled to be called the poet of nature.

The first specialist in landscape of whom any record is to be found is JOSHUA SHAW (1776--1860), an Englishman, who came to America about 1817.

The specimens of his work preserved in the Pennsylvania Academy show him to have been a painter of some refinement, who preferred delicate silvery tones to strength. In the same inst.i.tution may also be found numerous examples by THOMAS DOUGHTY (1793--1856), of Philadelphia, who abandoned mercantile pursuits for art in 1820, and who may claim to be the first native landscape-painter. His early work is hard and dry and monotonous in colour, but nevertheless with a feeling for light. As he advanced, his colour improved somewhat. ALVAN FISHER (1792--1863), of Boston, also ranks among the pioneers in this department, but he was more active as a portrait-painter.

[Ill.u.s.tration: DESOLATION. _From the "Course of Empire."_ _By_ THOMAS COLE.

_In the possession of the New York Historical Society._

_Copyright, 1879, by Harper and Brothers._]

The greatest name, however, in the early history of landscape art in the United States is that of THOMAS COLE (1801--1848), who came over from England with his parents in 1819, but received his first training, such as it was, in America. Cole spent several years in Italy, and remained for the rest of his life under the spell of Claude, Salvator Rosa, and Poussin. He aspired to be a painter of large historic, or rather allegoric landscapes, and some of his productions in this line, as, for instance, _The Course of Empire_ (New York Historical Society), a series of five canvases, showing the career of a nation from savage life through the splendours of power to the desolation of decay, will always secure for him a respectable place among the followers of the old school. He therefore shared, with most of his American colleagues, the fatal defect that his work contained no germ of advancement, but was content to be measured by standards which were beginning to be false, because men had outlived the time in which they were set up. Cole did not, however, confine himself to such allegoric landscapes. He was a great lover of the Catskills, and often chose his subjects there, or in the White Mountains. But in the specimens of this kind to be seen at the New York Historical Society's rooms, he shows himself curiously defective in colour, and mars the tone by undue contrasts between light and dark. He is at his best in the representation of storm effects, such as _The Tornado_, in the Corcoran Gallery at Washington.

Among the ablest representatives of the "Hudson River School" were J. F.

KENSETT (1818--1873), and SANFORD R. GIFFORD (1823--1880). For Kensett, it may indeed be claimed that he was the best technician of his time, bolder in treatment than most of his colleagues, and with a true feeling for the poetry of colour. Gifford, who divided his allegiance about equally between America, Italy, and the Orient, loved to paint phenomenal effects of light, which often suggest the studio rather than nature. One of the princ.i.p.al works of this very successful and greatly esteemed artist, _The Ruins of the Parthenon_, is the property of the Corcoran Gallery, which also owns several pictures by Kensett.

[Ill.u.s.tration: NOON BY THE SEA-Sh.o.r.e: BEVERLY BEACH. _By_ J. F. KENSETT.

_Copyright, 1879, by Harper and Brothers._]

As one of the leading lights of the little cl.u.s.ter of American pre-Raphaelites, we may note JOHN W. HILL (died 1879), who painted landscapes chiefly in water-colour.

The United States being a maritime power, it would be quite natural to look for a development of marine painting among her artists. Until lately, however, very little has been done in this branch of art, and that little mostly by foreigners. THOMAS BIRCH, an Englishman (died 1851), painted the battles between English and American vessels in an old-fashioned way in Philadelphia, while Boston possessed an early marine painter of slender merit in Salmon. A. VAN BEEST, a Dutch marine painter, who died in New York in 1860, is chiefly of interest as the first teacher of several well-known American painters of to-day. JOHN E.

C. PETERSEN (1839--1874), a Dane, who came to America in 1865, enjoyed an excellent reputation in Boston. The leading name, however, among the artists of the past in this department is that of JAMES HAMILTON (1819--1878), who was brought to Philadelphia from Ireland in infancy, and went to England for purposes of study in 1854. In many of his phantastic productions, in which blood-red skies are contrasted with dark, bluish-gray clouds and ma.s.ses of shadow, as in _Solitude_, and an Oriental landscape in the Pennsylvania Academy, the study of Turner is quite apparent. But he loved also to paint the storm-tossed sea, under a leaden sky, when it seems to be almost monochrome. One of his finest efforts, _The Ship of the Ancient Mariner_, is in private possession in Philadelphia. His _Destruction of Pompeii_ is in the Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park, in the same city. Hamilton, whose somewhat unsteady mode of living is reflected in the widely varying quality of his work, very properly closes our review of this epoch, as he might not inappropriately be cla.s.sed with the artists of the period next to be considered.


