Observations on American Art: Selections from the Writings of John Neal (1793-1876)

By Harold Edward Dickson | Go to book overview

The Atlantic Monthly (1868-1869)

OUR PAINTERS. I

NOT so much criticism as personal recollections of the men who have "painted and passed away," and of some who are still working out the great problem of life among us, would seem to be wanted just now.

Let us begin, therefore, with GILBERT STUART, one of the best painters for male portraiture since the days of Titian, Velasquez, Rubens, Vandyck, and Rembrandt. A man of noble type himself, robust and hearty, with a large frame, and the bearing of one who might stand before kings, all Stuart's men look as if they were predestined statesmen, or had sat in council, or commanded armies, -- their very countenances being a biography, and sometimes a history of their day; while his women, often wanting in the grace and tenderness we look for in the representations of Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Sir Thomas Lawrence or Sully, are always creatures of flesh and blood, -- like Mrs. Madison, or Polly Madison as they still persist in calling her, -- though somewhat too strongly individualized perhaps for female portraiture.

At our first interview, which happened nearly fifty years ago, when Stuart was not far from sixty-five, this fresh-looking, large-hearted man, reminding you constantly of Washington himself, and General Knox or Greene, or perhaps of the late Mr. Perkins, -- Thomas H., -- who were all in their look and bearing rather more English than American, insisted on my emptying a tumbler of old East Indian Madeira, which he poured out from a half-gallon ewer, like cider or switchel in haying-time. And this at an early hour of the day, when cider itself or switchel might have been too much for a youngster like me, brought up, if not on bread and milk, at least on the plainest of wholesome food.

At first, having heard much of his propensity for hoaxing, I could hardly believe him when he threw off about half a tumblerful, and, smacking his lips, told me it was Madeira which had been twice round the Cape; nor did he believe me, I am afraid, when I told him I never did anything of the sort, for he winked at me as much as to say, "Can't you trust me?" and then hoped for a better acquaintance.

In the course of an hour's chat that followed, he told me story after story of himself, some of which are well Worth repeating. First, he tried me with a pun, which he had let off in a high wind, for the sake of saying de gustibus non disputandum, and which I swallowed without a wry face, though it went sadly against my stomach; and then he launched into a

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Observations on American Art: Selections from the Writings of John Neal (1793-1876)
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Preface iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Selections from the Writings of John Neal *
  • Randolph, a Novel (1823) 1
  • Bladwood's Edinhurgh Magazine (1824-1825) 26
  • The Yankee (1828-1829) 38
  • Brother Jonathan (1843) 66
  • The Atlantic Monthly (1868-1869) 69
  • Appendix 93
  • Index 109
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