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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Joseph R. DeCamp

The Hammock, 1895, Joseph DeCamp,
the artist's wife Edith, daughter Sally, and infant son Ted.
In times of relative peace and prosperity, the arts flourish. Figuratively speaking, art loves money. Literally speaking, so do artists. However, during such times of social and economic stability, the arts also have a tendency to stagnate stylistically. The perfect example of this would be the period following the Civil War in the United States up until the start of WW I. It was a period of tremendous growth in all aspects of American life, not the least of which was painting. The problem is, in reviewing the art of this era, there are a tremendous number of outstanding painters to cover and discover, but not much to discuss in the way of innovation among them. It's as if tastes in art among those affluent enough to buy art, had become set in stone. Artists painted what sold. Moreover, in doing so, they had little incentive to pursue anything new and different. During this entire fifty-year period, only the importation and gradual acceptance of Impressionism stands out as a marked change in American tastes.

Joseph R. DeCamp

The Cincinnati-born painter, Joseph R. DeCamp (right) was typical of the type of artists I'm referring to. Born in 1858, he came of age near the beginning of Mark Twain's "gilded age." As with virtually all such artists of this time, early in his academic career, DeCamp "decamped" for Europe, specifically the Royal Academy in Munich (Cincinnati was heavily German at the time), then later spent time in Florence. Upon return to the U.S. DeCamp gravitated to the Boston School (below), led by Edmund C. Tarbell, where he focused on figure painting, before adopting the style of Tonalism during the 1880s. Although their styles differed somewhat, and to the trained eye, their works are distinguishable one from the other, as a group, these "Ten Men" (as they came to be called) formed the backbone of American painting during the latter half of the 19th-century. Moreover their similarities make it difficult to study this period of American art without a distinct feeling of deja-vu.

The Boston School (The Ten): Seated (left to right): Edward Simmons, Willard L. Metcalf, Childe Hassam, J. Alden Weir, Robert Reid. Standing (left to right): William Merritt Chase, Frank W. Benson, Edmund C. Tarbell, Thomas Dewing, Joseph De Camp.
In the Studio, 1890-95,
Joseph DeCamp
If you click on the links above and look closely at the type of work each artist did during this period, you'll notice much of what they had in common, and that drew them together, especially as to content. Second only to portraits, as represented in De-Camp's offspring (below), you'll notice a tremens-dous number of landscapes, many (but not all) bearing the indelible influence of French Impres-sionism. Unfortunately, most of DeCamp's land-scapes were destroyed in a 1904 fire at his Boston studio. They painted their wives (top), and of course, competed one with the other for com-missions to depict the upper crust of New England society at the time. One item conspicuously absent in the work of "The Ten" is the presence of self-portraits. I could find only one of DeCamp (right) while many of his peers left behind only two or three. Perhaps this is due to portrait photography coming of age around the same time.

DeCamp's portrait renderings of three of his
four children are especially sensitive and loving.
In the portrait work of Joseph DeCamp I came across two quite similar but also quite different portraits. The first (below, left) that of a very dignified Steward, also titled Louis of the Porcelain, dates from 1919. The second (below, right) an equally dignified commissioned portrait of President Theodore Roosevelt dates from 1908. Despite their vastly different stations in life, DeCamp painted them as strong individuals, each comfortable within their own skin, each firmly grounded in the American sense of God-given equality.

Two of a kind--Lewis of the Porcelain (1919)
and President Theodore Roosevelt (1908)

Venice (also known as Becalmed), probably
from around 1883, Joseph R. DeCamp.



  1. Another 👍. Interesting assessment of the post-Civil War art zeitgeist.

  2. Thanks Mr. Max.

    Sometimes my insights surprise even myself. Often that first paragraph is the hardest one of all to compose.