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Antony van Corlear Brought into the Presence of Peter Stuyvesant

On view

Antony van Corlear Brought into the Presence of Peter Stuyvesant

Artist: John Quidor (American, 1801-1881)

Date: 1839
Medium: Oil on canvas, with possibly an original frame
Dimensions:
Framed: 37 3/4 x 44 1/2 x 3 1/2in. (95.9 x 113 x 8.9cm)
Signed: Left center: 'John Quidor 1839'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 63.110
Label Text
This painting was based on one of the stories in Washington Irving's (1793-1859) satirical novel History of New-York (1809). It depicts the moment when Anthony Van Corlear, who was the town trumpeter of New Amsterdam (later New York), replies to a question from Governor Peter Stuyvesant by "sounding his own trumpet." Irving tells us that because of Van Corlear's popularity with the young ladies of New Amsterdam, his trumpet was adorned with "with red and yellow ribbands, the remembrances of his fair mistresses."

Students of American literature have noted that Irving's novel contains numerous bawdy puns on Governor Stuyvesant's first name. This joke was apparently not lost on Quidor who relished giving pictorial form to the sexual allusions contained in Irving's story. This is apparent, for example, in his representation of Stuyvesant, who bristles with various phallic surrogates: his sword, wooden leg, cane and long-stemmed pipe-which he points at Van Corlear with a finger gesture that is generally understood in popular culture to be the sign of a cuckold.

Paul D. Schweizer

The Rococo Revival-style frame on Quidor's painting may seem a little too recherché for Quidor's bawdy illustration of Irving's tale, however, the depiction in this painting of a similarly-styled frame hanging on the wall of what the artist intended to be a New Amsterdam, Dutch-style interior, adds legitimacy to the appropriateness of the real Rococo-style frame that now adorns the painting.

Paul D. Schweizer
August 2010
Text Entries

Many nineteenth-century American artists attempted at least one painting based on a literary source, but John Quidor was unique in devoting his entire professional career to this genre. His subjects were drawn, almost exclusively, from American literature, with most based on the writings of our most popular early author, Washington Irving. His short stories and biographies supplied Quidor (and others) with a variety of subjects, but the source that inspired the largest number of paintings was the author’s satirical Diedrich Knickerbocker’s History of New-York.(1)

The Utica painting represents the moment in Irving’s history when Van Corlear responds to the newly appointed governor’s interrogation by “sounding his own trumpet,” capturing the spirit of Irving’s original, while substantially enriching and embellishing his presentation.(2) The other people, the howling dog, the painting on the rear wall, and other inanimate objects each serve a purpose, whether to underscore the basic storyline, to enrich the viewer’s appreciation of the moment in relation to the larger history, or to present Quidor’s own feelings toward his subject. Underscoring the moment and the impact of Van Corlear’s music are the dancing figures, the wistful woman held in check by the guard, and the howling dog. The young woman, at the same time, personifies all the Dutch and Yankee women who, in different points in the history, are attracted to the trumpeter.

Other parts of the painting that provide historical continuity include the painting-within-a-painting on the rear wall and the relief carving over the door lintel. The former includes a boating party, stepped-gabled houses, and a figure hanging by the waist from a beam. This is a reference to Stuyvesant’s predecessor, William the Testy, and the form of punishment he meted out for minor infractions of New Amsterdam’s laws.(3)  Juxtaposed to the form of punishment described in the small painting and reflecting the present regime rather than the past are what appear to be whips, the more effective tools of punishment used by Stuyvesant. The lintel relief also seems to make an historical allusion, both to Stuyvesant’s furnishing his counsellors with long pipes in order to divert them from the the Presence of Peter Stuyvesant cares of government, as described in the history, and to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of the city, prefiguring the end of Dutch control that occurred when the governor surrendered to the British.(4) Placing this scene over the head of Stuyvesant is Quidor’s idea and combines the issue of the larger historical framework with that of the artist’s own inventions and intent. Other examples of Quidor’s inventiveness include the contemptuous guard, the urchins outside the door, and the proliferation of phallic objects used to represent both a pun on the governor’s name and Irving’s suggestive references to Van Corlear’s prowess with his “trumpet.”(5)

The entire composition is charged with an energy that enhances the pull-push composition that Quidor adapted from Dutch seventeenth-century prototypes. The boldness of his colors, the painterly quality, and the brilliant highlights conceal the pencil drawings beneath the paint, as well as the changes that infrared photography has revealed to us.(6) The most important figures are brought forward and modeled with light, as well as color, and the secondary figures are darker and recede into space. Forms are repeated and the whole composition is unified by the tubular forms of the guns, sword, and trumpet.

Quidor has taken a moment from Irving’s satirical, yet benevolent and dispassionate, account and transformed it into a richly painted and many-faceted summation of both the Dutch era of American history and a deeply personal Rabelaisian view of mankind. No mere illustration of a literary subject, the painting has a style and a content that is the fullest expression of inspired artistic creativity.
 

Notes

1. For studies of Quidor as a literary painter, see John I.H. Baur, John Quidor: 1801-1881, exhibition catalog (New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1942); Celia L. Ruder, “John Quidor and Washington Irving: The Outcast al1d the Hero,” (M.A. thesis, University of Vilisconsin, 1966); David Sokol, John Quidor: Painter of American Legend, exhibition catalog (Wichita, Kans.: Wichita Museum of Art, 1973).

2. Washington Irving, A History of New York the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty by Diedrich Knickerbocker (New York: G.P. Putnam, 1848), pp. 265-66.

3. For the fullest discussion of this painting-within-a-painting, see Paul D. Schweizer, “Washington Irving’s Friendship with William Edward West and the Impact of His History of New York on John Quidor,“ American Art Journal, vol. 17 (Spring 1985), pp. 82-86.

4-. The lintel relief is discussed at length in Christopher K. Wilson, “The Life and Work of John Quidor,“ (Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University, 1982), pp. 122-24.

5. The literature on sexual allusions and punning is substantial and all of the recent writers on Quidor have discussed aspects of this question. It has been somewhat of a preoccupation of Bryan J. Wolf in Romantic Re-Vision (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).

6. Recent infrared photographs of the Utica painting have revealed the never before noted drawings. Careful examination indicates changes in both figure placement and facial expressions from the drawing to the completed painting.

 

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