It has been remarked already that the American students who went to England up to the middle of the present century were not influenced by those painters who, like Constable, are credited with having given the first impulse towards the development of modern art. This is true also of those who went to France.

They fell in with the old-established Cla.s.sic school, and were not affected by the rising Romantic and Colouristic school until long after its triumphant establishment. Within the last ten or fifteen years, however, the tendency in this direction has been very marked, and the main points of attraction for the young American artist in Europe have been Paris and Munich. One of the results of this movement, consequent upon the preponderating attention given to colour and technique, has been an almost entire neglect of subject. What the art of America has gained, therefore, in outward attractiveness and in increase of skill, it has had to purchase at the expense of a still greater de-Americanisation than before. The movement is, however, only in its inception, and its final results cannot be predicated. Nor will it be possible to mention here more than a very few of its adherents, as, self-evidently, the greater part of them belong to the living generation.

[Ill.u.s.tration: SUNSET ON THE HUDSON. _By_ S. R. GIFFORD.

_Copyright_, 1879, _by Harper and Brothers_.]

One of the first to preach the new gospel of individualism and colour in America was WILLIAM MORRIS HUNT (1824--1879), who, after his return from Europe, made his home in Boston. In 1846 he went to Dusseldorf, which he soon exchanged for Paris, where he studied with Couture, and later with Millet. Hunt was in a certain sense a martyr to his artistic convictions, and his road was not smoothed by his eccentricities. Had he found a readier response on the part of the public, he might have accomplished great things. As it was, those to whom he was compelled to appeal could not understand the importance of the purely pictorial qualities which he valued above all else, and instead of sympathy he found antagonism. As a fact indicating the difficulties which stood in his way, it is interesting to know that the first idea for the mural paintings, _The Flight of Night_ and _The Discoverer_, which he executed in the new Capitol at Albany, shortly before his death, was conceived over thirty years ago. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that his mind was embittered, and his work even more unequal than that of so many of his older colleagues. But even so he has left a number of works, as for instance the original sketch for the _Flight of Night_, several portraits, and a _View of Gloucester Harbour_, which will always be counted among the triumphs of American art.

Prominent among the American students in the French school was ROBERT WYLIE, a native of the Isle of Man, who was brought to the United States when a child, and died in Brittany at the age of about forty years in 1877. His _Death of a Breton Chieftain_, in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, and _Breton Story-Teller_, in the Pennsylvania Academy, two very fine pictures, although somewhat heavy in colour, show him to have been a careful observer, with a power of characterisation hardly approached by any other American painter.


As a remarkable artist, belonging also to the French-American school, although he never left his native land, we must mention R. H. FULLER, of Boston, who died comparatively young in 1871. Fuller had a most extraordinary career and displayed extraordinary talent. Originally a cigar-maker, and later a night watchman, he was almost entirely self-taught, his study consisting in carefully looking at the French landscapes on exhibition at the stores, and then attempting to reproduce them at home. The knowledge thus gained he applied to the rendering of American landscapes, and he had so a.s.similated the methods of his French exemplars, that his creations, while they often clearly betrayed by what master they had been inspired, were yet thoroughly American.

This sketch of the history of painting in America is necessarily very fragmentary, by reason of its shortness, as well as by the limitation imposed by the plan of this book, which excludes all living artists.

Many prominent representatives of the various tendencies to which the reader's attention has been called, have, therefore, had to be omitted.

It is believed, nevertheless, that, while the mention of additional names would have made the record fuller, the general proportions of the outline would not have been materially changed thereby. Nor is the apparently critical tone, the repeated dwelling on the lack of originality in subject as well as method, to be taken as an expression of disparagement. A fact has simply been stated which admits of a ready explanation, hinted at in the introductory remarks, but which must be kept steadily in view if American Art is ever to a.s.sume a more distinctive character. The painters of America, considering the circ.u.mstances by which they have been surrounded, have no reason to be ashamed of their past record. They have shown considerable apt.i.tude in the acquisition of technical attainments, and the diligence and enthusiasm in the pursuit of their studies on the part of the younger artists, promise well for the future. It rests altogether with the nation itself whether this promise shall be fulfilled.

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English Painters Part 10 summary

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