Click on photos to enlarge.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Samuel Colman of Bristol

The Edge of Doom, 1836-38, Samuel Colman
One of the peculiarities in writing about art on a daily basis is that, in researching a given artist, often I come up with a different artist who may, in fact be more interesting. Today I began poking around the life and times of the American painter Samuel Colman, a student of Asher B. Durand of the Hudson River School. Colman was, what you might say, "late to school," painting scenes of the river long after it had ceased to be a mainstay of the eastern art establishment. I wouldn't go so far as to say if you've seen one painting of the Hudson River you've seen them all, but suffice to say the American Samuel Colman and his art was not all that exceptional. As I began to look at his work I stumbled upon several paintings that were quite exceptional only to realize the really good stuff was by a different Samuel Colman, who died in England shortly after the after the American Samuel Colman was born in 1832.
St. James Fair, 1824, Samuel Colman--painted before he got "into" apocalyptic works. 
It is typical of early 19th century British genre and the so-called "Bristol School."
The British Samuel Colman (same name, same spelling) was born in 1780 and died in 1845. There was a "ton" of background material on the American Samuel Colman, but barely paragraph or two on the Brit. I'm not sure why that is other than the fact that the American Colman turned out a lot more paintings than his earlier British counterpart. Apparently, neither man was into self-portraits. The British Colman seems to have been from Bristol, England, in that he's said to have been of the "Bristol School." I'd not been aware there even was a Bristol School, and from all indications it was made up of barely a half-dozen relatively unknown artists and was active for barely a decade (the 1820s). Colman's work is compared to that of his friend, John Martin (bottom). Neither seem to have been active in the "school" itself, but may have been influenced by it somewhat. Of the two, Samuel Colman, in my opinion, would seem to have been the better artist.
Destruction of the Temple, 1830-40, Samuel Colman
So, what was it that caught my eye, that made the work of Samuel Colman of Bristol exceptional? His paintings were apocalyptic. Not all of them, of course. Those that weren't were mostly scenes of biblical events, though in the same genre. The painting that first caught my eye was Colman's The Edge of Doom (top) from 1836-38. Colman, no doubt, stood apart from he crowd in that very few artists then or now were painting the apocalypse, though movie makers today seem fascinated, if not obsessed, with the subject. Colman also painted The Destruction of the Temple (above), presumably that of Jerusalem, though he seems to have assumed it was built in a Gothic style (who knew?).
The Delivery of Israel out of Egypt, ca. 1830, Samuel Colman
The Destruction of Pharaoh's Army,
ca. 1830, Samuel Colman
Colman was Protestant, which put him at odds with the Church of England when it came to his religious paintings, many of which dealt with the exodus of the children of Israel to the promised land. His Delivery of Israel out of Egypt (above), would seem to have been the inspiration for Cecil B. DeMille's version of the event. It's what we might call a very "wet" painting. Along the same line, Colman's The Destruction of Pharaoh's Army (left), while less graphic, may be a more accurate depiction. It verges on the abstract. Without a title, it would be rather opaque. Colman's 1836 Belshazzar's Feast, (below), though not depicting an ongoing cataclysm, is no less dramatic and considerably more grandiose. Compare it to to John Martin's painting of the same event (bottom) painted thirteen years earlier. According to the Bible, the destruction came a short time later.

Belshazzar's Feast, 1833, Samuel Colman
Belshazzar's Feast, 1820, John Martin


No comments:

Post a Comment