Identify my American oil painting
August 6, 2008 8:50 AM   Subscribe

This (early 19th century, mississippi river?) oil on canvas painting (large size, 612 Kb) has been in my family for generations. Who painted it, when, where?

The painting was was dirty and had two holes in it when my father took it from a corner in my french great-grand-parents' attic during the early 1980s. He had it restored and framed, and it has been hanging in the living room since.

We tried to date it with the number of stars on the flag of the United States, but the flag always had more stars and more stripes, and used a grid design for the stars many times. The paddle steamers look older than this one from the 1850s. Could I learn anything about the painting from the bonnets of the women on the other steamboat, the way the porters work, the clothing of the people on the shore and the structure that looks like two double-decker buses at the side of the boat?

Would the high lighthouse on the cliff at the back place this by the ocean? I always thought it looked like a painting of the Mississippi.

The painting is unsigned, and there are only cobwebs at the back of the canvas.
posted by stereo to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Nice painting! Stylistically, it reminds me a bit of David Gilmour Blythe, (although the subject matter isn't at all what Blythe would have tackled) and in a somewhat more abstract sense, George Caleb Bingham. I don't think the painting is by either of these men, but I think an estimation of late 1840s-1850s (their prolific period) for your painting is fair, judging by subject matter and style: this is the era just pre-railroad, when river travel was depicted frequently in American art.

Look closely at the paddle boats and the luggage/packages on the shore-- is there a name anywhere? Sometimes the artist will cleverly disguise his/her signature as an element of the painting (like a boat name or a name on a package or poster).

Oh, it strikes me as a Mississippi-esque scene, too.
posted by Heretic at 9:37 AM on August 6, 2008

It looks to me like a view of the Queenston Monument from the American side of the Niagara River, near Fort Niagara. Similar to this view, here. The monument dates to 1853,and commemorates a battle in 1812. This is just a guess, but it looks like it may have been painted by someone from the Hudson River School, who would have been in the region in the mid-18th century.

As I said, this is just a guess, and I am not an art historian, but it may lead you to more information. Good luck with your search.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:42 AM on August 6, 2008

Best answer: Here is a very tiny example of a similar painting, by William Henry Bartlett, an English engraver. And this is an antique postcard of a similar scene.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:59 AM on August 6, 2008

Wow, kuujjuarapik, this is amazing. Stereo, armed with this information, are you near a museum with a decent American (or English, I suppose) collection who could look at the painting for you and tell you a little more?
posted by Heretic at 10:23 AM on August 6, 2008

Best answer: Here is the engraving!
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:29 AM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

kuujjuarapik nailed it. Except what he links to is a print, not a painting. And it's not just similar, it's almost the same. But not quite. It looks to me like your artist made an oil painting copy of the Bartlett print. According to Bartlett's wiki page, he made sepia wash drawings, which were turned into engravings. So it's highly unlikely he did this painting, it's a copy.
posted by beagle at 10:29 AM on August 6, 2008

Exactly, Beagle, which is where a curator who specializes in this area could help stereo (possibly) figure out who executed his painting.
posted by Heretic at 10:57 AM on August 6, 2008

Response by poster: Jill D., whose husband is a member, sent me a link to this coloured engraving by email. Amusingly, one boat seems to have become Canadian during the colouring.

I am in Luxembourg, and the closest real American collection seems to be at the Musée franco-américain du château de Blérancourt, which "will be closed until March 2007". But really, I think a visit to a museum that has works by Bartlett in the UK and a daytrip to the Niagara river are in order.

Thank you all so much for your fantastic help, I am amazed!
posted by stereo at 4:20 PM on August 6, 2008

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