Historical Collections of Ohio pgs 855-859
Historical Collections of Ohio: Pages 855-859
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~ pg. 855 ~

Pioneer Art In Cincinnati.

The beginning of art in Cincinnati is to be accredited to FREDERICK ECKSTEIN, although possibly John Wesley JARVIS may have made a halt, so to speak, here at an earlier date; but as Lexington, Louisville and later Columbus were his par-ticular haunts, he is hardly to be considered an habitué of the Queen City of the West.  ECKSTEIN founded his academy here in 1826.

Frederick ECKSTEIN, a man of bight education and culture, man of business and affairs, made art something more pastime, than an adjunct to the means of “getting along,” as his pursuits therein were governed by the high and unselfish purpose of improving the taste and improving of his neighbors, the early pioneers of the West, and of planting the civilization of his own native Germany in his chosen American home, although facilities for the practice of that branch of art, sculpture, in which Mr. ECKSTEIN chiefly exhibited his Superior skill, were exceed-ingly meager, those productions which have been preserved will compare favorably  with most of that which has followed.

To Mr. Eckstein Hiram POWERS owed his first lessons, as well probably his first impulse, in the direction of art.  CLEVENGER afterwards opened a studio in this place, and the three, ECKSTEIN, CLEVENGER, and POWERS, where in constant contact and sympathy.  CORWIN, Minor KELLOG, and Charles SOULE, painting, came later.  The latter was a disciple and imitator of JARVIS, and executed many beau-tiful and strongly characteristic portraits.  Like JARVIS, he used the camera lucida to make his drawings; hence, he never became the master in drawing that he was in color, merely from the want of practice.  He painted in Cincinnati and afterwards in Dayton.  WALDO and JEWETT, painting in  partnership, were not of  Cincinnati, but rather, in their Western experience, of Lexington; but as many interesting portraits of pioneer heroes came from their hands, less commercial than their association would seem to indicate, and as their work exerted a decided in-fluence upon the rising art, they should be mentioned here.  Many of their heads, and some by their unknown compeers, are worthy, in their simple and untrammeled truth, of a place by the side of Holbein.

JEWETT, of a Kentucky family, painted portraits of such remarkable truth, beauty of color and refinement, at the same time naturalness of composition, that their influence was felt in the formation of a taste here as well as elsewhere in the West.  James H. BEARD, still living, came to Cincinnati about 1830 or 1832 studied his art, portrait painting, here in nature’s school and at the National Academy in New York.  He made frequent visits to New Orleans and the South,


painting portraits for the wealthy planters, entertaining them the while with imitable stories.  He afterwards went of the dogs; but his dogs lacking, perhaps, the refinement and dignity of those of Landseer, are so powerful in expression and consummate wit, sometimes almost human, that we are inclined to forgive him for the transfer of his artistic affections.  His portraits were very fine; notably that of Mr. GIBSON and also one of Durbin WARD.

Henry WORRALL, although, perhaps, more practically devoted to music than to the art of design, carried, with his intense and genuine love for the latter, such a genuine helpfulness, giving them his ever-ready tact and the strength of his manly arm over the rough ways, especially when their representative happened to be a talented and attractive girl, as most girls are to whom the muse of art is revealed, that the history of our art cannot be truthfully outlined without his honored name gracing the  page.  He was born in England and came to America when a mere boy and soon to Cincinnati.  He came with almost the first canvass upon which some unknown artist might record his conceptions of the beautiful.  Every scheme, looking to the better condition of art and the happier relation of its prac-titioners, was sure to find WORRALL at the helm or trimming sails for the propitious breeze.  To him, among many other enterprises for a similar purpose, we owe the first institution the Cincinnati Sketch Club, out of which proceeded very many advantages to art.  It had its influence in the evolution of nearly all the Cincinnati artists who have, in the last quarter of a century or more, exhibited particular excellence.  The Sketch Club so formed numbered among its members BEARD, FRANKENSTEIN, MC LAUGHLIN, MOSLER, FARNY, READ, QUICK, LINDSAY and many others, who gave at each meeting a sketch in illustration of a subject previously named, the sketches belonging to the members, who, on that occasion hap-pened to be the host.  This club continued in excellent harmony until some preachers and wealthy merchants as honorary members, who, by an excess of goodfellowhip and conviviality proved the unsuspecting club’s undoing.  Previously its habits had been simple, as befitted a pioneer association of the West.  WORRALL carries the spontaneous germ of Sketch Club with him wherever be goes.  He now lives in Topeka, Kansas, there, at his word, a sketch club comes into being, with the additional grace of a membership composed of most beautiful and talented ladies.

