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Nineteenth Century American Art

February 12, 2100 - February 12, 2012 


(above: John George Brown (American, Born in England,1831-1913), The Dilettante, 1882, Oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Lee Stine, Sharpsburg, Maryland, in honor of the Museum's 75th anniversary, 2005, A4084)



(above: William Merritt Chase (American, 1849-1916), Fish, Plate, and Copper Container (Still Life), Oil on canvas. Museum purchase, 1969, A1557)


Curated by Dr. Elizabeth Johns, Professor Emerita University of Pennsylvania, this exhibition will showcase the strength of the Museum's collection of American Art.  This exhibition is planned as the first in a two part series that will show how American artists presented the changing faces and landscapes of the United States in their works of art.  Dr. Johns focuses on five areas of American art in this exhibition: Preserving Likenesses: The Famous and the Ordinary, In Awe of Nature, Telling Stories, Domestic Pleasures and Settling In. 

Preserving Likenesses: The Famous and the Ordinary showcases the manner in which artists portrayed significant figures, such as Benjamin Franklin by Paul Wayland Bartlett, as well as ordinary citizens, like Benjamin Yoe and his family by Joshua Johnson.  Artists sought to capture both the likenesses of individuals as well as the character of the person in their work.

In Awe of Nature will focus on artists who looked to the American landscape for inspiration.  Artists, like Frederic Chruch in Scene on Catskill Creek, New York, 1847, sought to convey the magnificence of the American wilderness.  Some artists, like James Fairman in his painting Songo, River Maine, 1865, placed people in the scene to show the magnitude of the natural world in comparison to the smaller human presence.

Telling Stories focuses on artists who used their art to illustrate the stories that captured the American psyche.  Artists looked to familiar stories for inspiration, such as The Ascension of Christ as painted by Benjamin West in his study from 1798, as well as the stories of everyday life, exemplified in John George Brown's painting, The Dilettante, 1882.

Domestic Pleasures turns inward to show how artists portrayed the basic nuances of the American life.  Robert Spear Dunning's painting Still Life in a Dining Room Interior, ca.1875, gives the viewer a glimpse into a fashionable Victorian dining room.

Settling In presents artists who captured the changing landscape of America in their paintings.  They focused on scenes where manmade elements were instrinsic to the view, such as Thomas Moran's painting Lower Manhattan from Communipaw, New Jersey, 1880.   


Domestic Pleasures

Scenes of still life dominated American interior decoration in the nineteenth century, especially in dining rooms and parlors. Although the topic was first associated with women artists, by mid-century male artists had made it part or all of their repertory. Taking their cue from European still-life painters, especially the Dutch and Flemish of earlier centuries, artists captured the light, color, and texture of a variety of fruits and flowers. Typically they did not confine their flowers or fruits to the season in which they bloomed or were abundant; often each flower was symbol of a virtue (roses, for instance, symbolized love). Painted in a shallow space, still lifes of fruit especially lent themselves to a trompe l'oeil ("fool the eye") treatment, meaning that the fruit was displayed on a narrow shelf, with some hanging over the edge to create the illusion of immediacy.

Severin Roesen
American, born in Germany
Still Life
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase, 1961, A1135
Trained in Germany, Roesen came to the United States in 1848, where he embarked on a highly successful career as a still life painter. As recorded in exhibition catalogues, he showed works in New York, Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, finding patrons after the Civil War who bought his large paintings for their spacious homes. Careful about balance and light, Roesen apparently used sketches of the same models for many of his images. Although he painted many vertical images, this one is small, presumably for a less affluent patron. The wine, peaches, grapes with their leaves, cantaloupe, and the raspberries hanging over the shelf, with drops of water here and there, testify to his skills. Most of Roesen's paintings have been found near Williamsport, Pennsylvania. However, we know little of his specific travels or the chronology of his paintings, for he did not date his works or keep a record book.
Robert Spear Dunning
Still Life in a Dining Room Interior
Circa 1875
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase, 1989, A2628
This painting provides insight into the importance of displays of fruit in the fashionable Victorian dining room. Not only is the proliferation of grapes with leaves, pineapple, peaches, plums, pears, and cantaloupe a sign of luxury, but the silver platter, carving on the table, heavy drapes, and pictures on the wall boast of a home with many comforts. Dunning, born in Brunswick, Maine, spent most of his career in Fall River, Massachusetts. However, he studied in New York and exhibited there and in Boston. Also a landscapist and figure painter, he was best known for his depictions of fruit and flowers. Remarkably, he developed a school of still-life painting in Fall River, an industrial town.
William Merritt Chase
Fish, Plate, and Copper Container (Still Life)
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase, 1969, A1557
A versatile artist who studied in Munich, Germany from 1872-1878 and traveled throughout France and Spain, Chase set up a large studio in New York where he displayed luxurious objects from his travels. There, among other artists in the famous Tenth Street Studio Building, he met with patrons to impress them and plan their commissions. During the summers, he taught students at Shinnecock, Long Island, where he developed a light-filled Impressionist landscape style. Known for his rapid work on a picture and bravura brushstrokes, he painted many "kitchen pictures," boasting that he could complete them within two hours, before the color of the fish scales faded. His mastery of tones and textures is apparent in this painting, with its warm browns and reds and highlights of silver and gold. In an output that included portraits, still lifes, and landscapes, he painted at least two thousand works. 

In Awe of Nature

The first landscapists in America, typically English, painted estate landscapes and views of settlement. About 1820, however, inspired by the first tourism up the Hudson River, subsequently eastward to New England, and then westward across the continent, artists began painting landscapes of American nature. For technique, they drew on the work of European landscapists, but more important, they found the first American tourists to be eager for mementoes of what they had seen on their travels. Eventually, artists accompanied surveyors to the west to provide curious viewers back east with breathtaking views of western mountains. Because of the unsettled quality of most of the continent, writers and artists (conveniently neglecting the priority of Native Americans on the land) wrote and thought of the land with reverence, a wilderness designated by God for European settlers. Moving away from detailed renderings of landscape in the years after the Civil War, American artists like George Inness (1825-1894) were inspired by the soft focus of French landscapists. American buyers, proud of the sophistication they had gained on their own travels, embraced the newer style. 

Thomas Birch
The Shipwreck
Museum purchase, 1964, A1318
Ocean storms and shipwrecks became popular motifs in English painting in the late eighteenth century. A Romantic subject, these subjects evoked horror and terror, emotions that had not been explored in earlier poetry and art. Thomas Birch, who immigrated to the United States in 1794 with his family and father, William (1755-1834), an English marine painter, settled in Philadelphia. The two first painted riverscapes and landscapes of the city and its environs, often making prints of them for wide sale. During the War of 1812, Thomas Birch became fascinated with sea battles and storms. He turned to scenes of sea disaster, as in this work. The three unfortunate sailors in Birch's painting struggle to survive, a nightmare for the sailors and, by empathy, for the viewer.
Frederic Edwin Church
Scene on the Catskill Creek, New York
Museum purchase, 1962, A1230
Church and his teacher Thomas Cole (1802-1848) were among the first landscapists to travel up the Hudson River to popular tourist sites, the Catskills being the first to be developed. Although tourist accommodations, including a large hotel, were plentiful among the Catskill Mountains, and the Catskill Creek provided the water power for many tanneries, Church and others chose to paint the sites as though they were still wilderness. In this picture we look through trees and limbs that frame the calm creek, its waters so still that they reflect clouds and the rocks and trees on the shoreline. Only the slightest ripples break the surface, along with a person in a canoe in the middle distance, its small size conveying depth. Church's precise brushstrokes, catching every bit of the light and texture of landscapes, won him many admirers.
Albert Bierstadt
American, born in Germany
In the Rockies
Oil on paper, mounted on masonite
Purchased with funds from The Elsa Emma Pangborn Fund, 1953, A734
Bierstadt was one of the landscapists who headed west with surveyors to paint the great American West. On one trail or another, he painted sketches in oil to bring back to his studio in New York. There he painted large panoramic pictures of the American and Canadian Rockies, Yellowstone and Yosemite, waterfalls, buffalo, and native Americans which, exhibited in heavy frames with theatrical drapes, won great acclaim. Having come to the United States as a child and settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts with his family, he studied in Germany as a young man and then embarked on a three-year sketching tour that included the Alps. Once he was back in the United States, he saw the west of "Manifest Destiny" as his subject, the Rockies as the American Alpi. In the Rockies is one of the many studies that Bierstadt used in composing his huge paintings.
John Frederick Kensett
A Mountain Pool
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase, 1968, A1542
Kensett's gentle landscape evokes a scene in North Conway, New Hampshire, in the White Mountains, a favorite tourist destination once travelers had begun moving east of the Hudson. Using a vertical format and thin layers of paint, Kensett suggests an evening in early fall. Water falls down to a pool in the middle ground, and mist rises near the left foreground, while pink clouds move above a mountain glowing with the last light of day. Kensett decided in his twenties to be a landscapist and spent eight years studying and traveling in Paris, Rome, London, and along the Rhine. His father, an engraver, had imbued him with a fondness for linear precision, which enabled Kensett to paint topographical works that appealed to tourists.
William Stanley Haseltine
Nahant Rocks, New England
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mrs. Helen Haseltine Plowden, London, England, 1961, A1140
So intrigued with these gigantic rocks along a peninsula in the Massachusetts Bay north of Boston, Haseltine painted more than sixteen pictures of them on his many trips along the Massachusetts coast in the 1860s. These smooth-topped igneous rocks (often called "fire rocks"), formed from magma and thrust to the surface, attracted several geological theories, including those of Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), a professor at Harvard during Haseltine's student years, who proposed direct creation.  His theories were challenged by the evolutionary studies of Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Haseltine, like Bierstadt and Kensett, spent several years studying in Europe before he launched his career. His daughter gave Nahant Rocks, New England to the museum.
