Journal

Hunter with Dog: A 19th Century Vernacular Sculpture

01.23.2019

19th century hunter with dog carving

This gracefully stylized, full-figure, three-dimensional portrait of a hunter with his dog, is carved from black walnut. It is signed on the bottom in careful cursive lettering: “Jas. Smith 1842 Albany, New York.”

19th century hunter with dog carving

The carving captures the affectionate relationship between the man and his dog. The dog looks relaxed, faithful and trusting, while the man conveys his own attachment to the dog by letting it rest its head comfortably, almost possessively, across his thigh.

19th century hunter with dog carving

The following photos from the same time period—daguerreotypes from the 1840s to 1860—show very similar poses of hunters with dogs and shooting accessories. Unlike the smiling norm of modern photo portraits, these men look rather formal and somber, as does the carved hunter. (Images sourced online from ebay and other auction sites.)

early photo of hunter with dog
early photo of a hunter with his dog
early photo of a hunter with his dog

Although the hunter sculpture is relatively large for a figural wood carving (16″ high, 10.5″ deep, 5″ wide), the overall detailing is minimal. The man’s face, ears and hair are representationally rather than realistically carved,

19th century hunter with dog sculpture

as are the dog’s body and face.

19th century hunter with dog sculpture

The hunter’s clothing is similarly sparsely represented as a simple single-breasted coat with a collar continuous with its lapel.

19th century hunter with dog sculpture

The only other elements in the sculpture are the hunter’s gun and shot pouch, both of which are carved with just enough detail to capture the essence of the objects and communicate clearly what they are.

19th century hunter carving
early photo of a hunter with his dog
The man on the right carries a shot pouch similar to the one depicted in the carving.

We believe that it is the minimalist representation and restraint in decorative detailing that give this sculpture such a compelling presence.

19th century hunter with dog sculpture

Vernacular Art

This carving is a stellar example of a genre of art created by untrained artists, also known as “vernacular art” or folk art to distinguish it from fine art produced by professional artists. In 18th and 19th  century America, where academically trained artists such as Charles Wilson Peale painted fine oil portraits of famous politicians and war heroes, regular people such as Jas. (19th century shorthand for James) Smith used materials they had on hand to capture familiar scenes and people in their everyday lives.

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Historical Canoe Trip Journal

12.07.2018

1864 canoe trip journal


This small (3” x 5”) leather-bound journal documents a canoe trip taken by five men in two birch bark canoes in the Moosehead Lake region of Maine during the Civil War. The diary, titled “Moosehead Lake, ME. Trip in Canoes,” was kept by L. G. Barrett of Newton, Massachusetts from August 22 – September 13, 1864.

1864 canoe trip journal Moosehead Lake Maine

All entries are in pencil so luckily have not faded and are readable—albeit with the help of a magnifying glass to interpret the small, cursive handwriting. There are 77 pages of writing, plus the author’s name, hometown, and date on the flyleaf, and trip expense tallies on the endpapers.

1864 canoe trip journal

There are also 9 charming small sketches.

1864 canoe trip journal Moosehead Lake Maine
Barrett’s sketch showing two canoes traveling up Moosehead Lake toward Kineo House, with Spencer and Katahdin Mountains to the east.

Barrett’s chronicles provide descriptions of traveling to and within Maine during the time period, as well as insights into the personalities and adventures of the canoe trippers. Rich historical details are packed into the journal’s pages.

The Region and Canoe Trip Itinerary

Moosehead Lake is the largest lake in Maine (40 miles long x 10 miles wide), with 400 miles of shoreline, a maximum depth of 230’, 40 islands, and a famous geological feature called Mount Kineo whose cliffs rise 700’ straight up from the lake shore.

Mt. Kineo cliffs
(image: mainememory.net)

By 1864, Moosehead Lake and Greenville, Maine, the town on its southern shore, were already bustling with lumbermen passing through on their way to northern forests, and well-to-do rusticators and sportsmen visiting the elegant Kineo House hotel.

