Grab a beverage if you decide to read this. I warn you in advance, this will be a long one.
I spent all day working on this between dealing with clients and attending a panel discussion. I want to get this out before I go to bed, so will proofread it tomorrow. Then I ended up getting interrupted all day.
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I have had this lithograph for quite some time now. It comes from an estate and when I got it I was quite candid in saying it would probably need to be reframed, as the plaster had been chipped off the frame in places. Quite frankly the frame looks a bit long in the tooth. This was something that they agreed with.
It is an attractive piece and I accepted it on its own merits. It is in generally good condition although it does have one small place where foxing is evident in the sky. This is to be expected as the backing is not acid free. It is also not matted and is behind old glass.
I received it shortly before I resigned from Image 54 and as a result, it sat in a box in my ex-girlfriend’s spare bedroom for the remaining two and a half years that we were together. When we separated, it was moved to a gallery shelf waiting in the queue to get reframed. Sadly, it was generally ignored as a result. There was always something more pressing that come through the gallery as a result of an active exhibition schedule.
I finally put it up about a week ago because it is a nice piece. During that time, it has consistently attracted attention, especially from those who grew up in the Netherlands. There was a familiarity to the image that appealed to them and they would usually tell me why and leave without buying it, for whatever reason.
Enough of the preamble
This work is signed in pencil. I read the signature as L. Hunt.
So who is L. Hunt?
That is a good question. Hunt is a relatively common name. In my search to find out more about who this Hunt artist might be, I kept coming up against a blank wall.
This work has two signatures. The one in pencil and the other in the plate. This is somewhat unusual, but not unheard of, especially with older works.
The other signature in the plate is better known – W. Whittredge.
Thomas Worthington Whittredge is an artist of significant note.
He is often associated with the American art movement called the Hudson River School. The Hudson River School was a group of New York City based artists who painted landscapes actively during the period from approximately 1850 through until around 1880.
Hudson River School
This art movement was highly influential and its impact on North American art production is still felt today. Through the artists connected to the Hudson River School the early views of the vast wild, unexplored and virgin wilderness of Western North America and Niagara Falls helped define how these areas were viewed.
This movement also had a significant influence in Canada. Cornelius Van Horne who was at one time the superintendent of the Chicago and Alton Railway, later became the president of Canadian Pacific Railway.
Van Horne (an artist in his own right) and/or the Canadian Pacific Railway actively commissioned artists during the 1880s until around the early 1900s to paint the landscape of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. As the Hudson River School had currency with artists at that time, there is often a certain awareness of this movement in how they portrayed the opening of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and how it was viewed to audiences elsewhere.
This Hudson River School influence is still relevant in current artistic production in Canada. We see this in artists as diverse as Jeff Spalding’s paintings of Niagara Falls; Shelley Ouellet’s installation based on a painting of Lake Louise by Frederic M. Bell-Smith exhibited at the Nickle Arts Museum a few years ago; and the aboriginal artist Kent Monkman amongst others. In David Liss’ Fall 2005 feature article for Canadian Art he states the following about Kent Monkman:
The Toronto artist Kent Monkman has recently been gaining acclaim for beautifully painted, ornately framed canvases of sublime landscapes that recall early colonial artists such as Cornelius Krieghoff and Paul Kane and the Hudson River School. Set within backdrops of majestic mountains, steep cliffs and expansive valleys are exquisitely detailed, diminutive human figures, dressed in the attire we associate with that period of history. Cowboys, Indians and soldiers appear engaged in the kinds of activities that most of us in North America were taught took place upon contact between the first settlers and Aboriginals. . .On closer scrutiny, however, it becomes clear that Monkman’s figures are engaged in encounters of an entirely different sort.
Thomas Worthington Whittredge [1820-1910]
After my minor deviation I must get back to Worthington Whittredge.
Whittredge was born in Springfield, Ohio and lived there until he moved to nearby Cincinnati at the age of 17. In Cincinnati he worked as an apprentice house and sign painter. He then went on to operate a daguerreotype store in Indianapolis.
In 1843 he decided to take up the career of an artist, came into contact with, and was influenced by the prominent American artist Thomas Cole [1801-1848] who influenced a generation of artists who became known as the Hudson River School. The year after Thomas Cole’s death, Whittredge travelled to Düsseldorf, Germany to further his studies at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf.
