Lessons in Likeness: Portrait Painters in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley, 1802-1920

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"Between 1802, when the young Kentucky artist William Edward West began to paint portraits while on a downriver journey, and 1920, when the last of Frank Duveneck's students worked in Louisville, a large number of notable portrait artists were active in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley. In Lessons in Likeness: Portrait Painters in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley, 1802-1920, Estill Curtis Pennington charts the course of those artists as they painted a variety of sitters drawn from both urban and rural society. The work is illustrated, when possible, from The Filson Historical Society collection of some four hundred portraits representing one of the most extensive holdings available for study in the region." "Portraiture involves artists and subjects, known as sitters, and is an art that combines elements of biography, aesthetics, and cultural history." "Private portraits often attract an oral history that enlivens the more colorful aspects of local tradition and culture. Public portraits of towering figures such as George Washington, Henry Clay, and Abraham Lincoln were often reproduced in printed format to satisfy popular demand and subsequently attained an iconic, timeless status." "Lessons in Likeness is organized in two parts. Part One, the cultural chronology, serves as a backdrop to the biographies of the portrait artists. This section identifies stylistic sources and significant historical moments that influenced the artists and their milieus. Rather than working in isolation, portrait artists were connected to the world around them and influenced by prevailing trends in their trade. Early in the nineteenth century, for instance, Matthew Jouett journeyed to Boston for study with Gilbert Stuart, and upon his return to Kentucky painted in a style that subsequently influenced an entire generation. Later artists, notably Oliver Frazer and William Edward West, studied the lessons of Thomas Sully in Philadelphia. Sully popularized the lush, warmly colored, and highly flattering style of portraiture practiced by many of the itinerant artists whose careers were facilitated by the introduction of steam and rail travel." "The Civil War provoked a dramatic shift in the cultural terrain, further augmented by the rise of photography and the emergence of academic art centers. Painters who had previously worked with a master painter, or learned on their own, were now able to study at established schools, especially in Cincinnati, which became one of the leading centers for the teaching of art in late nineteenth-century America. Several of the teachers there, Frank Duveneck and Thomas Satterwhite Noble in particular, had firsthand experience with avant-garde European styles, notably the realism and naturalism practiced in Munich and Paris in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and then taught in the art schools of New York and Philadelphia." Part Two profiles the artists from this area and period who have appeared in previous art historical literature and have an identifiable body of work represented in public and private collections. Individual biographies provide details of the artists' lives, sources for further study, and locations of works in public collections.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Winner of a 2011 Kentucky Historical Society's General Award." --

""This book is much needed in the field of southern art. It makes a significant contribution to art history by updating the history of art in Kentucky and the Ohio Valley." -- John Michael Vlach, author of The Planter's Prospect: Privilege and Slavery in Plantation Paintings" --

" "Lessons in Likeness is a thorough and thoughtful exploration of an important regional tradition, one of the best such studies we have. The book's exhaustive and reliable documentation will please scholars, the lively writing is engaging, and the illustrations are stunning. Pennington's understanding of the cultural context for art in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley is unsurpassed."--Charles Reagan Wilson, editor of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture" --

""Shows that fine art has flourished in the Bluegrass longer than most people think.... The book is likely to become an important reference work on Kentucky's cultural history"-- Lexington Herald-Leader" --

""In a handsome large-format book, the noted art historian and curator, with the help of The Filson Historical Society, looks at the careers of the portraitists who painted some of the most noted families in Kentucky and whose works hang in historical sites across the commonwealth."-- Lexington Herald-Leader" --

""Includes wonderful illustrations of the faces of men and women who graced the frontier of Kentucky ever captured on canvas and paper."-- Bits & Pieces of Hardin County History" --

""Pennington, a long-time scholar of Kentucky portraiture, offers a valuable resource of history."-- Kentucky Living" --

""Pennington identifies those artists, examines their careers, and provides a cultural and artistic context for the period in which they worked."-- Kentucky Monthly" --

""A 276-page book of lush pictures and fascinating stories."-- Louisville Courier-Journal" --

""Because Pennington recounts how this more esoteric aspect of art history took place within a historical backdrop of extraordinary political, social, and ecomonic upheaval, he makes something recondite far more accessible and engrossing."-- Library Journal" --

""Estill Curtis Pennington continues to shine light on the historical art lanscape of Kentucky and nearby environs."--Kentucky Monthly" --

""Reflects... expertise and fine scholarship."--Kentucky Kaleidoscope" --

""Very informative and useful in learning about early Kentucky portraiture and what these paintings can tell a family-history researcher today." --Kentucky Ancestors" --