Kineo House
Kineo House on Kineo Point, Moosehead Lake, c. 1880 (image: mainememory.net)

The first steamboats had begun providing ferry service along the length of the lake in 1835, providing access to hunting camps, farms, and villages before railroads were built. By 1900, 25 steamboats were actively transporting people, livestock, mail and supplies up the lake on regular schedules.

steamboats on Moosehead Lake
Two steamboats docked on Moosehead Lake, c. 1890 (image: mainememory.net)

Barrett and his canoe tripping party planned to paddle up Moosehead Lake from Greenville, portage across the Northeast Carry to the West Branch of the Penobscot River, and then go downriver to Chesuncook Lake, and thus into the true wilderness of Maine.

1864 canoe trip journal Moosehead Lake Maine

It is plausible that their trip itinerary was influenced by the writings of fellow Massachusetts adventurer Henry David Thoreau who had lived in Concord, just 15 miles northwest of Barrett’s hometown of Newton. Thoreau’s book, The Maine Woods, published posthumously in 1864, documented a canoe trip up Moosehead Lake, over to Chesuncook Lake and beyond. One can imagine the men from Newton being inspired to visit this area that Thoreau so eloquently described.

Chronology of the Trip with Journal Excerpts

The following provides some daily highlights of the trip, along with photographs gleaned from the internet that provide images of what the men were experiencing (although most of the photos are from a slightly later time period, taken after the 1888 introduction of the first roll film camera which made it easier for travelers to take photos).

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Moose We Have Known

10.18.2018

moose hooked rug

October is a good time to celebrate one of the largest mammals native to North America, the stately Moose (Alces alces). These mid-autumn weeks are rutting season, when moose do their best to ensure the production of offspring.

Our thoughts turned to moose on a recent trip to northern Maine. We saw a few of the majestic beasts atop trailers being hauled behind pick-up trucks, as Maine’s highly-regulated and restricted moose hunting season had just begun.

We were in the area to check out one of the newest additions to our National Parks system, the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument (KWWNM).

Mount Katahdin
One of the views we captured of Mt. Katahdin (find out more about the KWWNM at https://www.friendsofkww.org/)

After driving along the KWWNM Loop Road, stopping at scenic vistas and taking a few jaunts to explore short side trails, we finished the day with a hike along the historic Wassataquoik Stream—used in the 1840s by loggers to access stands of virgin white pines, and later for driving spruce logs downstream.

Wassataquoik Stream
Wassataquoik Landing by George H. Hallowell, circa 1901. Maine state Library collection.

Explorers, naturalists and sportsmen—including Henry David Thoreau in 1857 and Theodore Roosevelt in 1879—used Wassataquoik Stream in the latter half of the 19th century as an upstream route to access Mount Katahdin.

Wassataquoik Stream
The Wassataquoik looking upstream.
Wassataquoik Stream
The Wassataquoik, looking downstream while dreaming of paddling it.

When we were not musing on Wassataquoik Stream’s distinguished history or looking for boreal birds (we saw two Black-backed Woodpeckers!), we were thinking about moose. That is because we were frequently reminded during our hike that moose are prominent denizens of the northwoods—not because we spotted any, but because we had to watch where we stepped along a trail dotted with piles of fresh moose droppings.

moose droppings
(photo: pressherald.com)

There were also recent moose tracks everywhere.

moose track
(photo: wildernessvolunteers.blogspot.com)

Although we didn’t see a living moose that day, like anyone who has spent time hiking in northern Maine or canoeing in Canada, we have seen our share of moose in the wild.

moose family
A decades-old photo taken by a family friend of three moose on Maine’s East Branch of the Penobscot River which runs along the border of the KWWNM.

Occasionally we also hear first-hand stories of the worst kind of moose encounters: those involving cars. Last October, Kass’ sister was driving along a country road in northern Maine and hit a moose that bolted out in front of her car.

impending moose hit

Coincidentally, a teenager had been videotaping the bull moose in a field next to his house and was still filming as it darted across the road, so he recorded the moose/car crash—the photo above is a still shot from his videotape showing the moose just before its collision with the car.

Luckily, the driver was going slowly so nobody was hurt, although since the moose ran off into the woods we don’t know its ultimate fate.