As a bit of a diversion (because of course no path is entirely straight, all the time) we know that Whittredge stopped in France on his way to Düsseldorf. We know this because William H. Gerdts wrote in the notes to his essay The American Artists in Grez which is found in the book Out of Context: American Artists Abroad where he states the following:
Thomas Hicks probably also was in Barbizon in 1849 while studying with Thomas Couture in Paris, for he displayed A Cottage in Barbison (sic) . . . in New York in 1850, perhaps the earliest exhibition of a Barbizon scene by an American artist. Worthington Whittredge of Cincinnati, on his way to Düsseldorf in 1849 stopped in Barbizon . . . but only recalled meeting Virgile Narcisse Díaz de la Peña.
Getting back to the Kunstakademie, this fact is significant as the Academy had a profound effect on artists connected to the American Hudson River School. The Kunstakademie was also closely aligned with the German Romantic Movement from the early to mid-1800s. The German Romantic Movement (or German Romanticism) was rooted in the Sturm und Drang movement from the 1700s. The instructors at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf had taken this concept further by the time Whittredge began his studies. By this time they had begun to advocate for plein air painting which had taken root in France with the Barbizon School and the artists connected to it who regularly painted the landscapes in the Forest of Fontainbleu. This Barbizon School influence (in particular plein-air painting) also played into the new Hudson River School artists.
In Düsseldorf, Whittredge met Emanuel Leutze [1816-1868] and modeled for him as one of the characters in Leutze’s heroic-scaled painting that is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection entitled Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1850. On this note, and a bit of a digression, another artist connected to the Nazarenes and director of the Acakemie in Düsseldorf, Wilhelm von Schadow [German, 1789-1862] also modelled for the Leutze painting in the Met collection. There is an interesting story relating to von Schadow here in the Globe and Mail from earlier this month. The Globe article primarily talks about repatriation of a painting to the Max Stern estate, but it is worth reading in this context as it relates to the discussion about the connection between the Hudson River painters and the German Romantic tradition in Düsseldorf.
During his time in Düsseldorf he lived for about a year with Andreas Achenbach [German, 1815-1910] who was an influential painter connected to the school. Whittredge went on to become one of the teachers at the school and one of his students was future Hudson River (and Rocky Mountain School) painter Albert Bierstadt [1830-1902]. They obviously stayed in touch as the two of them spent the summer of 1856 sketching in Switzerland together. That fall both Whittredge and Bierstadt moved to Rome where they were joined by fellow Hudson River School artists Sanford Robinson Gifford [1883-1880] and William Stanley Haseltine [1835-1900].
From some sources it is potentially quite possible that all four of these artists travelled together as a group from Düsseldorf, spending the summer together sketching in Switzerland. They then moved together and established themselves in Rome. Please Note: This paragraph has some speculation in it and requires further research, to confirm correctness, although for our purposes it is not material to this piece.
From Rome, Whittredge moved back to the USA around the same time as the others in 1859. Upon arriving in New York City he joined Gifford and Haseltine who had left Rome the year prior. All four were back together in the newly-built studio building, the first studio building in America which opened in 1858 and was conceived with visual artists in mind – 10th Street Studio Building located at 51 West 10th Street. This building was designed by the young American architect Russell Morris Hunt [1827-1895] who had just finished overseeing the major renovation of the Louvre for Napoleon III. This building housed a virtual who’s who of American artists during the time it was used as a studio building.
As Tom Miller wrote about this building:
The building was without question the most famous studio building in America. On October 10, 1887 The Evening World described it succinctly. “The Studio Building, West Tenth Street, is a painter’s Bohemia. The studios are working places, without much bric-a-brac, or tapestries, or old carved wood.”
Whittredge quickly established himself into the fabric of New York City’s artistic community. In 1860, the year after he arrived in NYC, he was elected to the National Academy of Design and two years later in 1862 he became a full member.
Not only was he a member of the National Academy of Design, but he later served as the president of the National Academy between 1874 and 1877. This was an interesting period as the year after he assumed the presidency, the National Academy opened the doors to its first permanent home at the corner of 23rd Avenue and Park Avenue South in New York City. It was subsequently demolished and is now an office tower.
William Morris Hunt [1824-1879]
One of the artists to study in Düsseldorf around the same time as Whittredge was another American artist William Morris Hunt.
