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Saturday, July 18, 2015

John Quidor

The Devil and Tom Walker, The Flight, 1856, John Quidor
Washington Irving, 1820,
Gilbert Stewart Newton
Margaret Mitchell called it "gumption." Lou Grant, of TV's Mary Tyler Moore Show called it "spunk." Whatever you call that spark of innate personal drive that causes some people to thrive while others barely survive, virtually all successful artists have it, while those who don't end up hawking their work on a sidewalk somewhere. I've often referred to this trait as "shameless self-promotion." I'm proud to say I've done my share of it. And while I'm far from rich and famous, there's always the distinct possibility some of my descendants will garner gargantuan sums from my unsold works. John Quidor didn't have it. On top of that, he wasn't that great an artist either. Much of Quidor's work and reputation rested upon that of another artists, a literary artist, in this case, the early American folk tale writer and biographer, Washington Irving (right). In 1824, Irving published an ongoing series called Tales of a Traveller, which later came to include the short story, The Devil and Tom Walker. In the story, Tom Walker, a miserable, miserly cad, makes a deal with the devil in which he agrees to receive Captain Kidd's buried treasure in exchange for taking up a career as a usurer--doing the devil's work. John Quidor illustrated many of these stories.

The Return of Rip Van Winkle, 1849, John Quidor
Washington Irving and John Quidor are much more famous for two other such short stories, Rip van Winkle (above), and the hair-raising Halloween saga, The Headless Horseman (below). Although the profession didn't really exist during much of Quidor's lifetime from his birth in 1801 to his death in 1881, today we'd probably class him as an illustrator, though he did paint a few portraits, not to mention signs, banners, and other semi-artistic endeavors intended to keep body and soul together. Born in Tappan, New York, his family moved to New York City when he was nine. It was there, in 1818 that he began his apprenticeship with the portrait artist, John Wesley Jarvis. One of Quidor's fellow students was the talented painter, Henry Inman. Quidor found himself in Inman's shadow. Jarvis preferred teaching the more talented of the two. Quidor quit, then sued Jarvis for breach of indenture. He won his case and collected damages of $251 (which doesn't sound like much but was likely a considerable sum at the time). However, winning was a double-edged sword in that Jarvis was largely unfazed while Quidor was forced to admit he'd received inadequate training. Moreover, it was the only art training Quidor ever received. (He lacked the gumption to turn elsewhere.)

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane, 1857, John Quidor
Dorothea, 1823, John Quidor
As a result, Quidor ended up painting banners, decorating steamboats, fire engines, and other signage to earn a living. His Dorothea (right) from 1823 is typical of he Romantic era and the type of work Quidor was doing at this time. Then, with the growing popularity and publication of Irving's work, Quidor found the rising star upon which to hitch his career. Not all his illustrations were from Irving's work, but a significant number were, including The Devil and Tom Walker and scenes from Wolfert's Roost. Quidor took on two apprentices himself and apparently was an even worse painting master than had been his mentor, John Wesley Jarvis. He provided his apprentices with nothing more than easel space and the occasion print to copy. Otherwise he was absent from the studio for days and weeks on end, or else stretched out on a bench asleep. (No spunk to be found.) Unfortunately his apprentices didn't sue him.

The Money Diggers, 1832, John Quidor
The best that could be said regarding John Quidor was that he rose to become an early American genre painter, even though much of the content of his work was loosely copied after English genre artist such as William Hogarth, Isaac Cruikshank, James Gillray, and George Morland. However, Washington Irving continued to be the richest vein for Quidor to mine. His The Money Diggers (above), from 1832 is one of his best, based upon yet another story from Tales of a Traveller (Part four); along with The Devil and Tom Walker, and Wolfert Webber, or Golden Dreams (below). The painting is titled Wolfert's Will and dates from 1856. Perhaps Quidor's best genre scene is his Anthony Van Corlear Brought Into the Presence of Peter Stuyvesant (bottom), dated 1839. It's thoroughly permeated with Hogarth but skillfully adapted to American-Dutch history. Quidor retired from painting in 1869 and went to live with his daughter in Jersey City, New Jersey where he died in 1881 at the age of eighty. His reputation also succumbed to death, until resurrected by the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1941. Critics and the public took another look at Quidor and found much more to like than had his contemporaries. By this time, his lack of gumption and spunk didn't much matter.

Wolfert's Will, 1856, John Quidor
Anthony Van Corlear Brought Into the Presence of Peter Stuyvesant, 1839, John Quidor.


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