James Fairman
American, born in Scotland
Songo River, Maine
Gift of Dr. Richard D. Robbins, Baltimore, Maryland, in memory of Mrs. Betty Sumner Michael, 1995, A3082
Critics have often called the work of Fairman and other artists "Luminist" because of their reliance on light that seems to emanate from their canvases and the absence of obvious brushstrokes. Songo River, Maine is such a work, painted in thin, fluid colors of yellow that look as though the painting had been created without human hand. The sky and the river in the middle of the picture, connecting Sebago Lake to Brandy Pond, reflect a golden light that sparkles here and there. Precise brushstrokes delineate small houses on the distant shore, figures in a dugout canoe, and marsh and slight ripples in the foreground. Although he is typically associated with the White Mountains, Fairman traveled as far as Maine, painting for residents and tourists alike. In 1871, he began a series of travels throughout England, France, Italy, Germany, and the Holy Land that lasted until the early 1880s, when he moved to Michigan to teach at Olivet College.
Jasper F. Cropsey
Autumn Landscape with View of River
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase, 1955, A828
Cropsey, trained as an architect but making his reputation as a landscapist, followed the first generation of Hudson River painters (including Thomas Cole and Frederic Church). He focused his travels and painting on the Hudson River area, the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and the Greenwood Lake area of New Jersey. Patrons particularly admired Cropsey's autumn scenes, many filled with the glow of a setting sun. In Autumn Landscape with View of River we see hunters looking out over a valley and lake, joined by their dog. The peaceful setting is framed by trees on the left and shrubs and cliffs on the right. Near the hunters is their small campfire, typical of Cropsey's love for detail. 
Hugh Bolton Jones
Pool in the Meadow
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mrs. Florence H. Trupp, Baltimore, Maryland, 1982, A2195
This pastoral scene, with cattle surely recognizable by their owner, is testimony to Jones's love of specific scenes in Maryland and West Virginia. The day seems to be a hot one, with humidity in the air. The foreground is dotted with marsh plants, the middle ground with wildflowers. Jones was born in Baltimore and studied at the Maryland Institute of Art. He moved to New York to continue his studies and was soon exhibiting. With his brother Francis  Coates Jones (1857-1932), a genre painter, he traveled in Europe from 1876 to 1880, where he learned to paint in outdoor light rather than making sketches and notes to finish a work in his studio. He became well known, winning prizes at several world exhibitions. There are many paintings by Jones in Maryland, including several at this museum.
George Inness
The Coming Storm
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase, 1951, A662
In the landscapes of George Inness, we see a shift from the detailed approach of the Hudson River School artists to an atmospheric rendering, with few clear outlines. Inness traveled to Europe several times, where he saw and was influenced by the naturalistic work of the Barbizon painters in France, artists who focused on the cultivated landscape of the countryside. Like theirs, his work suggests moods, atmosphere, and even the turbulent skies before a storm. He spent the years 1870-1875 in Italy, and painted The Coming Storm after his return. American audiences, tired of the detail and clarity of the Hudson River painters, and eager to see more "Impressionist" work like that of French landscapists, soon acclaimed Inness as the foremost landscapist in America. When he died in 1894, he was at the height of his fame.
Thomas Moran
Grand Canyon of Arizona from Hermit Rim Road
Lithograph published by American Lithographic Co., New York, copyright 1913 by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway System
Gift of Spence and Cinda Perry, Hagerstown, Maryland, in honor of the Museum's 75th anniversary, 2005, A4030
Thomas Moran, along with his earlier colleague Albert Bierstadt, brought the American west to viewers in the east. Raised in Philadelphia, Moran first traveled to Yellowstone in 1871, where he made sketches that guided his work for the rest of his career. His spectacular views of Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon influenced the United States Congress to establish the national park system, and in 1872 Congress purchased his large painting The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and displayed it in the nation's Capitol. Always adventuresome, Moran accompanied surveyors to Colorado, Donner Pass and the Teton Mountains of Wyoming, as well as traveling abroad extensively. After railroads made travel to the Grand Canyon possible for tourists and hotels were built on the site, Moran was employed by the railway system to make images for lithographs that would advertise the opportunity. Moran studied the geology of the canyon carefully and boasted that the images had the realism of science. He became known as "Tom 'Yellowstone' Moran", devising the monogram TYM to sign his work.