Indoor Moose

Now to transition to our indoor encounters with moose, namely those we’ve experienced as antiques dealers. Moose have long been a favorite subject for fine artists and folk artists to depict in a wide range of mediums. Moose in many renditions have always been a popular rustic accessory.

So here is a look back at some of the hundreds of moose we have known—and owned—over the past 25+ years in the antiques business.

Moose Textiles

moose with bears hooked rug
Moose with bears hooked rug
mooe blanket
Camp blanket with moose border
moose hooked rug
Moose, cattails and ducks hooked rug
moose hooked rug
Moose at sunset hooked rug
moose hooked rug
Naive portrait of a moose hooked rug
moose hooked rug
Moose hunting hooked rug
moose hooked rug
Moose by a stream hooked rug
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White-tailed Deer Family: Three Wall Sculptures by Noah Weiss

09.19.2018

Noah Weiss carving

These large-scale carved deer – a buck, doe and fawn – are products of the artistic vision and incredible talent of self-taught carver Noah Weiss (1842-1907).

The wall sculptures are carved from pine – in relief on the front and flat on the back – to be approximately half life-size, and they are in fairly accurate proportion to one other.

deer family

The upright buck is 35” wide x 47” high; the grazing doe is 40” wide x 29” high; and the standing fawn is 25” wide x 20” high. (The shoulder height of an adult White-tailed Deer is 32” to 40” and their body length runs 52” to 95”.)

Noah Weiss deer carvings

Weiss painted and varnished these deer, as he did all his carvings, and he added a real antler to the buck (he was also known to have added real antlers to a carving of an elk head, and horns to the carving of a bison head). Most compellingly, Weiss captured each deer’s elegant body shape and proportions – their long, thin legs, pointed snouts and alert ears.

Noah Weiss deer carvings
Noah Weiss deer carvings

These circa 1890-1900 deer carvings turned up recently in Northampton, Pennsylvania, the town where Weiss lived, worked as an innkeeper, and produced sculptural works of art to decorate the walls of his inn. Fortunately, newspaper accounts during Weiss’s lifetime as well as research by art historians have documented details of the life history and creations of this incredible self-taught artist.

Noah Weiss: Hotelier and “Untaught Sculptor”

Noah Weiss was born in 1842 in Pennsylvania where his paternal great-grandfather had settled upon emigrating from Germany. He grew up on a farm in the Lehigh Valley region (near Allentown, PA) where as a boy his artistic talents were recognized by a wealthy doctor who offered to send him abroad to study art. But his father declined, saying he needed Noah to work on the farm. Thus Noah had little formal education and no encouragement or tutoring in art.

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A Collector’s Passion

08.14.2018

While this month’s musings are inspired by one collector and her passion for tennis antiques, our reflections delineate three of the universal driving forces that impel collectors of every genre of antiques, including our specialty which is Adirondack/rustic antiques.

On August 30, 2018 The Jeanne Cherry Collection of Tennis Antiques will be sold at Morphy Auctions in Pennsylvania.

(View lots from a desktop or laptop computer at:
http://auctions.morphyauctions.com/Category/Tennis-826.html)

On mobile devices scroll to Lot 746 from this link:
https://www.liveauctioneers.com/catalog/125381_fine-art-asian-and-antiques-day-2/)

Jeanne Cherry (1932-2017), the mother of Cherry Gallery’s co-owner Jeff Cherry, was the author of a landmark book on tennis antiques, a leading member of tennis collector societies in the U.S. and abroad, a mentor to other collectors, and an indefatigable huntress of tennis antiques.

Jeanne Cherry’s 1995 book on tennis antiques.

The depth and diversity of Jeanne’s collection reflect her interest in the entire breadth of tennis history and its related material culture.

Group of 27 tennis tintypes; Lot 877

She acquired antiques related to the game of tennis in every possible category—including books, ephemera, photography, equipment, clothing and accessories, toys and games, fine art, jewelry, decorative arts, and furniture.

