Editor's note: The following essay was rekeyed and reprinted on July 12, 2003 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of the Portland Museum of Art. The essay was previously included in an illustrated catalogue titled Charles Codman: The Landscape of Art and Culture in 19th-Century Maine. The catalogue was first published in 2002 by the Portland Museum of Art and the ISBN number is 1-916857-32-8. Images accompanying the text in the book were not reproduced with this reprinting. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or wish to obtain a copy of the catalogue, please contact the Portland Museum of Art at:


"The Real Pioneer of Art in this City": Charles Codman and the Rise of Landscape Painting in Portland, Maine

by Jessica Nicoll




This essay builds on decades of research conducted by Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., William David Barry, and the staff of the Portland Museum of Art. I am indebted to Earle Shettleworth for opening his research files to me. Another important resource for this work has been Tracie Felker, "Charles Codman: Early Nineteenth-Century Artisan and Artist," The American Art Journal 22, no. 2 (1990): 61-86.

1 John Neal, "Fine Arts," First Exhibition and Fair of the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association (Portland: Published by the Board of Managers, for the Association, 1838), p. 39.

2 Portland Tribune, September 21, 1842; a second obituary published in the Portland Transcript, October 1,1842, states conclusively "Mr. C. was born in Boston." Charles Codman died in Portland, Maine, on Sunday, September 11, 1842. Death notices offer conflicting accounts of his age with some stating he was 41 but most giving his age at death as 42.

3 Codman's gravestone is no longer extant; however, the information from it is recorded in William B. Jordan, Jr., Burial Records, 1717-1962 of the Eastern Cemetery, Portland, Maine (Bowie, Md., 1987), 27. I am grateful to Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., for sharing a photograph of the gravestone from his personal archive. The search for Codman's parentage and birthplace has frustrated historians for the better part of a century. Of the various theories that have been put forward, the most popular is that Charles Codman is the child of William Codman (1765-1816) of Boston and Susannah Coffin (1773-1854) of Portland, who were married in Boston, September 27, 1791. At some point after their marriage, the couple moved to New York City where William is listed asresident in the 1800 census. Thus, if Charles was their child, hemay have been born in New York City; there are no municipal birth records for the city for that date. In the absence of a birth record any discussion of Codman's origins remains speculative. See Felker, "Charles Codman," notes 8 and 11, 82.

4. John Neal, "American Painters. Charles Codman," Portland Magazine, 1(1835): 121.

5 John Neal, "Our Painters," The Atlantic Monthly, 23 (March 1869): 345. Neal is the primary source for the details of Codman's training as an ornamental painter, although his accounts vary. In an early article he states "we were under a mistake, when we said not long ago that he [Codman] was a pupil of Mr. Penniman of Boston, for he was not; he was an apprentice to a tablet-maker, whose name we forget (with pleasure)." (See John Neal, "Painting," The Yankee, [April 30, 1828].) In "American Painters" (1835), Neal observes of Codman, "all his authorities and models were from the work-shop of Mr. Penniman or of Mr. Doggett," suggesting that the "tablet-maker" may have been John Doggett (1780-1857), the prominent manufacturer and retailer of looking glasses and frames. It is possible that Codman apprenticed in multiple shops. The confusion may also stem from the fact that John Ritto Penniman's shop provided decorative painting services for both John Doggett and the Willards. See Carol Damon Andrews, "John Ritto Penniman (1782-1841), an ingenious New England artist," The Magazine Antiques, 120, no. 1 (July 1981): 147-70.

6 Andrews, "John Ritto Penniman."

7 William Dunlap, A History of the Rise and Progress of The Arts of Design in the United States, 2 vols. (1834, repr., New York: Dover Publications, 1969) 2, pt. 1: 264.

8 Neal, "American Painters," 121.

9 See Diana Korzenik, Georgia Bamhill, and Caroline F. Sloat, Cultivation of Artists in Nineteenth-Century America (Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 1997).

