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Monday, March 26, 2012

Martin Johnson Heade and Edward Hicks: A New Discovery

Among the many gaps in the chronology of Martin Johnson Heade’s life and career, his training and early work are particularly poorly documented.  A constant theme, however, in the scholarship on Heade has been his association with Edward Hicks, the Quaker preacher and painter, whose role has been suggested, yet never clearly defined.  Theodore Stebbins, for instance, in his The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade: A Critical Analysis and Catalogue RaisonnĂ© (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000), 2-3 noted that although 19th century sources were insistent upon the association, there was no external evidence to corroborate these assertions.  The question remains: what, if anything, did Heade learn from Hicks and how did this shape his work.

Scholars since Robert McIntyre have generally accepted this story, owing in part to Heade’s relationship with Thomas Hicks, evident in the portrait of Heade that Thomas Hicks painted in the 1840s.  While their acquaintance is made clear, the issue of Edward Hicks’s influence on the young Heade remains opaque.  Heade’s earliest documented paintings are portraits, a genre that Hicks largely avoided.  While some have tried to link Heade’s early style to Hicks’ teaching—emphasizing its flattened, primitive qualities of paint handling—there are no obvious signs that one can point to.  Whether Heade’s early work is the result of his training, or instead a common feature of amateur artists as they progress (here I think of Copley’s earliest work, or even that of Stuart and West) is a question that remains unanswered and rarely asked. 

A recently discovered source, however, strengthens Heade’s association with Hicks and sheds new light on the artist’s career in the early 1840s.  As reported by The Hunterdon Gazette on April 6, 1842, Heade’s early career involved sign painting as well as portraiture:

The Lambertville Cadets were presented, on Saturday afternoon, March 26th, with a beautiful Flag, by the Ladies of their village. On one side of the Flag is painted the Arms of New Jersey, on the other side the National Arms. The execution of these devices is such as to answer the expectations raised by the known skill and taste of the artist, Mr. Martin J. Heed.

This flag has been prepared expressly for this occasion, and while it reflects great credit upon the artist, it will at the same time be still greater credit to you who bear it, on account of the source from whence it came.

The flag has not been located, but its commission forms the strongest corroboration of the link between Hicks (painting carriages and signs) and Heade since it is the only known mention of the latter’s work outside of easel painting.  It demonstrates as well that while Heade was struggling to gain a name for himself as a portrait painter—he exhibited as early as 1841 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts—he was also taking commissions typical of rural and itinerant portraitists of the time.  Perhaps in time, when more of these types of commissions come to light, a broader understanding of Heade’s early career will emerge.

Jonathan Clancy

Friday, March 9, 2012

Anna Henger Considers an Early History Painting by Gustavus Hesselius

Gustavus Hesselius’ Last Supper

In 1721 the Swedish born painter Gustavus Hesselius (1682-1755)[1] was commissioned by St. Barnabas Church in Prince George’s County, Maryland to paint the first recorded religious painting in the colonies. This painting is not only the earliest known religious painting created in the colonies, it represents the earliest known public commission given to a colonial painter.
 In 1721 Hesselius was commissioned by St. Barnabas Church to paint an altar piece of the Last Supper. The painting was completed in a year and Hesselius was paid seventeen pounds upon delivery. The painting was believed destroyed when St. Barnabas burned to the ground in 1773 but was rediscovered in 1917 by Mr. C. H. Hart.[2] In 1921 The Last Supper was featured in an exhibition on early American paintings held at the Museum of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. According to American Art News the Last Supper was the most interesting painting in the entire exhibit.[3]
Gustavus Hesselius was born in Sweden to a religious and intellectually minded family. In 1711 he traveled with his brother Andreas, who was a Lutheran pastor, to a Swedish colony in Wilmington, Delaware. Over the next forty years Hesselius traveled between Maryland and Philadelphia. He advertised in the “Philadelphia Packet” on December 11, 1740 as a painter of coats of arms on coaches, signs, landscapes, as a gilder, and a picture cleaner and mender.[4] There are some indications Benjamin West may have taken paintings lessons from Hesselius.[5] A painting of a monkey probably completed before Hesselius came to the colonies demonstrates his capabilities as a painter.[6] Hesselius’ paintings have been called “simple” and “realistic” and his figures have a slightly wooden quality, probably because of his unfamiliarity with human anatomy.

