It’s been great fun while in the midst of a project involving all antebellum portrait artists in the Ohio River Valley to spend time with the work of intriguing but sometimes slighted artists. John Neagle (1796-1865) is one. Beyond the well-known Patrick Lyon at his Forge (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts) and Henry Clay, we found in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Neagle’s 1836 portrait, The Studious Artist (please click to open image in separate frame) of fellow artist Thomas Birch (1779-1851), replete with a marine scene on an easel.
The seascape is unframed. The artist–subject sits with ease within a frame, but John Neagle’s composition frees Birch from the enclosure’s restrictions -from conventional restraints. Is this trompe l’oeil indicative of young America’s sense of personal freedom?
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