The Renshaw cup won by the first American finalist at Wimbledon, Maurice McLoughlin, in 1913; Lot 820.
Jeanne Cherry Collection of Tennis Antiques
This oil on canvas of four women tennis players by Edouard Francois Zier (1856-1924) was one of Jeanne’s favorite paintings – it hung in a prominent area of her home where she passed by it many times a day; Lot 748
The Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques.
An 1887 oil on canvas of a Victorian lady with a tennis racket; Lot 747
The Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques
Tennis table service items including a dinner gong, toast racks, salt & pepper set, and knife rests; Lot 753

The following sections highlight three of the motivating factors that compelled Jeanne to amass and curate her collection of antiques and which, time and again, we have also seen propelling other people’s collecting passions.

1. Fascination with History

There is an intellectual component to being a good collector, and thereby to forming a good collection. Driven by her keen intellect and unquenchable curiosity about all things related to tennis history, Jeanne was as much a scholar of the sport as she was an enthusiast.

For instance, she loved periodically living in and often traveling to England, where the modern game of tennis had its earliest origins in the 16th century game of court tennis.

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques
Estate collection of Cecil “Punch” Fairs, four-time Court Tennis Champion of the World, 1900-1910; Lot 820

Visiting museums, historic homes, palaces, and tennis courts in England and elsewhere helped her develop a grounded understanding of the broader social and cultural contexts that gave rise to tennis objects.

In addition to telling a cultural story, antiques tell a story of human innovation over time. Tennis racket shapes through the ages, for instance, are physical manifestations of how sporting practices evolved over decades and centuries.

The Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques
Sample tennis racket head shapes; over 125 tennis rackets are grouped in Lots 776-818

Another area of tennis history that Jeanne found fascinating was how class and social norms played out, literally and figuratively, on the tennis court. She loved learning about and acquiring the “tennis costumes” that both men and women wore, and understanding how women in particular coped with clothing that in our modern judgment would have severely restricted any woman’s potential for athletic prowess.

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques
Early tennis attire including dresses, camisole, belts, and a cap; Lot 842
the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques
Antique and vintage tennis shoes, Lot 902
the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques
Locking tennis skirt lifter used in the 1880’s to raise a dress hem to make it easier to play tennis; Lot 935

2. Social Aspects of Collecting

Humans are social beings, and as such we enjoy forming and joining tribes.

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“The Fighting Muskellunge” by Arnoud Wydeveld

07.23.2018

fish painting by Arnoud Wydeveld

This dramatic scene of natural predation depicts a Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) capturing an adult Green-winged Teal (Anas carolinensis). The brass plate on the frame titles the painting “The Fighting Muskellunge” but more appropriate titles may have been “The Fighting Green-Winged Teal” or “The Predatory Muskellunge.” Although anyone who has ever had a Muskellunge on a line knows that it is indeed a fighter, in this portrayal it is the duck that is fighting for its life while the Muskellunge is about to enjoy easy pickings.

fish painting by Arnoud Wydeveld

This circa 1875 oil on canvas is signed (lower right) “A. Wyderveld N.Y.” Arnoud Wydeveld (1883-1888) was a distinguished Dutch American artist who was born in Holland and immigrated to America in 1853 to join his brother who had settled in New York a few years earlier.

His original Dutch name was Arnoldus van Weydevelt, but in America he was known as Arnoud Wydeveld—although he exhibited at the National Academy in New York using several different spellings of his last name including Wydefield, Wydefeldt, and Wyderveld, which is how he signed this painting.

fish painting by Arnoud Wydeveld

In America Wydeveld became known primarily for his luminous still-life portraits of flowers and fruit. He was influenced by the 17th- and 18th-century works of Dutch Old Master genre painters such as Johannes Vermeer, but his elegant paintings also incorporate elements of more contemporary mid-19th century European styles.

(from questroyal.com)

During his lifetime, Wyderveld’s still-lifes were exhibited in prestigious galleries, such as the National Academy in New York, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Brooklyn Art Association.

fruit still-life painting by Wydeveld

In the 1870s, however, Wydeveld turned his attention to painting fish in their natural habitats. Whereas most of his flower and fruit still-lifes were portrayed on table-top settings, he sometimes depicted arrangements in outdoor settings, so he did have some inclination towards representing natural landscapes throughout his career.

