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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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Eugene Boudin
French (1824-1898)

La Seine à Mailleraye près de Quillebeuf, Normandie

Master French Impressionist Eugene Boudin was very familiar with Northern France’s Normandy coast, particularly the region known as Seine Maritime which surrounds the northern-most part of the Seine and the northwest coastline lined with beaches and resort towns facing the English Channel. Boudin lived in both Honfleur and Le Havre, cities on either side of the river at its end, and was known to have painted all over this region throughout his life.

In this remarkable image Boudin has captured an area of great natural beauty enjoyed by locals and travelers throughout French history. This land, along the Seine between Le Havre on the coast and Rouen is now a large protected area or Regional Natural Park named for the long looping turns the river takes through the area’s small villages, ancient landmarks and fertile farmlands - Boucles de la Seine.

A man in blue stands on the bank to the left, staring out at the wide expanse of the Seine at one of its dramatic turnings. Perhaps he is waiting on the approach of the small boat with several figures heading for the pylons along the shore. Behind him is a small house set amid tall trees and hedgerows, probably holly or tadpole trees, typically used by locals delineate property. Powerful symbols of Norman culture, trees also symbolized durability and even immortality in myths and legends of the area. The river's rich banks likely added to these legends, supporting acres of farms and orchards. Out on the river's deeper waters a steamship is heading north, and perhaps the small boat alongside is loading a cargo of the area's famous apples.

The painting's expansive composition, anchored by a charming pastoral scene on the near bank, allowed Boudin to display all his mature skill and artistic mastery with hallmarks of his most desired works. The sky dominates the painting with cloud formations and dramatic interplays of light and shadow. Strong coloration is applied with lively brushwork- deep blues in the distance set with warm oranges on the far shore are echoed by loose strokes and lighter shades in the nearby farm. Striking multifaceted deep greens applied with swift movement make the trees spring to life while the whole work is offset with touches of Boudin’s signature red on the boats in the distance and on one hiding set in the rushes onshore. This is an outstanding example of the artist’s work.

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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 homogeneous 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 to 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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