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Monday, January 16, 2012

Redwood Project: Caroline McGuckian's New Entry

Blog: Redwood Project Student Work: Caroline McGuckian

Caroline McGuckian’s entry for Duncan McFarlane’s Britannia—part of our collaboration with the Redwood library to catalog their collection—demonstrates the types of research skills students acquire in the Methodologies of Research course.  Blending together solid primary sources with modern scholarship, McGuckian was able to identify the vessel depicted in the painting, and this allowed her to examine more specifically the image’s content and significance.  This is a welcome addition to the catalog.

Duncan McFarlane, Britannia, 1854, oil on canvas
Gift of James T. Patten
Image copyright Redwood Libray
While the Dutch and English ruled the seas during the 17th and 18th centuries, America challenged these powers in the 19th century.  Along with the struggle for dominance over the open seas, grew the popularity of Marine art within each country. After the War of 1812, which was rooted in England and America’s battle for the authority of Atlantic trade, America’s involvement sparked the curiosity within its people for marine art and the romanticized notion of exploring unknown territories.  During this time was also when America began its growth as a nation and westward expansion. Much like landscape painting in America during the nineteenth century, Marine painting showed the growing fascination of expansion and exploration.
The majority of Marine Art during the nineteenth century was produced on commission, in most cases by the owner of the ship.  Many American works resemble English examples, since many of the artists were Europeans or Americans working in the established English style of marine painting. Scottish-born artist Duncan McFarlane (c. 1818-1865) used the Liverpool Harbor as his backdrop and was able to make a substantial living as a skilled artist.  Liverpool was the perfect place to observe America’s ships, as the harbor served as the main source for America’s trade with England.  McFarlane typically included multiple views of a single ship in his compositions, and rigorously depicted ship’s flags and rigging details.  His paintings are characterized by their brightly lit blue skies and choppy green waters topped with white-capped waves.   The Britannia, 1854, signed on the reverse with, “D. McFarlane 1854,” depicts a clipper ship.  Known for their quick speed and majestic beauty, these ships were a popular subject for marine art in the nineteenth century. One detail that recurs in many of McFarlane’s paintings is the image of a seagull placed in the foreground of the painting.  The seagull is depicted flying above the choppy waves on the lower left side of the canvas. The ship Britannia is pictured gliding into Liverpool Harbor, distinguishable by the distant hill with topping lighthouse known as Point Lynas.
The ship Britannia was built in 1853 in Bath, Maine weighing 1194 tons.  The painting was most likely painted by McFarlane on commission from the Britannia’s owner George F. Patten of Bath, Maine.  Patten, a respectable citizen and businessman, established a successful shipbuilding company in the early 1800’s, producing multiple vessels including forty ships. As Duncan McFarlane never left Liverpool, there is no doubt that he painted the Britannia while the ship was docked at the Liverpool Harbor.  In July of 1859, the Britannia was documented upon its arrival in Liverpool to deliver a cargo of coal.  The Redwood Library was given the painting by James T. Patten, George F. Patten’s son.


1850 Federal Census, Bath, Maine.

A.S. Davidson, Marine Art & Liverpool Painters, Places, & Flag Codes 1760-1960, (Wolverhampton, England: Waine Research Publications, 1986).

Alan Granby, Flying the Colors: The Unseen Treasures of Nineteenth-Century American Marine Art (Manchester, Vermont: Hudson River Press LLC, 2009).

Michael E. Leek, The Art of Nautical Illustration: A Visual Tribute to the Achievements of the Classic Marine Illustrators, (London: Quatro Publishing Plc.,1991).

Marine Intelligence, New York Times, September 21, 1859, 8.

New York marine register: a standard of classification of American ports,1857, (New York: R.C. Root, Anthony & C, 1857)

Parker McCobb Reed, History of Bath and Environs, Sagahadoc County, Maine: 1607-1894, (Portland, Maine: Lakeside Press, 1894), 340.

John Wilmerding, American Marine Painting, (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1987).

Brief Mention: Student Seol Park's Article

An overdue note of congratulations is due to Seol Park, one of the program’s students who will graduate in March 2012, for her article “Northern Lights and the Postwar Period in Silver Production,” which appeared in the September-October issue of Silver Magazine.  Park’s work examines the contributions of the International Silver Company, in particular the designer Alfred Kintz, and traces his role in help shaping the recovery of the silverware industry after World War II.

You can purchase back issues here.

Congratulation's Seol!

Newport Furniture Symposium at Christie's

If the first night of Christie’s Newport Furniture Symposium was any indication of what Americana week holds, there are great things in store for the week ahead and interest in American Decorative Arts continues to grow.  It was a brutally cold evening in New York, yet despite this, people showed up in droves to preview the sale and attend the lecture by Patricia Kane, Friends of American Arts Curator of Decorative from Yale University.  Kane, who has been the driving force behind Yale’s Rhode Island Furniture Archive, gave a talk titled: “Following in the Footsteps of Joseph Ott: Even More Notes on Rhode Island Furniture.”  Ott, who served as director of the Rhode Island Historical Society from 1971-74, was a scholar and collector of Rhode Island Furniture who added greatly to the field by identifying makers previously overlooked.  As Kane noted, in Ott’s short tenure, he expanded the field of known furniture makers by 20%, bringing the total number of named craftsmen to just under 400. 

