Life is a journey they say and achievements during lifetime of an individual are occasionally evident years later, long after the demise of the individual himself. This is a great story of Jervis McEntee. The legacy of this great painter has begun to resurface approximately 125 years after his death.
Jervis’ life especially in the painting aspects is showcased by two major exhibitions and it’s clear that the work of this prolific painter who was little known by then presented a unique capture that seemed absent with other well- known painters of the time. The story of this 19th century painter is found in the collections of his own personal journals that provides a great insight to artist’s interested in unveiling the early moments of the considered United States first native art movement, the Hudson River School.The historical full-dress portrait of Jervis McEntee that is present at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of art housed at the state university of New York at New Platz presents the undisputed contribution of this poet-painter in the life and evolution of art in the United States. Therefore, the personal journals and the portraits in two different exhibition zones and presenting two different perspectives gives an in-depth view of the early American art, all attributed to Jervis.
1828 is the definitive year for the birth of this noble painter who was born and raised in Rondout which later merged with Kingston. This area where he was raised has evolved to become a magnet for two generations of American artists thus producing a number of popular artists who significantly contributed in the poetic and painting sector of the United States.
In the time of Jervis, artists through their works ventured to abandon the grand tradition of allegorical, devout and antique themes and conveyed the spiritual solace found in nature and this was characterized by the periods of political and social glitches that prevailed through the 19th century.
During this time, artists in America such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Cullen Bryant utilized the advancements that were being witnessed to gain expansive grounds for their artistic works and thus utilized this state of affairs to merge arts with prototypical and entrepreneurial Yankee pride. Among those who also played a significant role in molding this entrepreneurial pride was McEntees mentor, Fredric Edwin Church who traversed far and wide within and beyond the continent and during such explorations created poetic landscape prospects which presently serve as the 19th century documentaries.
Contrastingly, Jervis’ works were limited in scope and centered in various American glamorous landscapes. Unlike other artists, he did not venture into expansive travelling but instead spent most of the time at home and his works were relatively small in size. Thus the Kingston exhibition calls him a self-taught country artist whose contribution in the national academy of design made him quite influential.
McEntee majorly commuted between Rondout and his Manhattan gallery on 10th street, in a building designed by Richard Morris Hunt for artists. His collections which are rarely seen provide an unprecedented welcome to his family life as well as social aspects of his life. The photos in these collections include the McEntee parlor, filled with books and paintings, a picture of his wife, Gertrude who was a singer and the picture depicts her as dazzlingly costumed for her role in Esther. His sister, Mary married Calvert Vaux who was a co-designer of Central Park.
The collection also covers a gift presented to McEntees of a volume of Henry Shaw’s Dresses and Decoration of the middle ages. This gift was given by actor Edwin Booth who was welcomed and assisted by the McEntees after his brother John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.
The early paintings of Jervis present a unique and interesting appeal regardless of the naïve style which they are presented. To begin with, the Rondout Creek and Hudson River and Ponckhockie peninsula (circa 1850) provides capacious view of the earth including the land and water as well as planes with the sailboats that propel the eye toward the horizon. This artwork is a contrast of another one of his works called The Woods of Asshockan Catskills (1871) which presents a viewer with a deep exposure within the woods with its light and texture paying homage to the Church.
At the Dorsky exhibition, the paintings of McEntee portrays him as a unique yet modest painter who lived among other American legends. Despite the exposures and other encounters as well with other painters, his brush preferred to meander through quiet forest paths and to seek spaces between branches during his artistic work and the final work looked quite appealing. He himself admitted to the love of his style as he wrote “what I do like to paint is my impression of a simple scene in nature” in his journals.His works presented a love of nature and he could pursue the nature’s ruminating moods in late autumn and winter when trees become bare while the sky appears grey. One of his paintings, The Approaching Storm, Early Evening presents blackened woods yielding to the thunderous clouds which were castigated in rumbling tones of gray, blue and black. The link between his painting and his personal entries in the journal is undisputed which finds him occasionally fretting over money, headaches and premature loss of his life.
Despite the fact that most of his paintings focused on nature’s darker moments, sunlight was as well captured in a number of his works. Winter Sunset after a Storm (circa 1870) and Beeches and Ferns (1859) are examples of such collections. Worth to note, a number of his works also presented a betrayal of the European influences that McEntee publicly criticized for abandoning the fidelity of nature and examples of such works include The Danger signal (1871).
While his works failed to gain great recognition then, the Dorsky exhibition however describes McEntee as an artist who stayed true to himself and to the sense of place which was essentially part of his being. To find more and learn about this great artist, visiting Kingston and Dorsky exhibitions as well as West Chester Street where McEntee lived will provide a great insight to the life of this artist. Making a memorial visit to the cemetery where Vaux’s tombstone stands and is surrounded by those of McEntee and his family can be worthy it.