The brothers FRANKENSTEIN, John and Godfrey, from 1832 to 1875 and 1881, are only to be spoken of in terms of the highest praise—Godfrey in landscape and John in all branches of art.  They were both born in Germany, but came to Cincinnati with their parents when small children.  Godfrey was the younger and painted many beautiful landscapes, closely and carefully studied from nature, finding his themes all the way from the White Mountains to the Knobs of Indiana, including Niagara, of which latter place he painted hundreds of views, uniting most of them in a famous and very effective panorama.  He was an affable and honorable gentleman, qualities which, together with his acknowledged talent, secured for him many warm friends.

John, the elder brother, equally honorable and equally a friend of his fellow man, was not, unfortunately, so equable a temper, but more nervous and somewhat moody, was not always understood at his real personal worth; no one knowing him, however, could fail to appreciate his just impartiality towards other artists, or the fearless integrity with which, regardless of self-interest, he stood for the rights of man.

In his art his works show him to be pre-eminent, particularly in sculpture, his landscape studies and his painting of the human head in his happiest experiments (for experiment he often did), and in his drawing and painting of the human figure, he is beyond and above criticism.  A consummate anatomist, an acute observer, there is nothing to be found in his works that has been carelessly considered.  His portrait of his brother Godfrey impresses me, as I remember it, as the grandest work of art I ever saw; and his sculptures, particularly the head of


McLEAN and also that of Dr. MUSSEY, have not been surpassed, if they have been equaled, in the last two thousand years.  His painting led all that the later pilgrims to Munich have essayed, and his sculpture may stand, unbelittled, by the side of the Greeks in their best period.

There were several artists, now dead, who came upon the Cincinnati stage later than the FRANKENSTEINS.  Thomas Buchanan READ, more celebrated as a poet than as a painter, exhibited, according to John FRANKENSTEIN,  extraordinary genius in the commencement of his artistic career (about 1840), and attained very considerable power, considering that his direct preparatory studies were curtailed by his more intimate and assiduous attention to his poetic muse.  He wrote the war-ballad, “Sheridan’s Ride,” and afterwards painted a noble and spirited picture of the subject.  His portrait heads are characterized by a peculiar grace and refinement rather than by the exact rendering of the ordinary physical facts.  His studies in painting never enabled him to embody in pictures the sublime, the pathetic, or even the beautiful, with that perfection of fullness of power which he has shown in his verse, and which, in many instances, enables him to abide in memory with the greatest bards that have ever lived.

J. 0.  EATON born Feb. 8, 1829, in Licking county, Ohio, came to Cincinnati about 1845, and attained prominence in portrait painting.  Many of his best heads have not, in several respects, been surpassed.  With good drawing, so far as the head and bust are concerned, and superb color, he had naturally, from the very first almost, a certain dexterity of handling that should set the neophytes of the present day who affect technique crazy with despair.  His female heads are particularly lovely in pose, light and shade, color, and, more than all, expression.  Lily Martin SPENCER, a native of Ohio, worked in Cincinnati until about 1855, and her works, mostly genre subjects, attracted much deserved attention and praise.  Her later life has been passed mostly in New York, where she has been highly appreciated.  Miss GENGEMRE, born in France of a talented family, her father having been a designer in the employ of the French government, distinguished herself here by the beauty of her works, showing the way to more truth-ful process of study.  She afterwards married Mr. ANDERSON, a talented engraver, and now resides in London, where her works are highly prized.

