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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Redwood Catalog Entry: Stephanie Bancroft's entry on a view of Beavertail Lighthouse

Beavertail Tower Lighthouse, Jamestown, Rhode Island
possibly 1856-1900 
Oil on Canvas, 13 x 18 inches
Gift of Roger King

Located on the southern tip of Jamestown, Rhode Island, Beavertail Lighthouse played a pivotal role in the success of Newport’s shipping industry. From its initial erection in 1749 to the present day, Beavertail has provided sailors safe passage though often treacherous waters to Newport Harbor. As Newport declined in importance as a center of commercial shipping and reinvented itself as a fashionable seaside resort for the wealthy and upwardly mobile in the 19th century, Beavertail prevailed as a popular landmark for tourists. Additionally, Beavertail served as a test center for the ongoing development of foghorn technology, and boasted a state-of-the-art Fresnel lens and lighting apparatuses.

The third lighthouse to be built within the English colonies, money was raised for Beavertail’s construction by the creation of the first tariff on imports and exports coming through Newport in 1731. The stone structure depicted in the painting is in fact the third version of Beavertail lighthouse, erected in 1856 as a replacement for the wooden structure originally built in 1753. This earlier lighthouse was famously burned by the British upon their retreat from Newport in 1779, but subsequently was rebuilt in 1783. 

The painting depicts the lighthouse and accompanying buildings as they appeared between approximately 1856 and 1900. The current lighthouse and keeper’s house (the larger white structure to the left of the tower) were both completed in 1856. Light keeper Silas Gardner Shaw had both a whitewashed sty and hen house built during his first tenure in the post (1858-1862). These are likely depicted as the small structures adjacent to the assistant keeper’s house to the right of the tower. The upper half of the tower was painted white for greater visibility in 1900. It is important to note, however, that fact that the painting depicts Beavertail lighthouse between 1856 and 1900 does not exclude the possibility that it was painted after 1900, possibly from another source. 

Beavertail Lighthouse was depicted as it would have been seen from a vessel approaching Narragansett Bay. The difficulty of executing an image from this perspective suggests that this composition may be an artistic convention. The image of a lighthouse standing as a single focus amidst an unruly sea and thunderheads ominously gathering in the distance effectively conveys the idea of the lighthouse as a beacon safeguarding those at sea. In comparison, a more natural land-based composition, while more realistic, would diminish the iconographic power of the subject.  

Charming as the subject matter may be, this work cannot be accurately described as either a fine example of dramatic painting or realism. The stylized treatment of the crashing waves in the foreground, the flat and formulaic treatment of a threatening sky, and the overly simplistic treatment of architectural forms suggests that the painter lacked formal training. Additionally, in comparison to the size and depth of the churning sea and sky, the middle ground is flattened and compressed, suggesting at best a rudimentary understanding or use of proportion and perspective. The artist seemed to have relied instead on a more vernacular treatment of various subject matter within the composition, further promoting the possibility that this may have been painted by an itinerant or amateur artist.

Newport became famous as a seaside resort initially for wealthy antebellum southerners seeking respite from the sweltering southern coastal cities, and increasingly for members of New York and Boston’s elite. The city grew steadily from the 1830’s onward through the end of the 19th century as a playground for the wealthy, luring artists who sought to reap financial benefit by painting maritime and coastal scenes, which would then serve as stylish souvenirs and mementos.

Beavertail lighthouse thus took on a secondary function as a pleasurable scenic venue for visitors to take in the views of Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic beyond. Although maritime paintings of ships and battle scenes dominated the 19th century market, harbor views and coastal scenes were a similarly popular, though less aggressive aspect of the genre. Generally speaking, lighthouses are rarely found as the primary focus of fine art maritime painting. However, given Beavertail’s iconic status within the larger Newport landscape and history, the lighthouse may have been a popular subject for amateur artists in the area.


Newport and Narragansett Bay: a guide to the principal places of interest in Newport and to the summer resorts of Narragansett Bay, with other information of value to visitors. Providence: Tillinghast & Mason, 1870.

Bayles, Richard M. History of Newport County, Rhode Island: From the year 1638 to the year 1887, including the settlement of its towns, and their subsequent progress. New York: L.E. Preston & Co., 1888.

Cahoone, Sarah S. Sketches of Newport and its vicinity: with notices respecting the history, settlement and geography of Rhode Island. New York: J.S. Taylor, 1842.

Chase, Fred D. Newport, Block Island and Narragansett Pier: a brief history and tourists' guide to points of interest, containing also maps of Newport and Block Island. [S.I. : s.n., ca. 1900.

Crane, Elaine Forman. A dependent people: Newport, Rhode Island, in the Revolutionary era. New York: Fordham University Press, 1985.