Preserving Likenesses: The Famous and the Ordinary

Portraits were almost the only subject for American artists in the Colonies and early years of the United States. After generations of settlement in the new land, landowners, merchants and politicians wanted testimony of their success. Portraits revealed wealth, family relationships, stylishness of apparel and hair and idealized attractiveness. Typically families displayed portraits in their entrance hall or great room so that visitors could see them; sculptures were made for the public and in civic institutions . 

Charles Willson Peale
Portrait of Elizabeth Tasker Lowndes
Oil on canvas
Gift of Edward Bowie Prentiss, Catharine Watkins Prentiss Plummer, and M. G. Louis Watkins Prentiss Jr. in memory of their mother, Helen Bowie Prentiss, 2007, A4298
Charles Willson Peale, a Maryland artist, naturalist, and museum entrepreneur, founded a family painting dynasty in Maryland that lasted for several generations. Showing great talent as a young man, he was able to study in London for two years with famous expatriate Benjamin West (1738-1820) through the sponsorship of friends. On returning, he settled in Annapolis and then in Philadelphia, where he founded a museum that displayed the results of his explorations of natural history in the region and the portraits that he had painted of important citizens. Knowing his reputation, children of Elizabeth Tasker Lowndes, of Bladensburg, Maryland, commissioned the famous Peale to paint their mother during her final illness. The subdued colors and tone of the painting indicate her condition; her costume conveys her stylish dress to the end.
Rembrandt Peale
Portrait of Henry Robinson
ca. 1816
Oil on Canvas
Museum purchase, 1964, A1345
Named after an artist, as all Charles Willson Peale's children were, Rembrandt Peale followed his father's interest in painting and in museums. Having studied in London and Paris and returned to the United States to work in Baltimore, over his lifetime he secured his reputation with replicas of his portrait of George Washington for city halls, courthouses, and other institutions. In 1814 he founded the Peale Museum in Baltimore, where he enlisted the help of his friend Henry Robinson in lighting the museum with the newly invented gaslight. Peale depicted Robinson, who had founded the gasworks company and was a supporter of the museum, with a smooth painting surface characteristic of the Neoclassical work the artist had seen in Paris. Diffused light with slight shadows under the rim of Robinson's glasses contribute to the immediacy of Peale's portrait.
Sarah Miriam Peale
Portrait of a Woman
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase, 1967, A1486
The niece of Charles Willson Peale, Sarah Miriam Peale carried on the artistic achievements of her family. Her father, James Peale (1749-1831), was Charles Willson's Peale's brother, who devoted his life to miniature portraits. Sarah Miriam at first painted still lifes, an appropriate subject for women artists, but on developing skills as a portraitist set up a studio in her cousin Rembrandt Peale's Peale Museum in Baltimore. Before long, she had become well known and received many commissions. Her technique in this portrait indicates the reasons for her popularity: her sitter's dignified posture and fashionable coiffeur, bonnet, jewelry, and costume make her an appealing subject. Her identity is no longer known, an irony in that portraits were meant to preserve one's name and family. 
John Gutzon Borglum
Head of Abraham Lincoln
Gift of Mrs. Anna Brugh Singer, Olden, Norway, 1931, A01
Borglum's sculpture of Lincoln reveals his close study of photographs of the President. The knit brows, hooded eyes, full lower lip, sunken checks, and even the wart on his lower right cheek place the brooding man before us. Carving the head directly into the stone in emulation of such masters as Michelangelo, Borglum emphasized the right side of Lincoln's face, which he considered the more expressive. The sculpture, created more than 60 years after the end of the Civil War and by an artist who was born after the war, is a testimony to American society's enduring preoccupation with Lincoln. Known for his monumental sculpture carved into Mount Rushmore, Borglum considered this portrait, the original study for his head of Lincoln in the Capitol, as among his finest work.