            Despite Gustave’s undeveloped style he was an ambitious painter. In the Last Supper he created an original composition inspired by an obscure old master painting. The painting is inspired by a fresco by Andrea del Sarto in the refectory of the Vallambrosan convent of San Salvi in Florence.[7] Hesselius amended Andrea del Sarto’s composition by placing John in front of the table, perhaps to give an illusion of further depth to the painting. He copied the paneling in del Sarto’s version but removed the arch and second story above the figures of Jesus and his apostles, most probably because he knew he did not have the knowledge of perspective to depict the complex architectural features in del Sarto’s version. Nor was this his only painting with a religious theme. In 1748 he exhibited in one of his home’s windows a painting of the crucifixion by his hand.[8] Given the painting’s unusual subject, and composition for its time and place of creation the Last Supper deserves a more thorough analysis by art historians and scholars of early American history.

[1] Roland E. Fleischer and Richard K. Doud. "Hesselius." In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online, (accessed December 18, 2011).
[2] The Art News, Vol. 21, No. 24 (Mar. 24, 1923), pp. 1-12
Article Stable URL:, 5.
[3]American Art News , Vol. 15, No. 17 (Feb. 3, 1917), pp. 1-8
Article Stable URL:, 3.
[5] Rodgers, David. "West, Benjamin." In The Oxford Companion to Western Art, edited by Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford Art Online, (accessed December 18, 2011).
[6] The Favourite Monkey of Carl Linnaeus (1707-78) o/c, Gustavus Hesselius,
[7] “Early American Paintings Exhibition” at the Museum of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences
[8] Charles Henry Hart, “Gustavus Hesselius. The Earliest Painter and Organ-Builder in America.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 29, no. 2 (1905) pp. 129-133 accessed, December 17, 2011, 131.

Corinne Plumhoff reminds you why you need to remember Luman Reed

In his 1834 compendium, A History of the Rise and Porgress of the Arts of Design in the United States, art historian William Dunlap addressed the topic of contemporary art collecting in the nation.  Dunlap praised the efforts of those who patronized living American artists rather than buying old masters from Europe.  Having begun collecting art in 1832, Luman Reed’s dedicated efforts over the course of two years from 1832 to 1834 warranted mention by Dunlap in his writings. Dunlap notes, “the collection of Luman Reed, Esq. of Greenwhich-street, already is rich in works of modern art; and his munificent spirit is enriching it daily from the pencils of Cole, Morse, and other prominent artists”.  Dunlap goes further to state that those, like Reed who support local artists were “more entitled to praise than any purchaser of the works of by-gone days”.

Asher B. Durand, Luman Reed, 1835.  Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A self-made businessman, Luman Reed’s ascent to an established and note-worthy art collector presents an intriguing and unique story. This unlikely patron and his humble beginnings stood in contrast to collectors such as Robert Gilmor, Jr. and Daniel Wadsworh whose privileged upbringings certainly provided a different perspective and motivation. The rise of Jacksonian democracy brought forth an emerging, upwardly mobile, middle class.  New wealth materialized in the first half of the 19th century, establishing a citizenry that differed from the old elite of the Federalist period.

Luman Reed introduced a fresh perspective to the American art scene in the years 1832-1834. He routinely expressed genuine interest in contemporary artists such as Thomas Cole, William Sidney Mount, and Asher Durand, offering both financial and moral support. Oftentimes, new collectors, like Reed, proved more willing to listen and receive guidance from the artist, rather than the older elite’s practice of dictating artistic demands. Consequently, Thomas Cole’s budding friendship with Reed proved advantageous in 1833, when Reed agreed to commission Cole’s highly conceptualized series The Course of Empire.  Cole, who desired to pursue historical landscapes, sought funding from many established collectors. Cole believed these paintings would appeal to his federalist patrons but his attempts for support proved fruitless.  Reed’s patronage derived from a sense of patriotism and a true belief that American artists deserved support. These guiding principles laid the foundation of a thoughtful collector who allowed the artist to pursue subjects and styles of their own choice.