10 Andrews, "John Ritto Penniman," 149, 153.

11 Nathan Negus, January 3, 1820, Memorandum Book for 1819,1820, and 1821, Fuller/ Negus Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, microfilm #611.

12 "C. Codman" appears again in the diary when Negus attends Sunday meeting with him in Roxbury and later as a correspondent with Negus. Negus Memorandum Book, entries for September 22, 1819, April 9, 1820, and April 6, 1821, Fuller/ Negus Papers.

13 Negus Memorandum Book, entries for October 21 and November 4, 1819, Fuller/ Negus Papers.

14 Negua Memorandum Book, entries for November 20 and 22 and December 4, 1819, and January 29, 1820, Fuller/ Negus Papers.

15 Negus Memorandum Book, entries for October 30, 1820, January 19 and 31, 1820, and December 29, 1819, Fuller/ Negus Papers.

16 Negus Memorandum Book, entry for November 3, 1819, see also entries for October 26 to November 1, 1819, Fuller /Negus Papers. See also Harold Ksrker, "The Boston Exchange Coffee House," Old-Time New England, 52, no. 1 (Summer 1961): 11-13.

17 Columbian Centinel, November 3, 1819, 2.

18 Transparent paintings were ephemeral by nature and Negus's does not survive; however, a 27 x 41" oil painting of the same subject, Conflagration of the Exchange Coffee House, Boston, painted in 1824 and signed J. R. Penniman is in a private collection and is illustrated in Andrews, "John Rsttu Penniman," 156. The transparency was so popular that a second one was executed by Negus for the Boston Museum. See Negus Memorandum Book, entry for December 25, 1819, Fuller/ Negus Papers.

19 Rosanna Negus (Petersham) to Nathan Negus (Boston), January 3, 1817, Petersham Historical Society, Massachusetts (PHS).

20 Nathan Negus (Boston) to Laura Negus (Petersham), February 26, 1818, PHS.

21 Dunlap, History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts, 2, pt. 1: 260.

22 Andrews, "John Rstto Penniman," 155.

23 Ibid., 156.

24 Eastern Argus, October 29, 1822.

25 Portland Gazette, June 10, 1810, quoted in Andrews, "John Ritto Penniman," 153-54.

26 Quoted in Andrews, "John Ritto Pennsman," 155. The date for this advertisement was not cited.

27 Eastern Argus, July 19, 1825.

28 Portland Advertiser, May 26, 1824.

29 The theory that Charles Codman was the son of William P. Codman is put forth in George C. Groce and David H. Wallace, The New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America, 1564-1860 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), 134. The relationship between Charles and William P. Codman is the source of speculation that Charles may be the son of William and Susannah Coffin Codman who had a son, William, born in 1795. Cora Codman Wolcott, The Codmans of Charlestown and Boston, 1637-1929 (Brookline, Mass., 1930), 65-66. See also, Felker, "Charles Codman," notes 9, 11, & 12, 82.

30 William P. Codman appears in the Boston City Directory every year from 1820 to 1831, except 1824 and 1829.

31 In his diary entry for November 20, 1819 Nathan Negus notes, "J. Saml Blunt & Wm P. Codman return from their country excursions." Negus/ Fuller Papers. Codman and Blunt advertised jointly in Concord, New Hampshire. New Hampshire Patriot, October 4, 1819, reproduced in Robert Bishop, "John Blunt, The Man, the Artist and his Times" Clarion (Spring 1980): 37. I am grateful to Tom Hardiman, Keeper of the Portsmouth Athenaeum, for bringing this advertisement to my attention.

32 Negus Memorandum Book, entry for June 3, 1820, Fuller/ Negus Papers.

33 Mobile Mercantile Advertiser, February 26, 1824. The advertisement lists the services of "Negus & Codman." The supposition that this is William and not Charles Cudman is based on the survival of William P. Codman's portrait Posisrroma, Choccaw Warrior, Aged 115 which was painted in New Orleans in 1823. See James L. Yarnell and William H. Gerdts, comps., National Museum of American Art's Index to Art Exhibition Catalogues from the Beginning through the 1876 Centennial Year, 2 vols. (Boston, 1986), 1: 750.

