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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Samual Finley Breese Morse

Among the artists who tried hard to transplant "The Grand Manner" of British painting to this country, none worked more diligently than the illustrious Samual Finley Breese Morse. Born in 1791, the son of a Connecticut minister, Morse twice studied for extended periods in London. The youngest of the troupe of American artists to flock to The Royal Academy for the English version of European classicism, Morse was a protege of the Washington Allston. Allston's influence upon the bright young painter was considerable. His painting, The Dying Hercules, painted about  1813 in London was everything The Grand Manner epitomized.

Marquis de Lafayette, 1826,
Samual Finley Breese Morse
The Old House of Representatives, 1822,
Samual Finley Breese Morse

Upon returning to Philadelphia, Morse, unlike his mentor, didn't eschew the bread and butter business of portrait painting, and in fact he was very good at it. His portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette of 1826 was both powerful and insightful. But he yearned for more. Blending the Grand Manner with American democratic ideals, his painting of the Old House of Representatives of 1822 is a genuine American masterpiece, though in taking it "on tour" so to speak, it was far less successful financially than Morse would have liked.
Gallery of the Louvre, 1831, Samual Finley Breese Morse

Returning to Europe in 1829, Morse spent three more years studying art on the continent. In 1831 he painted a modest (6'x9') canvas called The Gallery of the Louvre. In it he depicted a grand salon in which he assembled a collection of what he considered to be the greatest painted masterpieces of all time. The array consisted of some forty exquisite miniature copies of works by Raphael, Leonardo, Titian, Correggio, Poussin, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Murillo among others. Bringing the painting back to America he once more went on tour with it, hoping to attract those who could not afford to travel to Europe. Alas, he was no more financially successful than before. He had considerably more success, however, reinvigorating the tired old carcass of Trumbull's National Academy of Design which was well established and flourishing when he left it around 1840 to give up art and invent the telegraph.

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