The Course of Empire consisted of a five-part series depicting first a nation’s rise to glory and then consequent demise and extinction.  Cole’s subject matter provided a social commentary on the spread of democracy and growth of a nation. Many social and political issues emerged in the mid-nineteenth century in regards to westward expansion, citizenship, and the spread of wealth.  Reed represented a new prosperity that many of the old guard questioned and feared, including Cole.  Thus, Reed’s support truly demonstrates a forward thinking individual, exceptional for his time. Reed’s willingness to appreciate an artist’s perspective as well as maintain an open-mind regarding thematic representation attests to his distinctive character.

This specific example of patronage provides just one instance of the benevolence of Luman Reed.  In a letter written to William Sidney Mount upon the acquisition of the artist’s work Bargaining for a Horse, Reed writes, “this is a new era in the fine arts in this Country, we have native talent and it is coming out as rapidly as necessary. Your picture of the ‘Bargain’ is the wonder and delight of every one that sees it”.  At his death in 1836, Reed’s collection consisted of at least sixty-five works of art. The size of his collection and his steadfast patronage of American artists highlights this truly unique collector ‘s impact on American art and its future patrons.


Craven, Wayne. “Luman Reed: His Collection and Gallery,” American Art Journal, vol. 2, no. 2 (Spring 1980).

Dunlap, William. A History of the Rise and Porgress of the Arts of Design in the United States, vol 2. New York: Dover, 1969. (first published in 1834). Quoted in Wayne Craven, “Luman Reed, Patron: His Collection and Gallery.” The American Art Journal, vol. II, no. 2 (Spring, 1980).

Foshay, Ella A. Mr. Luman Reed’s Picture Gallery: A Pioneer Collection of American Art.  New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1990.

Frakenstein,Wayne. Painter of Rural America: William Sidney Mount, 1807-1868. Washington, DC: International Exhibitions Foundation, 1968. Quoted in Wayne Craven, “Luman Reed, Patron: His Collection and Gallery.” The American Art Journal, vol. II, no. 2 (Spring, 1980).

Pohl, Frances K. Framing America: A Social History of American Art. 2nd Ed.  New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc., 2008.

Arts and Crafts Sales: David Rago

Predictors of market trends have been alternatively lamenting and predicting (for quite some time now) the demise of the Arts and Crafts market.  Recent results from David Rago's sale suggest a market that is shifting, but far from on its last legs.  

The sale was helped by a number of strong and rare pieces, some of which reached new highs for the marketplace, and subject to similar shifts and trends evident in other markets as well.  In general, as this market has taken off from the late 1970s through the early 2000s, it had already showed signs of pricing out younger, newer collectors and entrenching itself amongst and wealthier group of buyers.  For a while, this worked fine, since three larger foundations (Crab Tree Farms, ADA1900, and Two Red Roses), and a number of important private collectors kept the market on a general upward trend.  That, combined with a steady supply of high end examples pushed the market ever higher.  Yet, even by late 1990s, things had begun to shift.  While sales of Stickley remained strong, the prices for Rookwood pottery began leveling off, and in the case of some glaze lines even declining.  

The market seems to be undergoing similar shifts now, which combined with a general uneasiness about the direction of the economy, seems to have undermined the lower and middle ends of this field.  In general, the high end seems a bit more insulated from these fluctuations, although recent sales suggest that aggressive reserves and pricing work to discourage bidding and frequently end up with lots that have not sold.   