Thanks to Kane’s continued efforts, Yale’s archive now lists about 1800 makers, and her talk focused on the state of the field.  Of particular interest is the work beginning to identify other centers of production besides Newport and starting to establish the regional trends of areas like Providence, Warwick, and Kingston.  If, at first glance, these seem to be narrow distinctions useful only to connoisseurs and collectors, a second and deeper look is warranted.  This changes the regional history of the area’s furniture making, and with that there will be distinct differences in how the social and economic histories of Rhode Island (in general) and Newport (in particular) need to be told.  These discoveries, provided there are those continuing to incorporate them into their research and teaching, will reshape the standard models of colonial production history and allow for a richer and more complex understanding of the field.

Even before the lecture began, however, John Hays—Deputy Director for Christie’s America—had a surprise in store for the audience.  He invited up Joseph Ott’s son, who announced that in honor of his father’s memory they would like to donate two carved legs to an Institution designed for the study of decorative arts.  Nobody seemed more surprised than Wendy Cooper of Winterthur, when they asked her to come up and accept the donation.  “This,” she told the crowd, “is totally unexpected.”  It was a very sweet gesture by the Ott family and one that demonstrates the generosity of American Decorative Arts collectors and the general support of education and research by the collecting community.

The previews this week at both auction houses this week are exceptional, with fully half (three of six-known) of the signed works by John Townsend available for viewing.  As Pat Kane pointed out in an aside in her lecture: “What’s happening this week in the auctions in New York has to be some sort of a landmark.”

It was a great event, and nice to see so many familiar faces out and about for Americana week.  A few of the people in attendance last night warrant mention because they are always generous with their time to our students, and to demonstrate how important the week is to collectors, scholars, curators, and those in the industry:

(in no particular order)
Carrie Barratt, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Morrie Heckscher, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Brock Jobe, Winterthur
Nicholas Vincent, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Brandy Culp, Historic Charleston
Alexandra Kirtley, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Tara Gleason Chicirda, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
Dennis Carr, Museum of Fine Arts Boston
Ron Bourgeau, Northeast Auctions
Elle Shushan, premier dealer in portrait miniatures

John Hays and Andrew Holter (one of our American Arts Course Alums, no less) deserve a lot of credit and gratitude for hosting such a wonderful evening.

Even Blogs Take Holidays: News from NYC

It seems late to be posting the first post of the new year in mid-January, but the blog has been on break, taking a much-needed vacation while I finished writing a chapter for an upcoming exhibition on Frans Wildenhain, a Bauhaus-trained potter who came to the United States in the late 1940s.  The exhibition is the effort of Bruce Austin, who has put together an excellent website that you can view here.  My essay traces the development of American ceramics during Wildenhain's career and covers the major movements and figures.

Some other news:

I had the good fortune of attending the opening of the Met's "Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York," an impressive exhibition of Phyfe's work and the first retrospective to be held featuring him in 90 years.  I cannot recall seeing an opening for American furniture so well-attended, the galleries were packed and it was difficult to take it all in.  Luckily, the exhibit runs through May 6 and (for those unable to head East) there is an exceptional catalog of work.  Peter Kenny's long study of Phyfe has paid off and I am hopeful that this will introduce Phyfe and his work to a new audience.

Winter Antique Show:

NY's premier antiques event kicks off this week and once again the show is assisted by Interns from the American Fine and Decorative Arts Program at Sotheby's Institute of Art.  Throughout the course of two weeks, students learn aspects of the business that are impossible to tech in a classroom, like working with Show staff, vetting committees, dealers, and interacting directly with the press and public.  I am happy to say that this year we are sending 15 interns to the show and that they'll be working directly with two star Alumi: Mary Urban (who ran the American Art Fair this Fall) and Ashley Rettenmaier, Project Manager.  

Americana Week:

For those of you unfamiliar with the antiques trade, this is Americana week in New York, and in addition to the Phyfe Show, and the Winter Antiques Show, it means that the Auction houses put forward their best material, creating a critical mass of objects in the city throughout the week.  In addition, this year Christie's is hosting a symposium on Newport furniture, designed to coincide with their sale and also the opening of the American Wing at the Met's paintings galleries.   Both houses offer an exceptional chance to see and experience some of the finest pieces of Americana before their tucked away into private collections, or behind the ropes and glass of museums.  I should also mention that Leigh Keno has another impressive sale taking place this week.  It makes for a busy but rewarding week in the city.

Last, and certainly not least.

American Paintings?  In New York?  After a long absence the long awaited opening of the Met's galleries will finally happen.  After a bit of a rough spell for paintings in New York (Especially during the period that the NYHS and the Met were closed for renovation) things return to normal as the Met's galleries finally re-open this week.  Highlights are sure to include the recently cleaned and framed Washington Crossing the Delaware by Leutze, as well as Church's Heart of the Andes which has been reframed in a period frame.  Sargent's Madame X is also back her in frame, looking a bit more dignified than she did in the Luce Center, where her frame would not fit in the case and was removed.  In contrast to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston whose new American wing is more intimate in scale, richly colored with period wall coverings, and  feels (with the exception of the Native American Work) richly integrated in terms of different materials and media, the Met's wing is clean, austere, and grand.  The very different installations afford an interesting  comparison of visitor experience, the role of context in display, and in what sort of audiences each of the spaces speaks to.  This should certainly be the subject of another post.