Introduction to American Art, Part One

June 29, 2021 at 9:11 pm (Art)

Did I ever get a gloriously heavy dose of American Art the week before last! Two hours on a Friday evening, followed by a 9:30 AM to 4 PM session on the following Saturday.

Art historian Bonita Billman started us off with Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues. Ever heard of him? I hadn’t either.

Here’s a quick précis from the Met:

Born in Dieppe, a center for cartography and manuscript illumination, Le Moyne de Morgues emigrated to London, probably following the Huguenot massacres of 1572.

Le Moyne de Morgues accompanied a French expedition to Florida in 1564. The goal of the  expedition was to establish a colony. In this they did not succeed; however, Le Moyne de Morgue, a gifted artist, made numerous botanical paintings. This one is held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art; it is entitled A Sheet of Studies of Flowers: A Rose, a Heartsease, a Sweet Pea, a Garden Pea, and a Lax-flowered Orchid:

Equally valuable are Le Moyne de Morgue’s sketches of Native Americans.

For more on Le Moyne de Morgue’s images of Native American, click here.

And for more images of the fruits and the botanicals, which are truly lovely, click here.

In colonial America, portraits were in demand. Among the earliest, dated between 1671 and 1674, are these two of John Freake and his wife Elizabeth Clarke Freake, shown here holding baby Mary.

These works are both held by the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Mass. Fascinating information concerning these paintings can be found at the Worcester Art Museum’s site.

And why have I not mentioned the name of the artist? Because it is not known. He is usually referred to as the Freake Master or the Freake Limner. He dwells, seemingly forever, among the shadows of early America, a land evoked in the haunting prose of Nathaniel Hawthorne, in such stories as”The Minister’s Black Veil” and “Young Goodman Brown.”   (Some elements of this story might make for a compelling work of historical fiction, methinks.)

The Bermuda Group (Dean Berkeley and his Entourage), begun in 1728; reworked in 1739, by John Smibert

An interesting story lies behind this painting. Here are its main points, as summarized on the site of the Yale University Art Gallery:

The Bermuda Group commemorated an ambitious venture to found a seminary in Bermuda. Frustrated with what he saw as a corrupt European civilization, the philosopher and Anglican cleric George Berkeley (far right) believed that only in the New World would a religious and cultural rebirth be possible. His patron, John Wainright (seated), commissioned the artist John Smibert (standing left), whom Berkeley had hired to teach at the new college, to create this portrait of the expeditionary party, which included two additional wealthy supporters and members of Berkeley’s family. When the seminary project failed for lack of funds, Berkeley’s entourage returned to England, but Smibert moved to Boston and established himself as America’s first professional painter. Despite Berkeley’s misfortune, his poem “Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America” became a touchstone for the new nation: “There shall be sung another golden age / The rise of empire and of arts / … Westward the course of empire takes its way.”

Westward the course of empire takes its way….


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