Lessons in Likeness: Portrait Painters in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley, 1802-1920 : Featuring Works from the Filson Historical Society

Lessons in Likeness: Portrait Painters in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley, 1802-1920 : Featuring Works from the Filson Historical Society

Lessons in Likeness: Portrait Painters in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley, 1802-1920 : Featuring Works from the Filson Historical Society

Lessons in Likeness: Portrait Painters in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley, 1802-1920 : Featuring Works from the Filson Historical Society

Synopsis

From 1802, when the young artist William Edward West began painting portraits on a downriver trip to New Orleans, to 1918, when John Alberts, the last of Frank Duveneck's students, worked in Louisville, a wide variety of portrait artists were active in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley. Lessons in Likeness: Portrait Painters in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley, 1802--1920 charts the course of those artists as they painted the mighty and the lowly, statesmen and business magnates as well as country folk living far from urban centers. Paintings by each artist are illustrated, when possible, from The Filson Historical Society collection of some 400 portraits representing one of the most extensive holdings available for study in the region.

This volume begins with a cultural chronology -- a backdrop of critical events that shaped the taste and times of both artist and sitter. The chronology is followed by brief biographies of the artists, both legends and recent discoveries, illustrated by their work. Matthew Harris Jouett, who studied with Gilbert Stuart, William Edward West, who painted Lord Byron, and Frank Duveneck are well-known; far less so are James T. Poindexter, who painted charming children's portraits in western Kentucky, Reason Croft, a recently discovered itinerant in the Louisville area, and Oliver Frazer, the last resident portrait artist in Lexington during the romantic era. Pennington's study offers a captivating history of portraiture not only as a cherished possession but also representing a period of cultural and artistic transitions in the history of the Ohio River Valley region.

Excerpt

Lessons in Likeness, Estill Pennington’s study of portrait painting in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley from about 1800 to the end of the First World War, will delight many readers. In this book he offers a general essay about Kentucky portraiture in that long century and provides a biographical checklist of individual artists, illustrated primarily with portraits in the collection of The Filson Historical Society. The book enriches our knowledge of Kentucky art and history in important ways. The author has been a student of Kentucky portraiture for many years because of his own family history and his strong association with the state and region. Building on earlier sources, including Edna Talbott Whitley’s Kentucky Ante-bellum Portraiture (1956) and the exhibition catalog The Kentucky Painter: from the Frontier Era to the Great War (Arthur F. Jones and Bruce Weber; Lexington: University of Kentucky Art Museum, 1981), Mr. Pennington has developed a wide-ranging knowledge of the history of its portraits through archival research, exhibitions, conferences, and publications. As the most knowledgeable scholar of this region’s portraits, he has become the person whom others seek out for clarification of the myriad details of its history. These features of his knowledge, offered in this book, make it a major resource for Kentuckians about their own history.

Lessons in Likeness offers this and more to students of American art in general. It coincides with recent studies of public and private patronage, regionalism in art, itinerancy, and the definitions of styles such as “folk” or “naive” painting. Students of these broader subjects will benefit from Mr. Pennington’s close and careful presentation of portraiture in a region with an early history at the time of the expansion of the young American republic westward. The cultural aspects of this growth in other regions have been studied closely by scholars through examination of individual artists and their work, through exhibitions and books on portraiture in regions of the country, and through catalogs of portrait collections at historical societies. After Jules Prown’s John Singleton Copley, a two-volume study of the work of that colonial American artist (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press for the National Gallery of Art, 1966), set the standard for studies of the work of individual American portrait painters, numerous major exhibitions and catalogs subsequently helped us . . .

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