This view of the Brandywine Creek area in southeastern Pennsylvania near northern Delaware features a charming scene of fishing boats near the water’s edge. A two masted ship rests at low tide while two groups of men row small dories away from the shore. A lone woman watches nearby with fishing baskets at her feet. The river’s glassy surface meanders through the curving shoreline leading up to a large suspension bridge. The deep tones of distant mountains give the work depth while luminous touches highlight layers of cloud in the sky. Smith alternates active brushwork in the foreground to give detail to the rocks and shore with smooth strokes and subtle shifts in color in the distance.
This painting shows the best of both sides of the artist’s experience- marrying his significant study of maritime life during his Naval career with his skill at capturing idyllic regional landscapes so popular in his later pieces.
In the 1860’s Smith enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was appointed Captain’s clerk to Cmdr. Thomas G. Corbin. During his time in the Navy, Smith sketched the warships and battles he witnessed firsthand, many of which would lead to later paintings. This work was likely inspired by a wartime visit to the famous Brandywine Creek Estate of Admiral Samuel Francis DuPont called Louviers. DuPont was a member of DuPont industrialist family though his career was entirely with the U.S. Navy. A storied commander and veteran of the Civil War and the Mexican-American war, DuPont was also one of the men credited with modernizing the U.S. Navy. DuPont Circle in Washington D.C. is named in his honor. At Louviers Smith would receive one of many commissions he would get from his commanding officers, and while visiting the massive country estate could walk along the Brandywine to sketch the pastoral scenes which would become the focus of his post-war career.
Smith’s inscription on the back of the painting notes that the work was painted at his studio in Edge Hill. Given the date range verso (1881-1893) and the fact that the work is dated 1881 on the back and 1883 on the front, it seems the artist started the work in 1881, set it aside and finished it in 1883.
Edge Hill is actually Edge Hill Castle in Glenside, Pennsylvania, a few miles outside of Philadelphia. The castle is named for its proximity to the site of the Revolutionary War battle, The Battle of Edge Hill. Xanthus Smith’s parents were also artists, and his father W.T. Russell Smith built Edge Hill in 1854, including a large artist’s studio. In time, Xanthus Smith settled at Edge Hill with his wife and three children and used the studio there as his primary work space with a second studio in Philadelphia.
Verso: “View of the Brandywine bridge across the sky and distance painted solely with lead, ultramarine & burnt umber, Xanthus Smith 1881-1883 and signed in large script: Xanthus Smith, Edge Hill, 1881”
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