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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Samuel Colman Jr., American Painter

Picturesque Landscape with Rainbow, Samuel Colman
A little over three years ago, I began to write a piece on the American painter, Samuel Colman. In the process I began to encounter paintings which, for all the world, looked to have been done by two different artists, though all were attributed to Samuel Colman (not Coleman). It took me several perplexing minutes to come to the realization that they were, in fact, painted by two different painters. Both had the same first and last names with the strange spelling of the family name, and both painted landscapes. There any similarities ended. One Samuel Colman was British, born in 1780, and whom died in 1845. The other was an American landscape painter born in New York City in 1832. This left me with the quandary as to which one to pursue. I chose the British painter in that his life and work seemed far more interesting than his American counterpart (an opinion I've not changed, by the way).
By the 1860s, the Hudson River was no longer picturesque.
Ships Unloading, New York,
 Samuel Colman
However, on the theory that everyone de-serves a second chance, in once again coming across the work of the American Samuel Colman Jr. today, I've decided to take a closer look at this belated Hudson River School artist from a fresh perspective, not in comparing his work to that of the British artist, but letting it stand on its own merits. In doing so, if we make comparisons, it should be an "apples to apples" judgement, his works compared to other Amer-ican landscape painters. It doesn't take long to see that Samuel Colman Jr. is no Albert Bier-stadt, no Edwin Church, no Thomas Cole, nor Thomas Moran. He does compare favorably with Asher B. Durand whom he's believed to have studied under for a brief period. In act-uality, Colman was second generation Hudson River School at a time when the cutting edge of American landscape painting was moving in-exorably westward along with the American frontier. The fact that we see in his paintings early steamboats on the Hudson (above) indicates that the river had become "civilized" and on the verge of being industrialized.

Ausable River, Samuel Colman
Samuel Colman was born in Portland, Maine. His family moved to New York when he was a young child. His father, a well-known bookseller and an established dealer of fine engravings, had a clientele of artists and authors that provided an early exposure to the New York City art scene which sparked Colman’s interest in painting. At the age of eighteen, the aspiring artist began to develop his technique (probably under the instruction of Durand). Colman gained an appreciation for the natural beauty of the American landscape as his artistic approach advanced so quickly he was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1854. The Hudson River, Lake George and the White Mountains were all sources of inspiration for the artist during the 1850s.

Colman in the 1860s and shortly before his death in 1920.
To his credit, Colman recognized the migrating trend in landscape art as it moved westward (though perhaps belatedly). After the Civil War, the art of watercolor became popular. Colman mastered this highly portable medium then took it westward, using it to create studies for later works in oil, though in many cases, his watercolors hold up quite well as works of art in their own right. His Late November in a Santa Barbara Canyon, California (above), has a spontaneous vigor found in the work of few western artists at the time, demonstrating a sensitivity for the minutiae of the west alongside the rugged grandeur seen in his Solomon's Temple, Colorado (upper image), painted during a later trip west in 1888.

American landscape art and artists moved westward after the Civil War.
In 1860, Colman left the country to participate in an important rite of passage for many 19th-century American painters: the Grand Tour. Although his wanderlust first led him to France, he was later drawn to less-frequented areas throughout Spain and Morocco, becoming one of the first American artists to visit these exotic locales. In the years that followed, Colman became an inveterate traveler, many of his works depicting scenes from foreign cities and ports. After he made his first trip abroad to France and Spain in 1860–1861, he returned for a more extensive four-year European tour in the early 1870s in which he spent much time in Mediterranean locales. Colman depicted the architectural features he encountered on his travels: cityscapes, castles, bridges, arches, and aqueducts feature prominently in his paintings of foreign scenes.

Colman found the exotic Mediterranean area even
more enticing than the American west.
Colman's art became more diverse late in his life. By the 1880s he was working extensively as an interior designer, collaborating with his friend, Louis Comfort Tiffany on the design of Mark Twain's Hartford home, and later on numerous Fifth Avenue beaux-arts and Victorian mansions. Colman also became a major collector of Asian decorative objects, while also writing two books on geometry and art focusing primarily on art theory. His, Nature’s Harmonic Unity: a Treatise on its Relation to Proportional Form, was published in 1912, while the second book, Proportional Form, was released five days before his death in 1920. Colman’s obituary in the New York Times describes him as a “foremost American landscape painter and noted etcher."

Along the Arno, Florence, Italy
ca. 1875, Samuel Colman


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