William Morris Hunt played an important role in bringing awareness of the French Barbizon school to the United States. Its style offered American painters an alternative to the Hudson River School by encouraging them to loosen their brushstrokes and focus more on atmosphere than solid form. Like the French artists he admired, Hunt preferred to paint outside in nature rather than within the traditional studio. He also championed rural farmers and humble peasants as worthy artistic subjects.
William Bradford meticulously documented the Arctic in photographs during his expeditions. Photography lent credibility to the artist’s claims of a truthful representation of nature, and professional photographers accompanied him on every trip from 1863 onward. Bradford saw photography’s potential to bridge the gap between art and science, and he became one of the first artists to champion—and heavily rely on—this new medium.
Louis Rémy Mignot was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and studied art in the Netherlands and New York. He traveled with Frederic Edwin Church to Ecuador in 1856, subsequently painting many South American scenes from the sketches he made on this trip. Mignot’s dramatic palette may reflect the new commercial pigments that became available in the 1850s. His detailed rendering reveals the influence of the British critic John Ruskin, who urged artists to study and depict nature faithfully.
The Scottish-born William Keith moved to San Francisco in 1859 and developed a lifelong passion for the California landscape. He found success painting landscapes for the Northern Pacific Railroad, and these commissions financed travel to Europe to further his art education. On a return trip to San Francisco, Keith befriended the naturalist John Muir. Their remarkable friendship has been called “one of the important cultural transactions of the period in California.”
Born in Dixfield, Maine, Virgil Williams studied art in Paris and Rome. From 1862 to 1866 he lived in San Francisco and accompanied Albert Bierstadt on his first trip to the Yosemite Valley. Williams settled in San Francisco in 1871, but he also owned a cottage near Mount Saint Helena, in the Napa Valley. The retreat became a destination for other California landscape painters such as Thomas Hill and William Keith, who joined Williams in exploring the region and sketching the local scenery.
Born in Philadelphia, William Stanley Haseltine traveled to Germany to study painting after graduating from Harvard in 1854. While there he met the American artists Emanuel Leutze, Worthington Whittredge, and Albert Bierstadt. Together, the group journeyed down the Rhine River to Switzerland and Rome in 1856. These experiences influenced Haseltine’s development as a landscape painter. After returning to the United States in 1858, he continued to make excursions in pursuit of landscape subjects.
Born in Boston, Henry D. Morse was best known for his exquisite renderings of dogs and wildlife; his animal paintings were popular and sought after. As a teenager Morse learned engraving from his father, although he later experimented with a variety of artistic practices. While he is remembered as a painter, he also worked in jewelry making and diamond cutting. The first known American to have worked as a diamond cutter, he introduced revolutionary cutting practices to the diamond trade.
Among German-born artist Joseph Decker’s specialties was the highly illusionistic representation of boxes or baskets displaying beautiful, fanciful content. Whether depicting dozens of apples or cherries, a variety of candy, or other trinkets intended to dazzle the eye and pique the senses, these pictures speak to the increased commodification of consumer tastes—for both sweets and painting—during the latter part of the 19th century.
John Haberle’s work is recognized for its sense of composition, illusion, and humor. He was a master of trompe l’oeil (French for “fool the eye”) still-life painting. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, to German parents, Haberle was apprenticed to a printing firm at a young age. There he developed skills as a lithographer, printmaker, and illustrator. Haberle later committed himself to trompe l’oeil painting, capturing the American imagination as a leading practitioner.
Born in Philadelphia, William Joseph McCloskey and his wife, Alberta, brought their East Coast artistic training to Los Angeles, where they opened a studio in Child's Grand Opera House. Today, McCloskey is best remembered for his paintings of citrus fruits, which he started after he established his reputation as an accomplished portrait painter; we might wonder if, in fact, these pictures are less still lifes than “portraits” of bright, ripe oranges.