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Study for "The Poacher's Story"

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Study for "The Poacher's Story"

Artist: Thomas Hovenden (Irish, 1840-1895; active United States after 1863)

Date: 1877-1879
Medium: Graphite on green-colored, medium-weight wove paper
Dimensions:
Overall: 8 1/2 × 11 11/16in. (21.6 × 29.7cm)
Signed:
Inscribed: Verso, lower left: 'I41593'
Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Murray Wheeler, by Exchange
Object number: 92.9.1.a-b
Text Entries

This drawing has been identified by Anne Terhune as a preliminary study for Hovenden’s canvas, The One Who Can Read.(1) Given the rapidity with which at least half of the drawing appears to have been executed, it would seem Hovenden had a clear idea of what the composition he was planning would look like. Such decisiveness may have arisen from the elaborate preparations he was known to make for his works. His colleague Thomas Eakins remarked that Hovenden “made up his mind . . . and mapped out his work . . . completely before he began to paint.”(2)

However, when Hovenden made a painting of this composition he incorporated significant changes in the arrangement of the figures. The standing young girl in the center of the drawing was replaced in the painting with an older woman seated before a flax wheel and holding a distaff. She is looking to the right, away from the open window toward the girl who is facing the light and seated with an open book in her lap. What in the drawing is the suggestion of a figure in the shadowy left foreground appears in the painting as the figure of a standing man smoking a pipe and watching the girl read.(3)

In 1878 Hovenden exhibited this painting at the National Academy of Design in New York with the title Pride of the Old Folks. It was acquired shortly thereafter by Hovenden’s patron, John McCoy. He was either confused or indifferent about the paintings correct title. McCoy sometimes referred to it using the academy’s title and in other instances called the painting the “Pet of the Family” or “The One Who Can Read.”(4) Several years later Hovenden reused the topos of reading in two other paintings, The Old Version (The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco) and The Revised Version (National Academy of Design, New York).(5)

PDS

1. Anne G. Terhune to author, January 6, 1993. Hovenden’s painting, owned by the Peabody Institute, Baltimore, is on indefinite loan to The Baltimore Museum of Art. It has been faced with opaque paper to stabilize the paint surface. However, there is a pretreatment photograph in the files at The Baltimore Museum of Art. A small illustration of it appears in Anne Gregory Terhune, “Thomas Hovenden (1840-1895) and Late-Nineteenth-Century American Genre Painting” (Ph.D. diss., City University of New York, 1983), fig. 59. The painting is also discussed in Julia Rowland Myers, “The American Expatriate Painters of the French Peasantry, 1863- 1893" (Ph.D. diss., University of Maryland, 1989), 125-26.

2. “Hovenden and Rothermel: Thomas Eakins Talks of the Two Great Artists Now Lying in Death," Philadelphia Press, August 17, 1895; from the Thomas Hovenden Scrapbook, 1866-95, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., microfilm P13, frame 317.

3. To the right of the principal drawing Hovenden made a small sketch of the massing of the three figures. The studies for Elaine on the verso of the sheet suggest he may have begun that composition around 1877, two years earlier than previously believed. For the chronology of this work see Terhune, “Hovenden,” 220 n. 3.

4. Terhune to author, January 6, 1993. See also Terhune, “Hovenden,” 160-62.

5. These two paintings are discussed in Terhune, “Hovenden,” 250-61.

 

 

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