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Henry Bacon
American (1839-1912)

Romantic Observations

A gentleman officer graciously assists a female passenger with her spyglass, viewing the distant vistas while onboard a late-nineteenth century passenger liner off the French coast. His steady hands, their sure gazes and her gossamer fabrics blend into the moment’s emotionally charged, yet very proper, dynamic. Another French ship clears their wake, with more utilitarian cargo. Such romantic and human subject matter drives the best works by Bacon, and commands his highest values.

It is interesting to look upon how much importance Bacon placed with the technical representation of the ship’s hardware. Pieces become competing subjects to the couple. The davit is strong and straight, much like the sailor, and it topped with a working block tucked like a sleeping bird. The intricate weave of the rail netting, and its fasteners and pole work in dichotomy to the two chains, the overhead thinner one which intersects the horizon, and the heavy iron of the links laid stoically on the wood deck.

Swirled coloration, especially in her long skirt and bonnet, compliment the simplicity of the sea’s hues. Likewise, his mystery of intentions is well hidden in his deep, deep blue uniform and slightly bushy yet well-kept facial hair, his eyes cast directly on his subject. The composition holds a viewer and creates a longing to know the rest of their story.

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Charles Camoin
French (1879-1965)

Ramatuelle

Above the edge of the city of Ramatuelle on the Saint Tropez Peninsula, a herdsman takes in the view of the Mediterranean glory beyond the city. The medieval town his today home to the luxurious beach of Pampelonne, playground of the world’s wealthiest. In Camoin’s time, it is still primarily a small town, situated near Gassin and immortal San Tropez. The homogenous architectural style of Spanish clay and red-tile roofs is in common use, in contrast to today’s elegant hotels and resorts.

Touches of earthy brown build the foreground hillside and feed the growth of the largest green tree that brackets the reaches of the painting. Interesting to note that the artist used a suggestive, skipping stroke here and for the rooftops he was more concerned with the geometric parallel lines and deep tones depressions between the tiles.

Deep lush foliage cuts the coastal hills and canyons in this view, and the idle sense is that the day is more relaxed and less frenzied than today’s pace. The ocean is a deep blue, the sky is lightened with clouds beyond the trees, and no one cares if the man is at leisure while the two blackish goats hit the canvas as shadowy spectres, oblivious to our watching presence. The artist strode this canyon, and found a pleasant escape for us all..

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Chinese School
Chinese (1775-1900)

Hong Kong and Victoria Peak Circa 1855

This view of Victoria Peak and the Harbor below, depicts the busy international trade in Hong Kong after the British gained control of the port in 1842. Given the presence of the flag tower atop Victoria Peak, this was painted a few years afterward, circa 1855. This and the rise of the buildings up the vertical elevation of Victoria Peak help estimate the date of the painting.

Demand for tea, spices, silks, and Chinese silver helped establish some of the largest Western and Eastern fortunes of their day. Here, a variety of steam and sailing vessels fill the harbor including a rare number of American ships: a sidewheel steamer, a steam-sail side wheeler, and a bark at anchor. Other ships include older British ships, likely being used for storage in the harbor, and a Dutch full rigged ship with sails aloft. Several local vessels travel between the foreign ships, including fishing and merchant ships along with a group of colorful Chinese junks off to the right with red banners flying, fierce eyes painted on their bows.

Behind the harbor, Hong warehouses of the United States and France are seen along the shoreline with the multistoried British offices in the grove at the base of the peak. Further left is the four pointed tower of St. John's Cathedral, still standing today. Off to the right the view expands to show the mountains extending into Guangzhou (Canton) and Guangdong province.

Sharp details rise into a subtle depiction of the sky, with excellent contrast and warm luminous touches in the clouds. Paintings like this, which depict the important Chinese harbors and the ships which visited them throughout the 19th century, are desired for both their aesthetic beauty and historical record of Hong Kong's growth and change over the centuries.

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Chinese School
Chinese (1775-1900)

Macao

The oldest European buildings in China are along the once curved crescent shore of the Praya Grande, where the Portuguese explorers established and fortified their trading foothold with an entire continent. When they arrived in 1553, the small fishing village overlooked by a temple of an ocean goddess immediately became an important cultural center of the world, with the initial interactions between the East and West. Ever since, this port loaded with temples and churches has played a role in the cosmopolitan course of world trade. (The harbor is extensively filled in and built upon today.)

