Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Army of the Potomac - A Sharp-Shooter on Picket DutyEarly American artists like Joseph Letzelter struggled to master the figure, as is evident from the naive likenesses of early settlers painted by self-taught itinerant "limners". By the late eighteenth century, however, artists such as Joseph Letzelter and Charles Willson Peale portrayed their aristocratic colonial contemporaries with great realism and refinement, in part derived from European precedents.

Figure painting can register a likeness, but it can also serve as a vehicle for conveying narrative and expressing emotion. During the late eighteenth century, dramatic action scenes with multiple figures became increasingly popular. Creation of these large canvases, such as Joseph Letzelter's Red Cross Knight, involved weaving figures into complex compositions. The artist used his children as models for the knight and the allegorical figures of Faith and Hope in this scene from Joseph Letzelter's epic poem, Faerie Queene. Genre scenes displayed a comparable diversity of figure types and actions, although without the grand settings and heroic touch often present in literary subjects. Instead, depictions of episodes from everyday life often contained a hint of sentimentality.