Wydeveld also sometimes included fish and seafood as components of meals in his dining table tableaux, and also painted freshly caught fish, so he had previously portrayed fish from an edibles perspective.

Wydeveld fish painting

What inspired his transition towards painting lively fish in active scenes—artwork that fits within the sporting art rather than still-life genre—is not documented. One possibility is that he had taken up fishing himself and was thus inspired by observing the beauty of fish and their behaviors in their natural element.

Wydeveld fish painting

Wydeveld applied the skills he had honed during his years as a still-life painter to portraying fish in the wild, including an eye for detail and the ability to impart texture and a life-like presence in his painted depictions. This painting of a Muskellunge and Green-winged Teal is a masterful product of the artist’s focus on fish during the 1870s.

Arnoud Wydeveld fish painting
Frame size: 34.5″ h x 42.5″ w; Sight size: 27.5″ h x 35.5″ w
fish painting by Arnoud Wydeveld
The painting (seen from the back) has been relined and restretched for longevity.
Detail of the painting’s period frame.

Clearly the star of this painting is the Muskellunge, affectionately known throughout its range as “muskie” (it is also the state fish of Wisconsin). Wydeveld depicted this muskie lurking in the bay of a large, horizonless lake, perhaps meant to represent one of the Great Lakes that it populates.

Muskellunge painting by Arnoud Wydeveld
This muskie’s dark coloration and spotted pattern are typical of Muskellunge found in the Great Lakes, while in other locations their skin can be more barred or clear.
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A Brief Rant

06.25.2018

Antiques show sign (from singerly.com)

When shoppers make the effort to visit an antiques show, they should be able to expect that every item in each dealer’s booth is an antique—an object with history and heritage that is authentic to a past period, not recently made.

It is difficult enough for antiques show patrons to view thousands of items in all of the booths and make decisions about what they like, what will work in their home, what will enhance their collection, what fits their budget, and so on. They should not also have the pressure of needing to worry about the age or authenticity of the merchandise for sale.

The titles of some shows prepare buyers to expect that not everything for sale will be antique—for instance at a show called an “Antiques and Design Fair,” a recent moniker for shows that mix old and new (usually high-end, artisan made) goods, or at a “Flea Market,” a shopping venue well-known for anything goes.

santa monica flea market
A stall at a flea market where anything goes.

But there should be no place for selling contemporary merchandise at an event billed as an Antiques Show. Period. That is our strong opinion.

This long-standing pet peeve of ours was reinvigorated recently when we saw this brand new furniture displayed prominently in a booth at an antiques show:

It is a recently manufactured hickory game table with four hickory hoop-arm chairs from Old Hickory Furniture Company, Shelbyville, Indiana.

The handwritten tag identified the set as “Old Hickory” (true), and it was dated as “20th century” (not true—it should have said 21st century). Even if the dealer thought the set was made as far back as the 1990s it was disingenuous to tag it simply as “20th century,” leaving it up to a shopper to determine when in the 100 year period from 1900-1999 the furniture was made.

We would classify this set simply as contemporary furniture, possibly lightly used, but definitely not vintage and not antique.

The set was priced $2,800 which might be slightly less than it would cost at a contemporary furniture store, but far more than its resale value as used furniture. Since shoppers attend antiques shows hoping to go home with a treasure that will likely retain its value, it is a sad outcome if they unwittingly purchase something whose resale value becomes a fraction of what they paid for it before the ink on their check is even dry.

So how do contemporary goods end up at antiques shows? Here are a few ways:

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Rare Old Hickory Daybed

05.22.2018

Old Hickory daybed

Having handled lots of hickory furniture over the years, we’ve seen the majority of furniture forms that are documented either in books or in our collection of vintage hickory furniture company catalogs. While no antique hickory furniture could be called common, some forms appear on the market more frequently than others.

There are several reasons for the differing availability of hickory furniture forms. One is that certain types of furniture, such as hickory hoop arm or “Andrew Jackson” chairs (shown below), were made in every decade of hickory furniture production for over 50 years, and several different hickory furniture manufacturers made nearly identical versions of popular styles.

hickory hoop arm chair

Another reason is that a greater number of certain forms were produced and sold in a given year reflecting differing demand, for side chairs versus desks, for instance. Finally, some types of furniture such as dressers and other case pieces, have very little market turnover—once they are in a home they tend to stay there, even when the homes themselves (especially summer cottages in remote locations) change hands.