William Morris Hunt after attending Harvard College for three years left his studies shortly after his father had passed away. In 1844, he, along with his wealthy mother and three other brothers went to the south of France and later moved to Paris so that they could get a European education. This was followed by his attending the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1845. No doubt at this time William M. Hunt came into contact with Whittredge who was still studying there.
Dissatisfied, William Morris Hunt left the Düsseldorf Academy at the end of his first year of studies.
The following year William Morris Hunt was in Paris. There, he became a student of Thomas Couture [French, 1815-1879] between 1846 to 1852. Thomas Couture according to a page in the National Gallery of Canada website was “one of the most celebrated painters in Paris during his lifetime and was renowned for his bold technique and sensational subject matter.”
During this time W.M. Hunt subsequently fell under the influence of Jean-François Millet [French, 1814-1875]. This resulted in him moving to the Barbizon to continue his studies with Millet.
William Morris Hunt returned to the USA in 1854, presumably to Vermont where his roots were. Two years later he settled in Newport, Rhode Island where he taught art and in 1862 settled permanently in Boston. He continued to teach in Boston. He taught not just painting, but also lithography as well. He was a life-long proponent of art and artists from the Barbizon School and Millet’s work in particular. He was a collector of Millet’s paintings and sadly a number of them were destroyed in a fire that burned his Boston studio to the ground.
He died off the coast of New Hampshire. There is some speculation that this may have been a result of suicide.
Nathan Flint Baker [1820-1891]
Nathan Flint Baker was born in Cincinnati. He started working in clay around 1840. His family sent him to Italy with letters of introduction, two years later in 1842. He was to study with the neo-classical sculptor Hiram Powers [1805-1873] in Florence and other sculptors in Rome. He stayed in Italy until about 1846 when he returned to Cincinnati. He produced a sculpture of John James Audubon [1785-1851] which he exhibited at the National Academy in NYC in 1847. In the same year, he also produced a major eight foot high marble sculpture of Cincinnatus for the Cincinnati City Hall. This work became the object of neglect and vandalism and was subsequently moved to storage. It was rediscovered in 1928, but its present location is believed to still be unknown.
In 1845, the German artist, Emanuel Leutze painted a portrait of Nathan Flint Baker. This work is in the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Nathan Flint Baker returned to Italy and there appears to be two different versions of this story; 1.) he was previously living in Italy; or 2.) he planned to meet up with a family friend in Italy to travel to the Middle East. Either way, it doesn’t matter, he was known to be in Rome during the Spring of 1851. He spent the next two years travelling with his family friend throughout Europe and the Middle East.
During this two year period he was one of the early photographers of the Middle East, including places such as Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and the Holy Land. These photographs are very important and very rare. Most are in institutional collections such as the Library of Congress.
After this trip he returned to Cincinnati. It is noted that a local newspaper, as quoted in the Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900 book, stated that in July 1853 that “he had washed his hands of art altogether, having, he declares, almost forgotten how to hold a chisel.” Outside of a few trips to Italy, (one trip being between 1859 and 1861) he lived out the remainder of his life in Cincinnati. He did produce some work, but his production was significantly reduced.
Leavitt Hunt [1831-1907]
William Morris Hunt had a younger brother Leavitt Hunt. Like William Morris Hunt he also went to the south of France with his mother in 1844 and received a European education.
Leavitt was a scholar. He attended Harvard Latin School, then attended a Swiss boarding school, followed by earning a law degree from the University of Heidelberg in Germany and military training in Switzerland. He later in his life returned to Harvard University and received a second law degree.
In 1851, he met up with a family friend in Italy. The family friend was Nathan Flint Baker. Together they travelled in Europe and like Baker is considered to be one of the early photographers of the Middle East, including places such as Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and the Holy Land. Generally the two of them are considered to be the first American photographers of the Middle East.
In Will Stapp’s entry titled Hunt, Leavitt (1831-1907) and Baker, Nathan Flint (c. 1822-1891), American Photographers found in the Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, he states the following:
Only a handful of Hunt’s and Baker’s prints have appeared on the market, and they are amongst the rarest and most desirable early American paper print photographs.
Most of his photographic images are held in institutional collections, primarily the George Eastman House, the American Architectural Foundation and the Library of Congress. He is known for his early views of the Middle East, including the first known photographic image of a Middle Eastern woman.
After his “grand tour” with Baker it seems that neither one of them showed any interest in the photographic medium. He returned to the United States and began his legal practice in New York City.