Gerdts, William H. Art Across America: two centuries of regional painting, 1710-1920, vol. 1: The East and Mid-Atlantic. New York: Abbeville Press, 1990.

James, Sydney V. Colonial Rhode Island: a history. New York: Scribner, 1975.

Sterngass, Jonathan. First resorts: pursuing pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport, and Coney Island. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Withey. Lynne. Urban Growth in Colonial Rhode Island: Newport and Providence in the eighteenth century. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984.

James L. Yarnall, Newport through its architecture: a history of styles from postmedieval to postmodern. Newport, RI: Salve Regina University Press in association with University Press of New England, Hanover and London, 2005.

Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association:

Jamestown, Rhode Island Information:

United States Coast Guard Index of Lighthouses:

Redwood Catalog: Samantha Rothenberg's entry on William Willard's Abraham Lincoln

William Willard, Abraham Lincoln, ca. 1865
Oil on Canvas, 30” x 25”
Note on stretcher:  “Wm. Willard Catalogue—[2?] 83”

A prolific painter from Sturbridge, Massachusetts, William Willard (1819-1904) created this portrait of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, the year of his death.  As an adult, Willard moved to Boston where he pursued a variety of careers before he decided to become an artist, including farmer, jeweler, actor and hatter.  Additionally, he was one of the founders of the Massachusetts Academy of Fine Arts, where he worked as an instructor for five years.  In the early 1850s, Willard became avidly interested in collecting photographs.  To that end, a contemporary publication noted in 1903 that if one were to visit the basement of the artist’s studio, he or she would find ambrotypes and daguerreotypes of a large assortment of notable people of the previous forty-five years. 
Based on the availability of Lincoln images and Willard’s enthusiasm for collecting photographs, which he often used as models for his work, it is unlikely that Lincoln actually sat for this portrait. Rather, this particular image was most likely copied from a contemporary photograph of Lincoln taken either by Matthew Brady or his studio manager, Anthony Berger.  Demand for Lincoln paraphernalia reached its all-time high after the president’s death, particularly with regard to paintings and household objects bearing the late president’s image. It should be noted that this was not Willard’s sole portrait of the president; there are records of at least three other Lincoln portraits painted by Willard, two of which are on display at the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, MA.  The third known painting hangs at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., depicting the same well-known Anthony Berger profile photograph found on the United States penny. 

Willard’s technique of painting portraits from photographs was a new method at the time, and critics such as N.P. Willis asserted that the daguerreotype and similar photographic technologies would destroy the aesthetic value of portraiture, claiming that “with his dozen or more long sittings, [the artist] has time enough to make a careful study of how the character is worked out in the physiognomy, and to paint accordingly.”   Despite such negative criticism, artists like Willard did not hesitate to make use of the new technology, especially when the portrait depicted a subject as famous and desirable as Lincoln.

This portrait was completed two years after Lincoln inflamed the Civil War’s national tensions by announcing in his Final Emancipation Proclamation speech that “all persons held as slaves within any state, or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward and forever free.” Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not formally end all slavery, it ignited great amounts of hostility and fundamentally altered the character of the war between the Union and the Confederacy.  Even in death, public opinion about Lincoln was immensely polarized, divided between perceptions of him as a heroic martyr and an infamous villain. n Willard’s gracious—one might even say flattering— depiction of the president provides insight about the painter’s own politics, or, at the very least, those of his Boston-area patrons. Lincoln appears notably less gaunt and younger than he does in the photographic images that inspired this portrait. He bears a calm and pensive air, a marked difference from the worry-creased eyes and tense jaw found in the daguerreotypes. There is also an ennobling light highlighting the President’s forehead, a symbol used by painters to endow the subject with an air of illustriousness.

Willard’s portrait of Lincoln is historically significant because it depicts his subject in the year of his assassination, when the public sentiment was still divided regarding his complex legacy. Willard has captured a transitional moment in the story of the United States, before Lincoln’s reputation as one of the country’s greatest leaders was solidified into our national narrative.

Selected Bibliography:

Worcester (Mass.) Board of Trade, Worcester Chamber of Commerce, The Worcester Magazine: Devoted to Good Citizenship and Municipal Development (Worcester: Chamber of Commerce, 1903), 193-194.

Berger, Anthony. Abraham Lincoln, 1864. (accessed October 29, 2011). and 
Brady, Matthew B., Abraham Lincoln, 1864. (accessed October 29, 2011). For an extensive collection of  Lincoln photographs, also see The Library of Congress: American Memory,
Abraham Lincoln, Great Speeches: Unabridged (Mineola: Dover Publications, 1991), 98.