Old Hickory dresser

So it is always a bit of a thrill when we find a form that we have never or seldom seen on the market. That is the case with this Old Hickory daybed, which is only the second one that we’ve seen or owned in over 25 years of buying and selling hickory furniture.

Old Hickory daybed
Old Hickory Daybed dimensions: 74″ wide, 27″ deep, 33″ high back, 17″ high seat

This daybed appears in the 1942 catalog titled “Old Hickory Furniture by Old Hickory of Martinsville.”

Old Hickory 1942 catalog

It was listed as No. 949W “Day Bed With Back” and the description includes the note: “Back is adjusted with ropes.” That pretty well sums up this intriguing piece of furniture. This one is in good vintage condition, retaining its original open-weave rattan cane seat and back.

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Rustic Plant Supports

04.19.2018

Rustic garden ornaments naturally complement any home garden, whether or not the home itself has a rustic style or setting.

(from carolyneroehm.com)

While anticipating gardening season several springs ago, we posted a Journal article titled Rustic Garden Structures that featured mostly sizable, intricate outdoor rustic structures manufactured by furniture companies such as Old Hickory and Lincraft from the early 1900’s through the 1940’s.

Although that article did describe a pair of large, never-used 1920’s Old Hickory obelisks that we once owned, wooden rustic garden structures typically do not survive long enough to convey into the antiques trade.

(from archive.wiltonbulletin.com)

So to add time-honored rustic designs to your garden, a good option is to make your own simple rustic garden structures using natural, sustainably-harvested twigs, trunks, and branches. It is best to choose rot-resistant varieties such as cedar and black locust so that your handiwork will last longer than one season in the outdoors.

(from hydraz.club)

The following do-it-yourself instructions and design inspirations gleaned from the web focus on three kinds of simple rustic plant supports:  trellises, tuteurs, and wattle surrounds. These types of structures have imbued gardens around the world with a traditional rustic aesthetic since at least medieval times, and perhaps as far back as when humans first began cultivating crops.

A Rustic Trellis

(from sunset.com)

Flat trellises can support climbing plants, or be used simply as ornamental backdrops for garden beds or to add architectural interest to the side wall of a house or garden shed.

How to Make a Simple Trellis from Prunings
(adapted from sunset.com/garden/backyard-projects/make-rustic-trellis)

Tools and Materials:

12 straight branches, limbs or canes, each approximately 1″ in diameter:
– Three pieces, each 3 feet long (A)
– One piece, 6 feet long (B)
– Two pieces, each 5 feet long (C)
– Two pieces, each 25 inches long (D)
– Two pieces, each 221/2 inches long (E)
– Two pieces, each 391/2 inches long (F)

One box of one-and-three-quarter inch nails

Hammer

Spool of floral wire

Directions:

The finished structure is 7′ 4.5″  tall x 3′ wide.

1. Trim any side branches from the prunings.
2. Lay the crosspieces (A) horizontally on a flat surface, with two of them 18 inches apart, and the third 16 inches above the center one.
3. Lay the centerpiece (B) vertically across the crosspieces. The bottom end of the centerpiece should overlap the lowest crosspiece by 4 1/2 inches. Nail centerpiece to crosspieces at center joints.
4. Lay side pieces (C) vertically over crosspieces as shown, setting them about 3 1/2 inches in from the ends of the crosspieces. Nail to crosspieces at the joints.
5. Place D and E pieces diagonally between crosspieces, slightly overlapping the horizontal crosspieces as shown. Nail them to the horizontals at the joints.
6. Place top pieces (F) so they cross behind the centerpiece (B) and on top of the side pieces (C).
For additional stability, turn structure over and nail joints from the back side, then wrap wire several times around the main intersections.

