James Hamilton


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John Sartain (1808—1897)

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Painter, printmaker, and illustrator. Chiefly a painter of marine views, he also produced landscapes and narratives. His taste for romantic tumult and his startlingly free, painterly style earned him the sobriquet, “the American Turner.” Born in Ireland, at Entrien, near Belfast, in 1834 he arrived with his family in Philadelphia. The city remained his home base, although he later traveled in the mid-Atlantic and New England areas and, once, to England. As a young man in Philadelphia he received some instruction in painting, studied manuals on the subject, and found encouragement from John Sartain, John Neagle, and Thomas Birch. Studying the work of J. M. W. Turner, John Constable, and other English romantics at firsthand in 1854 enabled Hamilton to consolidate an individual style. Many of his most impressive and audacious works convey nature's power at sea. Paint itself contributes to the frenzy, dissolving form into abstract color. Based on an 1830 poem of the same title by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Old Ironsides (Pennsylvania Academy, 1863) depicts the imagined break-up of the USS Constitution in surging waves before a stormy sky. (In actuality, rebuilt in 1833, the ship remains docked in Boston harbor and open to the public.) Light streams through a single opening in the clouds, perhaps alluding to divine providence. Metaphorically, the painting may also refer to the written Constitution, in some peril as the Civil War raged. Hamilton also painted more tranquil images, including shore views suggesting affinities with luminism. Working also as a book illustrator from the 1840s, he achieved his greatest success with images for Elisha Kent Kane's Arctic Explorations (1856). In 1876 Hamilton arrived in San Francisco, heading west on a projected trip around the world, but he was still there at the time of his death.

Subjects: Art.

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