""Well-written, exhaustively researched and copiously illustrated, 'Lessons in Likeness' is a captivating book that reveals Kentucky's important role in the history of American portraiture. Although there have been a few earlier attempts to explore this topic, none of them measures up to Pennington's remarkably broad scope and his impressive ability to integrate regional and national narratives into a cohesive whole. Erudite and enjoyable, 'Lessons in Likeness' is worthwile reading." -- Bowling Green Daily News" --

""This book might well have been entitiled Painting Life in the Interior South, sa far (as so successfully) does it range behond Kentucky Portraiture." -- Indiana Magazine of History" --

""This study is the most comprehensive overview to date of portrait painting in Kentucky and its neighboring areas in southern Ohio and southern Indiana in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It aims to 'identify' the artists active in the region, 'illustrate their works, and recall the cultural terrain on which they painted.'" -- Journal of Illinois History" --

""Estill Curtis Pennington's Lessons in Likeness... is actually several books in one. On one hand, it is a history of American art through the lens of a particular group of artists working in a place that is at first the American frontier, and then later the nation's heartland. It is also a biographical catalog of severnty-seven artists who worked in Kentucky and along the Ohio River. And finally, it chronicles the historical memory of a region by drawing primarliy on the collection of the Filson Historical Society, one of the region's premier repositories of local memory. Pennington, a distinguished southern-art historian, manages to weave all three of these books together in to one useful volume." -- Northwest Ohio History" --

""Pennington's work, undergirded by an impressive range of archival and other period sources, demonstrates that Kentucky may have been a border state, but it was hardly a cultural backwater." -- Lee Glazer, The Journal of Southern History" -- Lee Glazer, The Journal of Southern History

""Estill Curtis Pennington's Lessons in Likeness is a pleasure to discover." -- Henry Adams, Ohio Valley History" -- Henry Adams, Ohio Valley History

Library Journal
Roaming the frontiers in the beginnings of the 19th century were many itinerant artists—principally portraitists—struggling to make a living. They unknowingly provided a lasting visual record of the personalities and families working to bring a new society to the American landscape. An especially fecund area of activity by these mostly self-taught painters was the Ohio River Valley and Kentucky Bluegrass Region, where the lore of Daniel Boone and pride in the antebellum arcadia fueled popular demand for family portraits. John James Audubon and George Caleb Bingham were among the more notable individuals working in a tradition extending through the 20th century. Drawing on Louisville's Filson Historical Society's large collections, Pennington (William Edward West, 1788–1857: Kentucky Painter) has compiled a valuable record of artist biographies and artworks, covering the long century from the nation's beginnings through the Great War. VERDICT Because Pennington recounts how this more esoteric aspect of art history took place within a historical backdrop of extraordinary political, social, and economic upheaval, he makes something recondite far more accessible and engrossing. Useful to readers interested in 19th-century Americana and Kentucky history.—Douglas F. Smith, Berkeley P.L., CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813126128
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 10/29/2010
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 9.38 (w) x 12.24 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Estill Curtis Pennington has served in curatorial capacities for the Archives of American Art, the National Portrait Gallery, the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Morris Museum of Art. His publications include William Edward West, 1788--1857, Kentucky Painter; Look Away: Reality and Sentiment in Southern Art; Downriver: Currents of Style in Louisiana Art 1800--1950, A Southern Collection; and Kentucky: The Master Painters from the Frontier Era to the Great Depression.

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Table of Contents


Preface Ellen G. Miles Miles, Ellen G.

Acknowledgments Mark V. Wetherington Wetherington, Mark V.

Introduction Mark V. Wetherington Wetherington, Mark V.

Part One: Cultural Chronology Mark V. Wetherington Wetherington, Mark V. 1

1801-1835: Westward Movement, Eastern Instruction Mark V. Wetherington Wetherington, Mark V. 3

1835-1865: The Invention of Photography and the Corning of War Mark V. Wetherington Wetherington, Mark V. 43

1865-1910: Exhibitions, Collecting, and International Trends Mark V. Wetherington Wetherington, Mark V. 67

Part Two: Artists' Biographies Mark V. Wetherington Wetherington, Mark V. 97

Appendix: An Index of Artists in Edna Talbott Whitley's Kentucky Ante-bellum Portraiture Mark V. Wetherington Wetherington, Mark V. 223

Notes Mark V. Wetherington Wetherington, Mark V. 227

Abbreviations of Archives and Collections Mark V. Wetherington Wetherington, Mark V. 235

Bibliography Mark V. Wetherington Wetherington, Mark V. 237

Index Mark V. Wetherington Wetherington, Mark V. 247

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