34 See Jessica F. Nicoll, "Itinerant Artists," Encyclopedia of New England Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002) and Caroline Sloat, ed., Meet Your Neighbors: New England Portraits, Painters, and Society, 1790-1850 (Sturbridge, Mass.: Old Sturbridge Village, 1986).

35 No concrete evidence has been found to indicate that Charles Codman ever worked as an itinerant painter. Unlike the works of William P. Codman, which have been found throughout New England and in the South, Charles Codman's paintings and their subjects are largely restricted to an area encompassing Boston, the White Mountains, and Portland, Maine. Further, no advertisements have been found for his services outside of Boston and Portland. However, his White Mountain views do indicate that he traveled to that region of New Hampshire, perhaps solely for subject matter, and his painting Picnic Scene (Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine; p. 28), suggests a familiarity with the luxuriant foliage of the South.

36 Joseph Negus (Eatonton, Georgia) to Nathan Negus (Petersham), September 10, 1820, Fuller/ Negus Papers. Negus's spelling has been preserved.

37 Eastern Argus, September 16, 1823.

38 "Encourage the Arts," Eastern Argus, August 25, 1826.

39 Nathan Negus Memorandum Book, entries for September 7 and October 11, 1820, Fuller/ Negus Papers.

40 Daily Eastern Argus, April 8, 1839.

41 "Encourage the Arts," Eastern Argus, August 25, 1826.

42 Eastern Argus, June 6, 1828.

43 See Sloat, Meet Your Neighbors, passim.

44 "Celebration at Andover," transcription of remarks made in Andover, Mass., on the 50I anniversary of national independence, Eastern Argus, July 28, 1826.

45 Eastern Argus, August 25, 1826 and June 6, 1828.

46 Four of Codman's military standards have been located: Calais Frontier Guard, (1839, Maine Historical Society), Kennebec Guards (1833, Maine State Museum), Great Seal of the State of Maine (nd., Maine State Museum), Thomaston Cavalry (nd., Friends of Montpelier/ General Henry Knox Museum, Thomaston, Maine) and an additional seven are described in published accounts. He also executed at least two banners for total abstinence societies, one of which, Washington Total Abstinence Society, Ellsworth (1842, Farnsworth Art Museum) has been located. The Thomaston Cavalry standard has been attributed to Codman on the basis of strong stylistic similarities to signed Codman banners; however, iconographic elements inconsistent with a date circa 1822-42 may indicate that it predates Codman's work or that it is based on an earlier standard.

47 Boston Annual Advertiser, 1822, quoted in Alice Knotts Bossert Cooney, Ornamental Painting in Boston, 1790-1830 (MA. Thesis, University of Delaware, 1978), 49. Eastern Argus, October 29, 1822.

48 Felker, "Charles Codman," 63; Andrews, "John Ritto Penniman," 153.

49 Felker, "Charles Codman," 63.

50 Eastern Argus, December 10, 1822 and March 31, 1825.

51 Portland Advertiser, November 2, 1830. Excerpts from both The Boston Transcript and The Boston Commentator are included in this notice.

52 The Deering fireboards are not dated but are thought to have been painted around 1829. View of Diamond Cove from Great Diamond Island is believed to be the genesis of Codman's Diamond Cove paintings, the earliest dated example of which was painted in 1829 (Diamond Cove, Great Diamond Island, Maine, Portland Public Library).

53 See Jessica Skwsre Routhier, "Diamonds, Rifle Rangers, and Rock Slides: Codman's 'Native' Landscapes," in this catalogue, and Felker, "Charles Codman," 77-78.

54 Charles Codman to James Deering, n.d., Deering Family Papers, MS 100, p. 214, Maine Historical Society, Portland.

55 John Neal, "Our Landscape Painters - Charles Codman," Portland Illustrated (Portland, 1874), 29, and "Our Painters - Charles Codman," The Northern Monthly 1 (August 1864): 364.

