Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Some randomly selected 19th century American paintings.

 Albertus del Orient Browere: The Mines of Placerville (1855)

 Charles Christian Nahl: Saturday Morning in the Mines (1872)

 Edwin Deakin: Notre Dame, Paris (1893)

 Fidelia Bridges: Laura Brown in a Wing Chair (1867)

 Frederic Remington: Coming to the Call (1905)

 Henry Peters Gray: The Birth of Our Flag (1875)

About the preceding painting, art historian Carter Horsley had this to say:
In 1863, Henry Peters Gray (1819-1877) exhibited at the academy a small version of this painting, which was inspired by the first stanza of Joseph Rodman Drake’s 1843 poem, "The American Flag," and Harper’s Weekly admired the "fine dashing movement in the erect figure." Perhaps in anticipation of the coming centennial of the country’s founding, Gray decided to return to the subject on a larger scale and exhibited the 72-by-48-inch version at the academy in 1975. The academy gave it a place of honor in its large South Gallery. "From the start, it received much attention from the public; but its prominence …also seems to have made it an easy target for the critics. One of these was Clarence Cook, who was especially vitriolic, lambasting the painting not once but twice. His first ranting against it was in a report he filed to the New York Daily Tribune. He told his readers that on entering the South Gallery where the painting hung, he felt like the newly awakened Rip Van Winkle. The Birth of Our Flag, he said has ‘no more relation to the nineteenth century and to America than a stuffed Dodo would have.’ Cook bemoaned the lack of growth and development in Gray’s talents, concluding that the artist’s problems stem from his faith ‘more in Titian than in Nature’ and his preference for the ‘so-called ideal’ over the real. Cook failed to see nobility or beauty in the head of the female figure and thought the eagle looked like an ‘exasperated crow.’ ….derision of The Birth of Our Flag did not end with Clarence Cook. When the painting was shown at the Union League Club in 1877, a writer for the New-York Times advised his readers to look at it only on ‘the Fourth of July, in the morning.’ To do otherwise, he stated, might cause the viewer to ‘fall into vain and annoying speculations as to how a handsome girl came to be caught out on a windy slope, a very windy slope, ‘mid modings on’ but the American flag, and why she smiles and looks so sweet, when, beyond all doubt, the large and determined looking eagle over her head is to about to bury his hooked beak in her right shoulder."

It is interesting how few nudes were painted by 19th Century American painters and for that matter how few patriotic paintings. The drapery of the flag is admirably done, although the blue and white stars section is almost obscured in shadow near her head under the ominous eagle who in fact has the end of the flag in his talons and has apparently flown around her to drape her quite voluptuous body.

 Jasper Cropsey: Starrucca Viaduct (1865)

Walter Gay: Novembre, Etaples (1885)

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