Telling Stories

Viewers have long loved paintings and sculptures that imply a narrative. For centuries, the painted narratives created in Christian communities were based primarily on Biblical texts or traditions, used for teaching and devotion. Another popular source was classical myths. From the Renaissance on, an important topic for ambitious artists was "history paintings," which, typically large, could focus on historical or Biblical events and were often displayed in institutions (such as the paintings about the American Revolution installed in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol). From the sixteenth century in Europe, artists began to paint small images that focused on everyday people of the present, referred to as "genre" paintings, that were meant for the home. Few American artists painted historical works because institutions typically wanted portraits rather than large narrative works to honor important events. However, after 1830 in the United States artists began to appeal to buyers with small, often amusing genre paintings, sometimes pointing to social conditions or political issues.

Benjamin West
Ascension of Christ (Study)
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase, 1952, A678
West, born in Pennsylvania, proved to be so talented in his youth that patrons sent him to Rome, Paris, and London to study. Without returning home, he settled in London, where his ambition to be a history painter could be satisfied. A generous teacher, he became a mentor to American artists who traveled abroad for study, including Charles Willson Peale(1741-1827) and his son Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860). His talent for large historical works earned West the respect of British artists, who elected him president of the Royal Academy of Arts of London. Astonishingly, given his American birth, he became court painter to King George III, who commissioned West to decorate the chapel at Windsor Castle. Ascension of Christ was a study for this project, which unfortunately was not carried out. However, West did paint other works for which the study was apparently a first step. This work shows West's capacity for fluid drawing and capture of implied movement. As Christ ascends into the heavens in the upper left, accompanied by angels, his stunned followers watch him with amazement.
Thomas Cole
Study for "The Voyage of Life: Childhood"
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase from William Macbeth, Inc., New York, New York, 1953, A756
Cole, honored as the founder of the Hudson River School landscapists, is best known for his wilderness scenes, painted near sites popular with tourists. Yet he relished narrative, especially allegorical story-telling that could be placed in a landscape. His four-part series The Voyage of Life was one such work. Depicting life as a journey down a river, he envisioned Childhood as humanity emerging from a cave, guided by an angel. Youth shows a young man guiding his own boat, aiming toward a dream castle in the sky; in Manhood, the hero struggles through a rocky river in a storm, the angel no longer protecting him, his rudder broken and his hands clasped in prayer; in the final image, Old Age, an angel guides the white-haired man toward heaven. Cole painted the series for New York patron Samuel Ward, who wanted to display it in his dining room as a moral example for his daughter Julia Ward (later Howe). After finishing it in 1840, Cole wanted another version for exhibition, so he traced the original paintings, taking the tracings and studies to Rome to finish the second series in 1842. The museum's study is for that second series, which is now displayed at the National Gallery in Washington. The first is in the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, New York.
Unknown artist, possibly Francis Edmonds
Vote for Gull 'Em
Circa 1840
Oil on canvas
Lent to the Museum by the Strass-Neville Collection
This political satire, tentatively attributed to the New York banker, politician and artist Francis Edmonds, makes fun of blatant campaigning during elections in the 1840s. With the broadside entitled "Vote for Gull 'Em" it accuses the candidate for re-election to the presidency in 1840, Martin Van Buren, of having "gulled" the people during his administration (1837-1841). The man and wife in the foreground, however, do not look fooled. The voter, engaged in reading a book, has also been reading his newspaper. This genre painting is unusual in taking direct aim at a political candidate; such critiques, many of them quite nasty, were typically done with prints. The phrase "gulled" frequently appeared in political prints of the time.
