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Artist and Visionary: William Matthew Prior Revealed

January 24, 2013–May 26, 2013
Exhibition

Organized by the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, this exhibition includes more than 40 oil paintings spanning William Matthew Prior’s career from 1824 to 1856. Through his pragmatic marketing strategy, Prior was able to document the faces of middle-class Americans throughout his lifetime, making art accessible to a previously overlooked group.

A versatile artist, Prior is well known not only for the skill and range of his technique but for the diversity of his sitters. Prior’s involvement with Millerism (early Adventism) was instrumental in his personal development as well as providing access to new clients, including many African Americans.

Artworks

The Artist as a Young Man: Self-Portrait
William Matthew Prior (1806–1873)
Portland, Maine
1825
Oil on canvas
31 1/8 x 26 15/16 in.
Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, N0008.2010

Child in Blue with Dog
William Matthew Prior (1806–1873)
Probably East Boston
1848
Oil on canvas
35 5/8 x 29 in.
Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0254.1961
Photo by John Bigelow Taylor, New York

Mrs. G. Brightman
William Matthew Prior (1806–1873)
Probably Fall River, Massachusetts
1844
Oil on cardboard
14 1/4 x 10 1/4 in.
Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, N0293.1959
Photo by Richard Walker

Mr. G. Brightman
William Matthew Prior (1806–1873)
Probably Fall River, Massachusetts
1844
Oil on cardboard
14 1/4 x 10 1/4 in.
Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, N0292.1959
Photo by Richard Walker

Nancy Lawson
William Matthew Prior (1806–1873)
Probably East Boston
1843
Oil on canvas
30 x 25 in.
Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont

Landscape
William Matthew Prior (1806–1873)
Probably East Boston
c. 1850–1860
Oil on canvas
20 1/4 x 25 3/4 in.
Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, N0412.1961
Photo by Richard Walker

Credits

The Henry Luce Foundation, as the foundation sponsor, provided partial funding for the exhibition and catalog “Artist and Visionary: William Matthew Prior Revealed.” Funding also provided by the American Folk Art Society and the Beryl P. Haas Charitable Remainder Unitrust. The presentation at the American Folk Art Museum is sponsored, in part, by Joyce Berger Cowin, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by the David Davies and Jack Weeden Fund for Exhibitions.

Resources
Folk Art 17, no. 3 (Fall 1992)

Visiones del Pueblo: The Folk Art of Latin America, by Marion Oettinger Jr.
Zoratti’s Garden, by Gene Kangas
Pioneers in Folk Art Collecting: Elie And Viola Nadelman, by Christine I. Oaklander

The profile on NYC ARTS
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Reviews
Prior’s paintings of solemn, pie-faced tots, stiffly posed yet animated by some inner mystery, are especially compelling.
– Ken Johnson
Five are in the current show, the first retrospective this artist has been given, and they turn out to be among the most engaging works on view.
– Sanford Schartz