Beaumont Newhall, The Daguerrotype in America (Mineola: Courier Dover Publications, 1976), 78.

George Sullivan, Picturing Lincoln (New York: Clarion Books, 2000), 46.

New Redwood Entry: Cristy Humer on Leutze's Burnside

Ambrose Everett Burnside 
By Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868) 
Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches 
Gift of Henry G. Marquand 

This bust length portrait of the Civil War general Ambrose Everett Burnside is one of several paintings of Union military men executed by Emanuel Leutze toward the end of his career. It was gifted to the Redwood Library by Henry G. Marquand, an avid art collector and benefactor of many important museums and cultural institutions. 

Ambrose Burnside was an American soldier, inventor, railroad executive, and politician from Rhode Island. Born in Liberty, Indiana, he attended the United States Military Academy, graduating in 1847. He served in the military until 1853 when he resigned his commission to pursue the manufacture of the famous rifle that bears his name, the Burnside carbine. Unfortunately, he lost a lucrative contract to equip a large portion of the Army with his carbine and his factory was destroyed in a fire, causing financial ruin and forcing him to assign his firearm patents to others. 

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Burnside was a brigadier general in the Rhode Island Militia. Despite his lackluster performance at the First Battle of Bull Run in Virginia, he was soon given command of the Army of the Potomac. After a stalemate at Antietam and a humiliating defeat at Fredericksburg, President Lincoln assigned him to command a much smaller corps. After another disastrous defeat at the Battle of the Crater in 1864, he was relieved of his command and finally resigned his commission in 1865. 

After his resignation, Burnside was employed as a successful railroad executive with the Cincinnati and Martinsville Railroad and the Rhode Island Locomotive Works. He was elected to three one-year terms as Governor of Rhode Island from 1866 to 1869. In 1874, he was elected as U.S. Senator from Rhode Island, and served until his death in 1881. 

Burnside was considered a successful politician, but his military reputation was far less favorable. His tenure was marked by bitter animosity among his subordinates, and he lacked the personality and leadership necessary to direct his troops. Perhaps no one knew this better than he, as he twice refused command of the Army of the Potomac. Despite his many achievements, he is perhaps best known for his unique facial hair, and his name was the inspiration for the term “sideburns,” which was coined to describe this distinctive style. 

Emanuel Leutze was a German-born artist best known for his history paintings and murals commissioned by the U.S. government. His father was a political dissident and in 1825, the family left Germany and set sail for a new life in America. After settling in Philadelphia, the elder Leutze soon fell ill and died, but his political leanings would influence Emanuel throughout his life. 

After returning to Germany to study at the Dusseldorf Academy, Leutze soon got caught up in the revolution that was occurring throughout all of Europe in 1848, and particularly the fight for the unification of German states. He helped to establish the Malkasten, a new artists’ coalition that was meant to serve as a model of democratic ideas. The defeat of the 1848 revolution did not dampen Leutze’s democratic sensibilities, and his loyalty to the revolution’s goals naturally expressed themselves in his history painting. It was during this time that Leutze painted Washington Crossing the Delaware, the iconic work for which he is best known. 

By the late 1850s Leutze had grown disillusioned by the ongoing political repression in Germany. In 1959 he returned to the United States and settled in New York, where his fame still afforded him a steady stream of commissions. He worked steadily but increasingly erratically, and by the 1860s he was plagued by poor health, financial difficulties, and the sense of disillusionment that had begun in Germany. After losing a large public commission to a rival painter, Leutze conceived a program to paint portraits of commanders of the Union Army, of which General Burnside was one. At his death in 1868, only five of these portraits had been executed. 

The painting in the Redwood Library is actually a study for a full-length portrait of General Burnside at the Battle of Antietam, which Leutze painted from life in 1863. The painting depicts the general standing in uniform just before the capture of the Stone Bridge during the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. It was exhibited with some fanfare at the annual exhibition of the Boston Athenaeum in May. The large canvas was purchased for Brown University by a group of alumni, and in 1938 was given on permanent loan to the Rhode Island Statehouse where it hangs today.


Groseclose, Barbara S. Emanuel Leutze, 1816-1868: Freedom is the Only King. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1975. 

Marvel, William. Burnside. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. 

Poore, Benjamin Perley. The Life and Public Services of Ambrose E. Burnside, Soldier, Citizen, Statesman. Providence: JA & RA Reid, 1882. 

Stehle, Raymond Louis. Emanuel Leutze, 1816-1868. Washington: Columbia Historical Society, 1971. 

Internet Sources 

Emanuel Leutze's Portrait of General Ambrose Burnside at Antietam, Brown University Library Special Collections,, accessed November 28, 2011.