James Henry Beard


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(probably 1811–93).

Painter. A specialist in genre subjects, together with his brother William Holbrook Beard (1824–1900), he introduced a form of social satire in which animals stand for human counterparts. James was born in Buffalo, New York, but grew up in Ohio. His brother William was born there, in Painesville. Both remained essentially self-taught as artists. In their own day, they were well regarded and widely popular for their humor, sometimes covertly bawdy, which punctured middle-class pretensions. However, they suffered a decline in reputation when changing tastes came to find much of their art sentimental or shallow. James worked as an itinerant portraitist before settling in Cincinnati by 1830. While residing there most of the time until 1870, when he moved to New York, he painted portraits and anecdotal scenes. Some, such as The Long Bill (Cincinnati Art Museum, c. 1840), picturing a. young man in a shop scratching his head in wonderment over the charges on a list in his hand, carried satirical overtones for contemporaries informed about current political debate. For one of his most powerful works, The Night Before the Battle (Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester [New York], 1865), he drew on his experience as a Civil War soldier. In a Gethsemane-like setting, soldiers sleep as a skeletal Death keeps watch by moonlight at the ramparts. After this time, he turned frequently to animal subjects. These most often anthropomorphize dogs in seemingly human interactions taking place in domestic interiors. He died in the Flushing area of Queens. William traveled to Europe in 1856. He achieved some success in Buffalo before moving permanently to New York about 1860. Although he also painted genre scenes and portraits, he soon specialized in animals. Some are straightforward portrayals, but most cast furry characters in human roles. He particularly favored bears, as in the merry Bears of Wall Street Celebrating a Drop in the Market (New-York Historical Society, undated).

Subjects: Art.

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