These great artists, and others possibly that escape my mind at this moment, have rendered a boon to mankind that will be more appreciated as time rolls on, and comparison is drawn  between their works and those of artists working close by the protecting walls of the established schools of Europe.

DUNCANSON’S landscapes were, on account of their peculiar poetical conception, much prized, not only in this country but in England and Scotland.  Among the friends of the colored Americans (for DUNCANSON, a most genial gentleman as well as accomplished artist, was a light quadroon) they were in especial demand, find-ing favor with such cultured critics and outspoken believers that negroes have souls as Charles SUMNER and his illustrious compeers in Europe.

All of the present generation will remember the versatile Wm.  P. NOBLE, the talented but erratic Theodore JONES, the poetic painter and writer,  Wm. P. BRANNAN, who painted splendid portraits of Lyman BEECHER and Father COLLINS, and was the author of the extravaganza known as “The Harp of a Thousand Strings;”  also T. D. JONES, the sculptor, who executed the portrait busts of Gen. TAYLOR, of EWING, of Abraham LINCOLN, and several other prominent statesmen and soldiers, all from life; while somewhat mechanical and having but little of the plastic qualities of fine sculpture, they are, nevertheless, good and expressive likenesses. A sculptor of great promise as well as (for one so voting, he having died at about twenty-four or twenty-five years of ago) of great achievements was Frank DENGLER.  His works were masterly busts and ideal groups.  He studied in Munich, worked in Cincinnati, and during the last year or so of his life, through the friendly appreciation of Prof. MORSE, became a teacher in the Poston Art School.

In painting, latterly, we had the works of DENNIS and MULVANEY, the former


born in Kentucky the latter in Ireland, or at least of Irish parentage—both studied  in Munich, the former finding his themes in the primitive pioneer life, the latter choosing principally, the wild frontier, camp-life, and scenes among the mines of Colorado, the Custer battle, etc.  Both of these artists have left some magnificent specimens of their skill.  There are several living artists who are doing splendid work, but of them I hardly deem it proper to speak in this limited paper, making exception in the case of James H. BEARD and others who were pioneers; for to do them justice, and treat all with equal candor and delicacy, would be likely to consume more space that is allotted to my use.

An important factor in the growth of art in our section, indeed throughout the country, has been the addition of a distinct department of art to the popular Expositions that, following the lead of the first one here, have become a feature in all of our principal Western cities.  The first Exposition held in Cincinnati, under the auspices jointly of the Board of Trade, the Chamber of Commerce and the Mechanics’ Institute, in 1870 (the Mechanics’ Institute had held previously, up to the commencement of the war, a purely mechanical exhibition), had not intended an art display, and it was at the intercession of the writer of this sketch that one was agreed upon, and the artists of the city assented to the proposal, on the ground that no prize should be awarded, their works sent for display only. A prize was, however, surreptitiously awarded; still the gathering of the works of our artists (the time was too short to communicate with others) had the good effect of initiating Exposition Art Gallery at the West, which continues, although unwisely conducted in many respects, an influence in art education, both among the people and the artists, inferior to no other in existence.  Wealthy citizens have loaned the rare gems of art which they have brought from abroad, and artists generally have contributed liberally from their studios.  St. Louis, Louisville, Chicago, Denver, Milwaukee, and many other cities of the South and West, have in this way been enabled to place before their citizens works of art than which the world has seen little better.  The last Exposition of this kind in Cincinnati was that in celebration of the Centennial Anniversary, in 1888, of the settlement of Hamilton county and the State of Ohio.  At that Exposition there should have been a col-lection of paintings and sculpture showing the condition and progress of art during our first century, but, by some oversight, it was neglected.

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