J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email


Friday, June 12, 2015

N. C. Wyeth’s History Paintings in Sandwich

Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich is hosting an exhibit titled “The Wyeths: America Reflected” through 27 September.

Of the forty-five paintings on display, sixteen were created by N. C. Wyeth for a book titled Poems of American Patriotism, published in 1922. Those originals are now owned by the Hill School in Pennsylvania.

That collection included many poems about the Revolutionary War. Wyeth made paintings based on Guy Humphrey McMaster’s “The Old Continentals” (shown here), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride,” Francis Miles Finch’s “Nathan Hale,” and James Russell Lowell’s “Washington,” as well as a title page image of Washington on horseback.

Another of the Revolutionary images is “Warren’s Address,” based on a poem by John Pierpont. At first I assumed this refers to Dr. Joseph Warren’s oration in remembrance of the Boston Massacre in March 1775. But no, that canvas (shown here) depicts the doctor orating to the provincial troops on Bunker Hill—which never happened. Still, there’s a poem about it.

In the eighteenth century, these would be considered “history paintings,” one of the more distinguished branches of that visual art. John Singleton Copley settled in Britain in part because he could do the history paintings he dreamed of rather than just portraits.

In the early twentieth century, with mass reproduction making such pictures widely available, work like Wyeth’s was deemed mere illustration. But it’s once again being seen as worthy of museum display, at least alongside the painter’s fine-art descendants.

The Wyeth paintings are in the Heritage Museum’s Special Exhibitions Gallery, which itself is “a replica of a Revolutionary War fort originally located in New Windsor, New York.” Who knew one could find that in Sandwich?

(Thanks to Patrick Flaherty for calling this exhibit to my attention.)

No comments: