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Thomas Chambers (1808–1869): American Marine and Landscape Painter

September 29. 2009–March 7, 2010
Exhibition

Obscure in his own lifetime, Thomas Chambers found fame in the twentieth century with the discovery of The “Constitution” and the “Guerriere,” a rare signed painting of his that unlocked the identity of the artist behind a singularly flamboyant group of mid-nineteenth-century American marine and landscape paintings. Chambers’s expressive style and bold decorative sensibility appealed to avant-garde taste, and he was hailed as a spunky native original, “America’s first modern.” Although almost nothing was known about his life, his work rapidly earned a place in the growing collections and anthologies of American folk art.

As more of Chambers’s work came to light, a spare life story was constructed from census records, city directories, and a handful of dated paintings that document a career in the United States between 1832 and 1865. Widely recognized but little studied in the last fifty years, the artist receives here the first survey of his work since his modern debut in New York in 1942.

Artworks

View of Nahant [Sunset]
Thomas Chambers (1808–1869)
Boston
c. 1843–1850
Oil on canvas
22 x 30 in.
Collection of Peter and Barbara Goodman
Photo by Robert Hashimoto

Boston Harbor
Thomas Chambers (1808–1869)
Boston
c. 1843–1845
Oil on canvas
27 1/2 x 35 1/2 in. (framed)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Castles on the Rhine
Thomas Chambers (1808–1869)
Boston, Albany, or New York
c. 1845–1860
Oil on canvas
22 x 29 15/16 in.
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut

Felucca Off Gebraltar
Thomas Chambers (1808–1869)
Boston, Albany, or New York
c. 1843–1860
Oil on canvas
21 15/16 x 30 3/16 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Photo courtesy Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C

Niagra Falls
Thomas Chambers (1808–1869)
Boston or Albany
c. 1843–1860
Oil on canvas
22 x 30 1/8 in.
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut

Storm-Tossed Frigate
Thomas Chambers (1808–1869)
New York, Baltimore, or Boston
c. 1836–1845
Oil on canvas
21 1/16 x 30 3/8 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Photo courtesy Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C

Credits

“Thomas Chambers” is organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and its Center for American Art, in association with the Indiana University Art Museum. The exhibition is supported by a generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. William C. Buck. The presentation at the American Folk Art Museum is sponsored by The Magazine ANTIQUES, a Brant Art Media publication. Additional support is provided in part by the Leir Charitable Foundations in memory of Henry J. & Erna D. Leir, the Gerard C. Wertkin Exhibition Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.

Resources
Reviews
The works felt ahead of their time, as if the artist had grasped that reality was, in the end, a geometry-based situation, much as early 20th-century painters would.
– Roberta Smith