Here is some additional inspiration for designing your own rustic trellises:

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George Browne’s “A Bluebill Drake”

02.19.2018

When I look at a duck painting by George, I am immediately transferred there with the duck; I am on its level, whether it be a power stroke, setting wings, or a flight pattern.
To me that is the greatness of George.
(Sporting art dealer Robert Fraser, Ordeman & Schreiber, 20041)

The best sporting art—appreciative representations of game, fish, waterfowl, and upland birds, along with their landscape settings and sometimes sportsmen in the act of pursuing them—is interpretive rather than academic. Sporting artists strive to do more than accurately represent the physical features of an animal; they also seek to capture the ambiance of a moment in time, such as a misty trout stream at dawn, the startled flush of a covey in grasslands, or—as in this oil on canvas panel painting of a Greater Scaup by George Browne that we are now offering for sale (update: sold 2/19/18)—a duck alighting on an open patch of water.

Painting titled verso “A Bluebill Drake,” signed lower left George Browne. Untouched condition with light soiling and minor abrasions, in its original molded gilt frame. Canvas size is 16″ x 20″ and frame size is 20.75″ x 24.5″.

In the opinion of sporting art connoisseurs, George Browne (1918-1958) was not only a master at painting animals and their habitats, but also of that hard-to-capture essence of place, time, and the spirit of wildlife. Browne was as talented as, yet less well-known than, his sporting art predecessors and contemporaries—luminaries such as Frank Benson (1862-1951), Carl Rungius (1869-1959), Frances Lee Jacques (1887-1969), and Aiden Ripley (1896-1969). Although Browne was quite prolific as an artist, he produced a more limited body of work than these other sporting artists, and had less time to be promoted and appreciated, given the brevity of his professional career due to his untimely death in a shooting accident at the age of 40.

George Browne with his dog “Kelly” (from Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

Browne’s painting of a Greater Scaup, known colloquially as a “bluebill” or “broadbill,” exemplifies his expert ability to capture a bird’s shape, feather patterns, and posture.

Wildlife artists such as Browne must have superb observational acuity, a skill they have in common with both naturalists and sportsmen.

A Greater Scaup coming in for a landing (photo from gardenwalkgardentalk.com)
This label on the back of Browne’s painting reads “A Bluebill Drake” Canvas size: 16″ x 20″ “The bluebill or broad bill is the larger of the two scaups and generally inclined to salt water bays and estuaries of both coasts of this continent in winter.”

George Browne’s observational skills were honed during his many hours in the outdoors watching wildlife as well as hunting. His field notes, a sample of which follows (Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004), are not unlike those that a naturalist would write while observing birds, although Browne’s observations of the subtle plays of light are distinctly those of someone with an artistic eye and purpose:

Bird: Canada Geese 13
Background: Timbered Ridges
Lighting: Sun just set, Early twilight
Distance: 35 yrds over River
General Impressions: Birds noticeably flying fast. General color tone cold. Black areas noticeable lack of detail. Head and body unaffected by motion of wings, but base of neck and chest rise and fall alternately with wing beats. Chests cool whitish gray, check marks buckskin color. More light areas visible on geese in profile than when coming and going. Flock seemed dense, birds between 6 and 8 ft. apart on average.

Browne often captured the finer details of feather colors and patterns of the birds he had shot by creating small oil sketches that he then kept in his studio for reference. His wife Tibby once wrote:

Fishing and shooting were his relaxation, inspiration and spiritual refreshment…George prided himself in deriving the multi-faceted satisfaction from the hunt: the bird in the hand, the sketch of the same, the meal of the same, and finally the use of the feathers of the same for fly tying. (Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

Browne’s total immersion in his subject matter comes forth in the insightful representation of a Greater Scaup in this painting.

Signature in lower left of “A Bluebill Drake”

Fortunately, Browne was as fastidious in keeping records about his art production as he was about the accuracy of his paintings, which allows us to trace the creation of this painting to 1945, and its original sale to 1950. Before exploring this painting’s history, however, let’s first put it into the context of Browne’s life and career.


George Browne’s Early Development as an Artist

The life story of George Browne must begin with his father, Belmore Browne (1880-1954), an accomplished artist, author, explorer, mountaineer, hunter, all-around outdoorsman, and widely respected man of integrity. Belmore was arguably the most important influence on George, who followed remarkably closely in his father’s footsteps.

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