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Friday, March 24, 2017

Thomas Doughty

Fishing in a River, 1828, Thomas Doughty. Though unarguably the work of Doughty, the dazzling color, as compared to his other works, leads me to think this may be a present-day, hand-painted copy. I could not, however, find an original version. It could also be one of the few instances involving the costly cleaning and restoration of a Doughty original. The painting is privately owned.
As diverse and visually complex as American art has become today, with media as ancient as fresco and egg tempera and as cutting edge as pigmented pixels, it's important to remember that during this nation's nascent period, the visual arts were limited entirely to relatively crude oil portraits, a few tavern signs, and carved tombstones. Americans were nothing if not practical. Art was used solely to commemorate and communicate (aside from perhaps a few ladies doing needlepoint). And for the first couple hundred years, that's pretty much the way things stayed. Then around 1820, two men from New York City changed all that. The packed up their imported oils, stretched canvases, sketchbooks, charcoal, easels, folding camp stools, tents, and other survival paraphernalia, loaded them on horses, and began following ancient Indian trails up the Hudson River, stopping now and again to paint the scenery. If not the first artists to do so, they were, at least, the first to recognize the inherent beauty of the American landscape as something more than a wilderness of natural dangers and stubborn impediments. One of those men was Thomas Sully, the other, Thomas Doughty.

Delaware Water Gap, 1827, Thomas Doughty
There were others of course, Alvin Fisher, John Frederick Kennset, and Thomas Cole, to name just a few of the first generation of what has since come to be known as the Hudson River School of landscapes painting. I deliberately led off with Doughty's Fishing in a River (top) from 1927-28 suggesting it might be a restored painting, especially as compared to his Lake and Mountains (below) from roughly the same decade, which obviously is badly in need of restoration. Fishing in a River, by the way, is not necessarily the Hudson River, but possibly one of its tributaries. The Delaware Water Gap (above) also from the 1820s, is not the Hudson River either, but such streams are usually included in paintings said to be of the Hudson River School.

Lake and Mountains, 1820s, Thomas Doughty. Compare this to the top image. The prevalence of Wood burning fireplaces are often blamed for discoloring paintings from this era.
Art historians have argued for over a century as to who should be credited with having "founded" the Hudson River "School" (which was by no means an academic institution). However, it would be fairly safe to say Thomas Doughty would be a prime candidate for such an distinction. Fisher may have been the first, and his meager work was likely an inspiration for all the others. But Doughty quickly followed and, it's his work which is credited with sparking the initial popularity of landscape painting in the newborn United States.

View of the Fairmount Waterworks, Philadelphia, Thomas Doughty, from the opposite side of the Schuylkill River.
Thomas Doughty was born on July 19, 1791 on 1793 (sources differ) in Philadelphia, the son of a local ship carpenter. He was locally educated and later apprenticed to become a leather worker. He was also gifted with largely self-taught skills as an artist. Doughty’s older brother, a ship designer of frigates such as the Constitution and the President, was instrumental in encour-aging his younger brother towards art. While still in his early twenties, Doughty was working as a leather currier in Philadelphia, but by around 1816, he was registered as a painter. In the same year, he exhibited for the first time at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The View of the Fair-mount Waterworks (above) is possibly one of his earliest surviving works. Despite having been digitally enhanced, it too shows signs of having hung over a fireplace for far too many years.
Desert Rock Lighthouse, Maine, Thomas Doughty
In 1828, two works by Doughty were included in an exhibition onboard the Hudson River steamboat, Albany, organized in an effort to differentiate the steamboat from its competitors. Besides work by Thomas Doughty, the steamboat company included works by Thomas Birch, Thomas Cole, and Thomas Sully. The name, "Thomas," seems to have been a prerequisite for joining the Hudson River School. About this same time, Doughty moved from Philadelphia to Boston where He display some nineteen paintings at the Athenaeum. However, Doughty did not remain in Boston long, before returning to Philadelphia in around 1830 where he began to work on The Cabinet of Natural History and American Rural Sports (little more than a men's hunting magazine) with his brother. The publishing effort contained historical accounts of the flora and fauna of North America, including detailed illustrations utilizing color lithographs. It also illustrated Doughty’s ability to render significant natural detail not to mention his expertise at lithography.

Ships in Rough Coastal Waters, Thomas Doughty

Niagara Falls, Thomas Doughty
Doughty returned to Boston in 1832. There he would remain for the next five years. These years proved to be his most productive and lucrative, allowing him various sketching trips to the White Mountains, New Hampshire, the Catskill Mountains, New York's Niagara Falls (left), and along the coasts of Mas-sachusetts and Maine as seen in Ships in Rough Costal Waters (above). Al-though Doughty set up a studio in Bos-ton, like virtually all serious American painters who could afford to, he began making short trips to Europe in 1835 and again in 1845. He added to his list of American rivers he'd painted, the Seine, and the Thames. It would be safe to say these trips to Europe ruined his career.

Windsor Castle, ca 1837, Thomas Doughty
Though Doughty's work became more lyrical and intimate in feeling, he began painting his landscapes in a manner reminiscent of the misty painters of the Barbizon School and with the softness of Constable's landscape sketches. In 1838, when Doughty returned to America, this time he settled in New York City. His European sojourn and exposure to French and English works had influenced him greatly. His landscapes became more painterly, while utilizing a darker palette with more stress on tone rather then color. In 1845, Doughty returned to London where he exhibited paintings of English scenery, including scenes of Windsor Castle (above). The following year, he traveled to Paris and sketched from paintings in the Louvre.

View Toward London from Hampstead Heath,
ca. 1837, Thomas Doughty
In returning to New York, like many other painters of his time, Doughty spent the winter in the city and the summers traveling. By this time his health had begun to deteriorate even as he continued to experience some degree of public praise for his truthfulness to nature. However, as a result of his exposure to European landscapes, Doughty began introducing Romantic castles and ruins along the banks of his frontier wilderness streams. Tastes had changed by the 1840s. Thomas Cole and a whole second generation of Hudson River School painters were gaining recognition. Doughty’s Romantic landscapes fell out of favor. For several years he moved around in search of economic opportunity. At the same time, he continued to suffer from poor health and in 1851, in an effort to deter critics, wrote in the Home Journal that he would prefer not to paint at all than paint poor pictures or “pot boilers”. Doughty lived briefly in Oswego, New York as he tried to recover his health. But by 1853, he had again returned to New York City, where he lived for the remainder of his life, until his death due to “a softening of the brain” (probably a stroke). He died impoverished in July, 1856.

Winter Landscape, 1830, Thomas Doughty.
He was one of the few Hudson River School
artists to paint winter landscapes.

Grizzly Bear lithograph, Thomas
Doughty, probably painted from
memory, or a vivid imagination.


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