Sarony, Major & Knapp after Rembrandt Peale
Court of Death
Gift of Spence & Cinda Perry, Hagerstown, Maryland, 2005, A4031
Fulfilling his desire to be a successful history painter as well as a portraitist, Rembrandt Peale was attracted to moral allegory for his history paintings. Inspired by a poem by the Anglican bishop Beilby Porteus (1732-1809) that praised human beings as makers of their own destiny rather than predestined, Peale created a huge painting (11 ? x 23 ft) with the dark figure of Death on a throne in the center. To the right, the four horsemen of the apocalypse (war, conflagration, famine, and pestilence, or the "prime ministers of Death) rush out of the picture to inflict their misery on humanity. To the left are gathered youth who have fallen to drink, immoral lives, and suicide. The hopeful sign is an old man being helped to Death by a lovely woman; he has lived a good life. Peale toured the painting to many cities, charging admission and depending on the recommendations of clergymen to their congregations. In 1859 he sold the work to a buyer who arranged for chromolithographs to be made. The chromolithographs were accompanied by a detailed explanation of the moral allegory. 
Daniel Ridgway Knight
The Burning of Chambersburg
Museum purchase, 1968, A1541
The Civil War inspired a number of images, many of them painted after the war. Knight, a Union officer from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, chose to pay tribute to the Confederate burning of his city some two years after he had left the army and set up his studio in Philadelphia. He chose not to represent the violence itself, but the effects of it, with the result being a memorable history painting. When the Chambersburg citizens were confronted with a ransom demand by Confederate General McCausland (as ordered by General Jubal Early) on July 28, 1864, they refused to meet it. The sum was considerably higher than that demanded of Hagerstown (which was not burned)--$100,000 in gold or $500,000 in U.S. currency. On July 30, Confederates burned the town, although some soldiers refused to participate, considering it to be barbaric. Knight may or may not have been present at the conflagration. However, in 1867, he painted this remembrance of the trauma experienced by Chambersburg residents, focusing on some who had fled to the countryside. Exhausted refugees rest in the foreground, while three young men peer out the collapsing door at the flames in the distance.
James E. Buttersworth
American, born in England
Puritan and Priscilla off Sandy Hook
Oil on panel
Gift of Mr. Sidney A. Levyne, Pikesville, Maryland, 1966, A1473
When Buttersworth arrived in New York in 1845, he was already an accomplished draftsman and painter of yachts and clipperships. Before long, the American lithography firm of Currier and Ives based most of its popular marine prints on Buttersworth's work. At the time he painted Puritan and Priscilla off Sandy Hook, the clipper ship was the fastest sailing vessel and deemed by many the most beautiful. Soon, however, steamboats took over much of the freight and passenger traffic, and Buttersworth began painting yachts, especially yacht racing. With exquisite care he delineated rigging, sails, and even the waves. The New Jersey shore was a popular location for these races, and Sandy Hook Lighthouse a good observation post. In this picture, one can almost feel the wind.
John George Brown
American, born in England
The Dilettante
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Lee Stine, Sharpsburg, Maryland, in honor of the Museum's 75th anniversary, 2005, A4084
Brown's The Dilettante is one of the artist's many paintings of urban "urchins." A major problem in many nineteenth-century cities, the young boys, many of whom were homeless, were the object of sentiment by a comfortable society who denied that poverty was real or could be helped. Brown took up this position in his paintings, representing the young bootblacks, newspaper sellers, and vendors as cheerful and carefree. Typically they wore ragged clothing and scuffed shoes, but their faces bloomed with health. The young fellow in this painting, having found a broken vase in the nearby trash can, is celebrating his good "taste." Brown, who arrived in New York in 1853 already trained as an artist, at first painted rural children, then turned to city boys, making his fortune with these sought-after images. For a change of scene and mood, he often painted landscapes in the Hudson River valley and White Mountains, but it is his urchin paintings for which he is remembered.


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