John Neagle


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Painter. His most innovative and celebrated work, Pat Lyon at the Forge (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1826; replica, Pennsylvania Academy, 1829), notably adapts the formulas of grand manner portraiture to a working-class subject, suggesting for a democratic audience the nobility of labor and the irrelevance of aristocratic birth. Born in Boston, Neagle grew up in Philadelphia and remained a resident of that city nearly all his life. As a portrait specialist, from time to time he traveled to paint clients elsewhere. He began producing likenesses while apprenticed to a coach painter. Soon he developed a painterly style indebted primarily to his mentor Thomas Sully and, to a smaller extent, Gilbert Stuart, who offered advice when Neagle visited Boston in 1825. He also received instruction from Bass Otis and others. As a young man, he worked briefly in Lexington, Kentucky, and in New Orleans. In the mid-1820s Patrick Lyon commissioned the painting that established Neagle's reputation. In a composition pulsing with energy, the heroicized blacksmith pauses at his labor within his shop. In the distance, signifying his defiant attitude toward authority, can be seen the prison where once he had been wrongly held. Pat Lyon exemplifies the strengths of Neagle's mature style in its fluent application of paint, strong colors and textural effects, control of space and light, and air of optimistic confidence. Second only to Sully by the late 1820s, Neagle flourished in Philadelphia's portrait market through the 1840s. With time, Neagle's handling of paint became somewhat tighter, as he became more attentive to detail. Later, his productivity waned, and a stroke in the late 1850s ended his career.

Subjects: Art.

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