56 The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts established an annual exhibition in 1811. The National Academy of Design followed suit in 1826.

57 John Singleton Copley to [Captain R. G. Bruce, 1767?], quoted in John W. McCoubrey, American Art 1700-1960 (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965), 17.

58 Mrs. Anna Jameson, quoted in Edgar P. Richardson, American Romantic Painting (New York, 1945), 6.

59 John Neal, "American Painters and Painting," The Yankee and Boston Literary Gazette, New Series, No. 1 (Boston, 1829): 48.

60 Neal, "American Painters. Charles Codman," 121-123.

61 John Neal's reviews of the first Peale Museum exhibition in 1822 were published in Baltimore's American and Commercial Daily Advertiser. He had been judging art in published criticism for more than a decade before the publication of William Dunlap's A History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States (1834), which has generally been identified as the first significant critical commentary on American art.

62 Information on Neal's biography is culled from: John Neal, Wandering Recollections of a Somewhat Busy Life (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1869); Harold Edward Dickson, ed., Observations on American Art by John Neal, no. 12 (State College, Pa.: Pennsylvania State College Studies, 1943); Benjamin Lease, That Wild Fellow John Neal and the American Literary Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972); Donald A. Sears, John Neal (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978).

63 In a description of his painting, Peale noted "my friend and Critic John Neal, of Portland, impersonated the Warrior." From Rembrandt Peale, "Letter on his Court of Death," December 1, 1845, quoted in McCoubrey, American Art, 53.

64 Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine was a monthly magazine published in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in April 1817.

65 Thomas Sully (Philadelphia) to John Neal (Baltimore), September 1, 1823, unpublished letter, private collection. The display of Sully's Capuchin Chapel in Portland's Union Hall from mid-September to October 10, 1823 was advertised in both the Portland Gazette and Eastern Argus. The language in these narrative promotions strongly suggests that Neal complied with his friend's request, for they include the certification that Sully asked for along with such Neal-esque proclamations as, "Those who have a taste for the fine arts, and a disposition to encourage native artists of established reputation, will not neglect to avail themselves of this opportunity of witnessing the magic of painting as exhibited by genius of the highest order." Portland Gazette, September 23, 1823.

66 Neal, "Painting." Neal's mention of Somerset House refers to the grand building in London constructed in 1775 to house the British government's offices and principal learned societies, including the Royal Academy of Arts.

67 The Lady of the Lake is inscribed verso: "The Lady of the Lake by Codman/ Painted on a panel of the old First Parish Church/ of Portland/ Bought from the artist by John Neal."

68 Sir Walter Scott, "The Lady of the Lake," canto I, stanza 17, in The Lady of the Lake and Other Poems (New York: Signet Classics, 1962).

69 Neal makes reference to the influence of Scott on his own novels in his autobiography. See, Neal, Wandering Recollections, 197, 226. I am indebted to Susan K. Hamill for bringing these references to my attention.

70 John Neal, "Codman's Sale of Paintings," Portland Advertiser, April 1, 1835. The location of this painting is unknown.

71 Neal, "Fine Arts," Maine Charitable Mechanic Association. pp. 37-39.

72 John Neal, Randolph, A Novel (1823), 69.

73 Neal's first novel, Keep Cool, published in 1817, had as one of its objects "to discourage duelling." Neal, Wandering Recollections, 197.

74 Portland Advertiser (July 14, 1831). At least one other lifetime reproduction after Codman is known. Ann S. Stephens, Portland Sketchbook (Portland: Colman & Chisholm, 1836) and D. C.Colesworthy, Opening Buds (Portland: C. W. Pennell, 1839) feature a frontispiece that is an engraving printed by Thomas Moore of Boston after a Codman painting of Diamond Cove.

75 I am grateful to Jim Wright in the Department of Conservation, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for his observations about Codman's painting technique.

