Friday, April 27, 2012

Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze - Painter of History

Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816-1868) was an German-American painter. Moving to America as a child, he returned to Germany in adulthood to study and paint. He moved back to America later in life.

Gottlieb's best-known work is one of the most iconic paintings of American history: Washington Crossing the Delaware. Ironically, the main inspiration for this painting seems to have been the European revolutions of 1848 (Gottlieb was in Germany at the time and was a strong supporter of the 1848 revolutions).

 Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851)

 Columbus Before the Queen (1843)

Gottlieb's largest painting was an enormous mural, Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way. Measuring 20 x 30 feet, the mural resides in the US House of Representatives. This is an allegorical depiction of America's 19th century "manifest destiny" philosophy, which viewed expansion throughout the North American continent as a natural progression. Gottlieb's notes on the painting are quite revealing as to the symbolism.

 Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (1862)

Gottlieb's painting of Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh depicts the mythical (i.e., it never happened) event when Raleigh lays down his cloak to allow the queen to cross a mud puddle unmuddied. The myth was replayed in Sir Walter Scott's novel Kenilworth:
"Accordingly, she fixed her keen glance on the youth, as she approached the place where he stood, with a look in which surprise at his boldness seemed to be unmingled with resentment, while a trifling accident happened which attracted her attention towards him yet more strongly. The night had been rainy, and just where the young gentleman stood a small quantity of mud interrupted the Queen's passage. As she hesitated to pass on, the gallant, throwing his cloak from his shoulders, laid it on the miry spot, so as to ensure her stepping over it dry-shod. Elizabeth looked at the young man, who accompanied this act of devoted courtesy with a profound reverence, and a blush that overspread his whole countenance. The Queen was confused, and blushed in her turn, nodded her head, hastily passed on, and embarked in her barge without saying a word."
 Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Walter Raleigh (1848)

His other painting of Queen Elizabeth I depicts the future queen as a princess after her interrogation in the Tower of London in 1554. The matter involved Elizabeth’s loyalty to the Protestant cause in the face of Queen Mary’s militant Catholicism. Elements such as the statue of the Virgin and Child were occasionally interpreted as evidence of Elizabeth’s religious ambivalence, insinuating that her motives were founded on political rather than spiritual matters.

Princess Elizabeth in the Tower (1860)

Gottlieb's other painting of the Tudor era is of Elizabeth I's parents, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, during their courtship. Henry's then-queen, Catherine of Aragon (just right of center in the painting), is in many ways the central figure in this painting, which appears to depict her as a sympathetic character who was betrayed and publically humiliated by her husband.

 The Courtship of Anne Boleyn (1846)

 Storming of the Teocalli by Cortez and His Troops (1848)

 Evening Party at Milton's, Consisting of Oliver Cromwell and Family, Algernon Sydney, Ireton, &c (1854)

Next is another painting of an incident from the Revolutionary War, Mrs. Schuyler Burning Her Wheat Fields on the Approach of the British.
 Mrs. Schuyler Burning Her Wheat Fields on the Approach of the British (1852)

The Amber Necklace (1847)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was an English-born painter who moved to America with his family in his late teens. He was a superb landscape painter and founded the Hudson River School of American landscape painting.

There is a short film about Cole that you can view online.

We start with some of Cole's landscapes of the Northeastern United States:

 View in the White Mountains (1827)

 View on Lake Winnipiseogee (1828)

 Distant View of Niagara Falls (1830)

Home in the Woods (1847)

Sunny Morning on the Hudson River (1827)

 A View of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains (Crawford Notch) (1839)

Kaaterskill Falls (1826)
 The Clove, Catskills (1827)

 The Pic-Nic (1846)

 View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow (1836)

The Hunter's Return (1845)

Next, there is a group of paintings of European landscapes, most featuring Classical ruins.

 Aqueduct Near Rome (1832)

 Arch of Nero (1846)

 Il Penseroso (1845)

 L'Allegro (Italian Sunset) (1845)

Mount Aetna From Taormina (1843)

 Mount Aetna (1842)

The Vale and Temple of Segesta (1844)

 Valley of the Vaucluse (1841)

An aspect of Cole's work that was somewhat unusual was his predilection for doing paintings in series. His best known of these was The Course of Empire, a series of five paintings. Cole described this series as follows, in a letter to a patron:
"A series of pictures might be painted that should illustrate the History of a natural scene, as well as be an Epitome of Man—showing the natural changes of Landscape & those effected by man in his progress from Barbarism to Civilization, to Luxury, the Vicious state or state of destruction and to the state of Ruin & Desolation.  

The philosophy of my subject is drawn from the history of the past, wherein we see how nations have risen from the Savage state to that of Power & Glory & then fallen & become extinct..."
About this series of paintings, the novelist James Fenimore Cooper remarked, "Not only do I consider the Course of Empire the work of the highest genius this country has ever produced, but I esteem it one of the noblest works of art that has ever been wrought."

The Course of Empire: The Savage State (1834)

The Course of Empire: The Arcadian State (1834)
The Course of Empire: The Consummation of Empire (1835)

The Course of Empire: Destruction (1836)

The Course of Empire: Desolation (1836)

Next is a pair of paintings depicting the departure of a medieval warrior from his home castle, and his return as a corpse. These paintings may be a commentary on the futility of war.
The Departure (1837)

The Return (1837)

Another pair of paintings on the theme of impermanence is The Past and The Present. You can watch a 10-minute lecture about these paintings here.
The Past (1838)

The Present (1838)

The final series is a group of four paintings entitled The Voyage of Life.
The Voyage of Life: Childhood (1841)

The Voyage of Life: Youth (1841)

The Voyage of Life: Manhood (1841)

The Voyage of Life: Old Age (1841)


Welcome to the world 19th century American painting. The body of work produced by American artists during this period is enormous, and much of it is sublime. The purpose of this blog is to share some of this great work.

Between 1800 and 1900, America went from an embryonic, agricultural nation to a world power on the brink of modernity. Enormous change and development occurred, including the beginnings of urbanization and industrialization, the conquest of the entire continent, and most importantly, the Civil War. Social changes included the liberation of African Americans (though equality was still a long way off - perhaps it still is) and the beginnings of a women's rights movement. All of these things found expression through art.

To begin the exploration of 19th century American art, here are a few by Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860), best known for his portraits. Peale came from a very artistically inclined family - his brother was named Rubens Peale and his father, Charles Willson Peale, was also a painter.

 Rubens Peale with a Geranium, 1801

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson, 1805

 Pearl of Grief, 1849