Will Stapp once again describes Leavitt’s professional practice from the same source cited earlier:
He practiced law in New York until the Civil War broke out, when he enlisted as a lieutenant in a New York regiment; he served on General Heinzelman’s staff, and was brevetted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel for gallantry in the Battle of Mulvern Hill. Invalided out of service in 1862, he returned to his law practice in New York, but retired to Weatherfield, Vermont in 1867, after his wife inherited her father’s estate there. Hunt spent the remainder of his life as a gentleman farmer, living in a house filled with exotic souvenirs of his travels.
His father-in-law William Jarvis [1770-1859] was a diplomat, financier and merchant who imported Merino sheep from Spain. After moving to the inherited farm he purchased another nearby farm where he became particularly interested in rare breeds of Dutch cattle and propagating white pine forests.
He did however maintain a life-long interest in art and wrote poetry. He also was an inventor with a number of patents to his name.
Russell Morris Hunt [1827-1895]
Russell Morris Hunt has already made an appearance in this tale I write. He was the third brother to William Morris Hunt. He was an architect and like his brothers received a European training.
He plays a very minor but interesting supporting role in this story. This is outside of his role as the architect of the 10th Street Studio Building in NYC where Worthington Whittredge had a studio.
Having said that, he did have another role to play which was to accompany both his brother Leavitt Hunt and Nathan Flint Baker on their trip down the Nile in 1853. On this trip, like some other architects he produced artwork. These were included in an exhibition held at the Octagon Museum in Washington, DC in 1999. These works were included with the photos Leavitt Hunt and Nathan Flint Baker had taken in 1853.
We can see that Worthington Whittredge was definitely aware of the four sons of Jonathan Hunt [1787-1832]. It is quite possible that he knew them all. Three of the four from this prominent Vermont family are listed above. The fourth was a medical doctor who lived in Paris. .
I must admit that I am overly familiar with many of these artists, outside of reputation, names and a general awareness. They are outside of my usual scope of dealing in Canadian art. How close were they to each other? Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t.
The first major question is a three-part one:
- 1.) Is this an original subject matter for the print; or 2.) is it a print produced after a known painting by Whittredge; and 3.) regardless of which of the two options above is true, what significance did L. Hunt have as part of the process?
Notwithstanding the fundamental question of authorship, based on the above noted timelines and situations that we can safely infer two reasonably certain assumptions as being highly possible, namely that:
- All five main individuals (Whittredge, three of the four Hunt brothers, and Baker) must have crossed paths with each other at some point.
- We can assume that all five primary individuals probably had some dealings with each other in some capacity, somewhere along the way. As is always the case, some will be closer than others.
Based on these reasonably safe assumptions we will extend this further and ask some questions with no answers given. They are:
- Did Whittredge and Baker know each other in Cincinnati?
- It would seem possible that Whittredge and Baker may have crossed paths in Düsseldorf when Leutze painted Baker in 1845. It is also quite possible that Leutze may have painted the portrait in Italy during 1845 instead. Either way, it would seem likely that each other’s name would have come up in conversation. Did they actually meet in that year?
- Did all five of these main individuals meet in Rome during 1851 at the beginning of the Middle Eastern photographic or at the end of the photographic tour in 1853?
- Given how close the Netherlands is to Düsseldorf, did Whittredge produce any work in Holland?
- Is this a Dutch scene?
- We know from publicly available artworks that Whittredge painted a number of images of the Newport, Rhode Island area. Were these produced during the two year period that William Morris Hunt lived there. If so, did they cross paths with each other there?
- Given that Leavitt Hunt raised Dutch cattle, and being a gentleman farmer, did he try to re-create a Dutch farm on his property?
- We know that Leavitt’s father-in-law imported Merino sheep. Is it possible that this print was based on a painting of the father-in-law’s property?
- How close were Whittredge and William Morris Hunt to each other?
- Did one of the Hunt brothers collect Whittredge’s paintings?
There are so many questions involved with this work. These are just a small sampling of some that come to mind as a result of what I have written above.
The biggest question of all
We know that William Morris Hunt taught lithography. We also know that Leavitt Hunt must have been a tinkerer because of the patents he held for inventions of farm equipment.
Was the L. Hunt in this print Leavitt Hunt?
Making an assumption that it is possible yes, did William Morris Hunt teach his little brother Leavitt how to produce a lithograph? If so did he use one of Worthington Whittridge’s paintings (possibly of his farm or a work he owned) as subject?