First the high points of the sale:

Undoubtedly the star of the show was lot 97  WILLIAM PRICE / ROSE VALLEY COMMUNITY, described as an "Important large trestle table, Rose Valley, PA, ca. 1901" and estimated at $30-40,000.  When the bidding stopped, the hammer fell and the fees were paid, the table brought in $237,000, almost six times its high estimate.  

Rose Valley's relatively small output and the provenance and condition of the piece appear to have contributed substantially to the bidding war.  In some ways the piece is as important as it is enigmatic, resembling the English Gothic inspired designs of the 1880s and 90s more than contemporary furniture of 1901.  As such, it does crystalize the philosophy of Rose Valley who were looking backward and emulating the past for their inspiration, rather than translating it into a more modern idiom.

The George Ohr offerings proved a bit mixed at this sale, suggesting that collectors are willing to pay for exceptional pieces, such as the large and impressive pitcher that sold for $50,000, but less interested in his more traditionally designed wares and smaller pieces.  The same seemed true for the metal work of Samuel Yellin, and other makers as well.  Oddities and rarities on the whole did well, and no lot better illustrated this tendency than an lot 134, an exquisite chest by F.A. Rawlence estimated at 6-9K, that eventually sold for $50K. 

Pieces more commonly available were less likely to break estimates, and a look at Teco vase no. 85 is instructive in this regard.  In December 2005, Sotheby's sold an example for over $22,000, but prices have declined steadily since then.  In 2007, two sold at Rago's for $8K and $10K respectively.  Don Treadway carried one that went for 8.5K in 2011, and the example sold this weekend hammered at 5500.  In fairness, the latest piece had a 2 inch restoration to the rim and other issues, but the price paid was less than a similar example sold in 2004.

Lot 80, Teco vase model 85.

These same patterns generally held throughout the sale and a general trend of arts and crafts pottery suggests softness in the once staple items that appear for sale.  What is does it mean to buyers?  The answer is pretty simple: if you like Grueby, Teco, Van Briggle, and Rookwood and you felt as though the market for these items was beyond your means, there has been enough of a correction that these pieces are becoming much more affordable.  For instance, a tiger Eye Rookwood Vase once owned by the Cincinnati Museum sold for under 3000 (including premium).  Van Briggle vases with some age and history have come back to saner prices. 

It seems to me that the correction of prices might be a good thing in the end for the market, as it has the potential to stimulate interest in collectors who had been previously priced out of it.  Will a younger generation of collectors step up, stop buying their furnishings at Pier 1, and find the clean lines and hand-crafted qualities of the Arts and Crafts somewhat appealing?  One might hope so.  There was a time when people purchased things for their use and beauty, not just their investment value.    

Americana Week: Auctions and Shows

I somehow omitted publishing this draft, so here it is a bit later, but all the same:  

Each year, for one week or so, New York becomes the nexus of Americana; sales by Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Leigh Keno, combined with the opening of the Winter Antique Show, provide strong reasons to brave the cold and look through the sales. Although it’s an annual event, it is unlikely that we’ll see a week like this for a while, with so much material for sale, and of such quality.  In this year's Americana week, a walk through the galleries would have provided and opportunity to see:

The American Furniture Sales were generally good, with both major auction houses selling the bulk of their lots.  The sale at Sotheby's was wide ranging, and featured strong examples of furniture, some individual Audubon prints, and some exceptional metalwork.  The star of the show was a presentation bowl and ladle, attributed to Jos. Heinrichs that exceeded the 150-250K estimate to bring in 314K (as an aside, I've tried to link directly to the lots especially in the Sotheby's sale since I find the ecatalog platform they use to be frustrating, unnecessarily difficult, and time consuming.  That being said, you might still need to scroll down to view the lot.)  Christie's had some especially strong pieces, too including a chair from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, an early Boston arm chair that well exceeded its estimate, and a New York pier table with great gilding and carving.  

Sotheby's students are busy, having finished up working the Winter Antique Show, arguably the finest collection of dealers and antiques in the United States.  Working with dealers and as support staff, the students learn the industry from the ground up.