76 Neal, "Our Painters," 345.

77 Robert F. Perkins, Jr. & William J. Gavin III, eds., The Boston Athenaeum Art Exhibition Index 1827-1874 (Boston: The Library of the Boston Athenaeum, 1980), 37.

78 Portland Advertiser, May 28, 1830.

79 Neal, "Fine Arts," Maine Charitable Mechanic Association, p. 38.

80 Quoted in Pamela Belanger, Maine in America: American Art at the Farnsworth Art Museum (Rockland, Me.: The Farnsworth Art Museum, 2000), 48.

81 Portland Advertiser (August 15, 1833).

82 Perkins and Gavin, The Boston Athenaeum, 37 and Mabel Munson Swan, The Athenaeum Gallery, 1827-1873, The Boston Athenaeum as an Early Patron of Art (Boston: The Boston Athenaeum, 1940), 93.

83 Review of the Seventh Exhibition of the National Academy of Design Published by the Proprietor of the Traveller & Times (New York, 1833), 8.

84 Felker, "Charles Codman," 79. The painting exhibited was one of the many easel paintings of the Diamond Cove subject that Codman developed after the Deering fireboard (p. 57).

85 Perkins and Gavin, The Boston Athenaeum.

86 "Exhibition," Eastern Argus, December 30, 1828

87 "Landscape Gallery," Eastern Argus, March 13, 1832.

88 "Portland," Portland Advertiser, August 15, 1833.

89 Diary of Samuel Longfellow, entry for Saturday, March 23, 1833, collection of The Craigie-Longfellow House, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

90 Neal, "Codman's Sale of Paintings."

91 John Neal, "Painting," Portland Magazine, 1 (July 1, 1835): 320.

92 Portland City Directory (1822), 17; Portland City Directory (1823), 12; Independent Statesman (July 9, 1824).

93 Eastern Argus (April 1, 1831).

94 Eastern Argus (March 24, 1835) and Portland City Directory (1837), 18.

95 The award of the commission from Governor Robert P. Dunlap is noted in Maine Library Bulletin (July 1917): 6; that entry indicates that the work was painted in 1836. However, Portland Advertiser (September 30, 1834) reported the first public display of the work in Codman's painting room in September 1834.

96 Eastern Argus (September 25, 1837).

97 Robert H. Babcock, "The Decline of Artisan Republicanism in Portland, Maine, 1825-50," The New England Quarterly, 75, no. 1 (March 1990): 3-34.

98 Eastern Argus, June 20, 1838.

99 Daily Eastern Argus, April 8, 1839.

100 Daily Eastern Argus, June 4, 1839; Portland Transcript, June 8, 1839; Daily Eastern Argus, September 19, 1839; Portland Transcript, October 5, 1839; Daily Eastern Argus, June 3, 1840; Portland Transcript, June 13, 1840; Daily Eastern Argus, July 14, 1841.

101 Daily Eastern Argus, April 8, 1839.

102 Daily Eastern Argus, June 3, 1840.

103 One of Codman's obituaries identified "consumption and all its deadly ministering" as the cause of his death. Portland Tribune, September 21, 1842. Another stated that "For two or three years he had been laboring under a debilitating disease, which prevented his applying himself constantly to the art he loved." Portland Transcript, October 1, 1842.

104 Neal, "American Painters."

105 Portland Tribune, September 21, 1842.

106 Portland Advertiser, December 13, 1844.

107 Portland Advertiser, August 5, 1845. Weekly Tribune and Bulletin, July 11, 1845, July 24, 1845, and Portland Advertiser, August 14, 1845.

108 Portland Advertiser, August 14, 1845.

109 Portland Advertiser, March 7, 1826.

110 Portland Transcript, October 19, 1892.

111 Portland Daily Press, January 28, 1869.

112 "Art in Portland," The Portland Transcript, March 5, 1884.


About the Author

Jessica Nicoll was at time of publication of the essay Chief Curator at the Portland Museum of Art.

Go to: 1 2

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Portland Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2003 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

Copyright 2012 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.