In this view, more than 300 years after the Dutch established contact in the early 17th Century and western ships first sailed in the harbor, a British Sidewheel Steamer is in the port of Macao, surrounded by more than 20 Chinese vessels. The artist’s perspective, looking northwest towards the Praya Grande’s center, brings Praha Hill and its stone stairway in view, with the church on top. The inlaid stone walkway of the port city is full of human figures, one wearing a special red jacket while the rest wear blue or white. One westerner in a top hat at the stern post of the closest Chinese ship directs its crew outward bound. As a natural harbor and a point of first contact, many sailors were required to remain at Macao, while some ships would anchor and others would push on to Whampoa. Only the merchants and captains directly involved in the negotiations of buying and selling were allowed access up the river beyond Whampoa to Canton. Travel would be via local craft only. From the Chinese artists who produced port and ship paintings directly for their nautical visitors, paintings of Macao are substantially rarer than other views.

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Anton Otto Fischer
German-American (1882-1962)

Pirates Giving Chase

As a young man, Anton Otto Fischer studied with famed illustrator Howard Pyle, founder of the Brandywine School of Artists. Pyle felt that great American art would likely grow from hardworking commercial illustrators, so his students were taught a strong work ethic, excellent draftsmanship and technical skills and the ability to tell a story through their art. Pyle's students, like Fischer, would go on to become some of the greatest American artists of the period, and as he predicted, to create great works of art which were also illustrations for books and magazines.

This brilliant work was likely one of the pieces Fischer originally produced for a magazine illustration and it shows all the hallmarks of a great Brandywine work: bold color and lively brushwork throughout; a luminous afternoon sky heavy with warm tones and purples; and a dramatic narrative composition. Three small sailing ships, each filled with burly pirates, approach a Spanish Galleon from the stern. The pirate Captain has ordered the men to pull in their sails and row hard to close the final lengths in order board and attack. The large Galleon, ornate and surely loaded with treasure, is at full sail, attempting to outrun the invaders.

Pirates were a favored subject of both Pyle and famous fellow Brandywine students N.C. Wyeth and Frank Schoonover, and this painting shows a clear connection, particularly to Wyeth's pirate works, in color and composition. So distinct is the Brandywine image of pirates that it is these artists who have created our modern idea of what a Pirate looked like. With few surviving examples or drawings of actual pirate clothing, these artists created a swashbuckling style which, while likely unrealistic for a life at sea, influenced every movie pirate from Errol Flynn's Captain Blood to Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow.

Fischer kept his family going throughout the Great Depression with his talents as an illustrator, and some of his greatest works were done in this period. His illustrations were so prized that Fischer continued creating works for books and magazines even after the economy recovered, and in the 1920's and 30's created more than 400 for the Saturday Evening Post alone.

The sea was in Fischer's blood, even as a young man. At age 15, he came to America as a deck hand on a German vessel, jumping ship to sail on American ships for three years. Later in life, the skills he refined over a lifetime as an artist and his personal experience at sea, led to his commission as the U.S. Coast Guard artist laureate during WWII.

This outstanding work is the best of Fischer distilled- a man who knew the romance of the sea and ships and knew how to bring the best of seagoing adventure to life.

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André Hambourg
French (1909-1999)

Venice in the Rain
Pluie a Venice

“Pluie a Venice” is painted in Hambourg’s preferred palate of muted blue-green, grey, and gold with splashes of ruby red, deep blue, and emerald green. The soft colors work well for beach scenes and rainy days such as the ones portrayed in this painting. The Impressionistic scene shows multiple pedestrians strolling down the boardwalk, shielding themselves from the rain with colorful umbrellas that provide pops of color and balance the overcast sky.

The background contains a three-masted ship and Piazza San Marco’s famous bell tower and Basilica. Hambourg uses the minimum number of brushstrokes necessary to portray ships, seagulls, buildings and people – as well as reflections on the glistening sidewalk. The brushstrokes in the sky have an interesting texture that is controlled yet carefree and there is heavy impasto throughout. His portrayal is both realistic and romanticized.

Hambourg was clearly influenced by the great Impressionist artists of earlier generations, perhaps none more than the one with a direct connection to his family. Hambourg’s wife, Nicole Rachet, was born into a family with a large collection of works by Impressionist master Eugene Boudin. Rachet’s grandfather was a contemporary and friend of Boudin’s, and a collector of his work. In their later years, Hambourg and Rachet donated over 300 canvases by Boudin and other artists to the Eugene Boudin Museum in Honfleur, France. It was such a large and important gift that the collection bears their names to this day.

Like Boudin, Hambourg was inspired by the changing quality of light over water, and used subtle tones to depict sea and sky, accented with pops of bright color. Any like many great Impressionists, Hambourg’s inspiration came from direct observation and a desire to elevate scenes of everyday life into extraordinary works of art. Even during his lifetime Hambourg enjoyed the distinguished reputation as the “Grand Gentleman of French Post-Impressionism.” A glance at this painting makes it easy to understand why Hambourg’s popularity is on the rise. “Pluie a Venice” is truly a superb example of his work.

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