Published: July 5, 2011
On view at Olana, home of Nineteenth Century painter Frederic Church, through October 30 is the exhibition “Rally ’round the Flag: Frederic Edwin Church and the Civil War,” which features paintings by John S. Jameson, a painter who had been praised and befriended by Church before dying in 1864 at the age of 22 in the Civil War prison at Andersonville, Ga.
On view in the Evelyn and Maurice Sharp Gallery are five of the six extant Jameson paintings, providing an opportunity to view his works side-by-side and witness his accomplishment at such a young age in a life cut short.
Jameson was born in Hartford, Conn., on March 25, 1842, and at the age of 11 moved to New York City with his family. Enrolling in music lessons, Jameson also began drawing classes at the National Academy of Design and painted at the Tenth Street Studio. The story goes that a sketch Jameson did of his grandmother when he was 13 attending the Public Grammar School on 13th Street attracted the notice of several artists, especially Church, who subsequently became his friend and patron.
Jameson and his music teacher William Mason visited Church’s studio in New York, a meeting referred to in a later letter Mason, who wrote that Church was painting “Heart of the Andes” at the time. A comparison of details from “Heart of the Andes” with the foreground foliage in Jameson’s “Saranac Lake, 1861,” on view in this exhibit, displays a similar sensibility.
Jameson’s formal artistic training is documented only by the appearance of his name in the National Academy of Design Register of Students of the Antique School in 1858 and 1859. As did other Hudson River artists, Jameson traveled to the Catskills, Adirondacks, and New England to paint.
His most valuable teaching experience, however, was likely his contact with other artists afforded by his early membership in the Artists’ Fund Society and his association with the Tenth Street Studio where, in the early 1860s., Jameson was painting there in the company of masters like Church, John W. Casilear and Sanford R. Gifford.
Paintings by Jameson were included in both the 1861 and 1862 exhibitions at the National Academy of Design. Quite notably, a review of the 1861 exhibition in The Crayon singles out the young Jameson’s “Sketch from Nature” for praise: “Passing into the Third Gallery we find ourselves in the ‘gem room’, a room containing a selection of small works&Jameson has a sketch from Nature †broad and suggestive, and Church The Star in the East, equally so.”
In the 1862 exhibition, Jameson was represented by three paintings, among them “A Storm †Summer Afternoon,” 1862, a landscape rich with painterly details, atmosphere and suspense.
In January 1864, Jameson enlisted in the First Connecticut Cavalry and seven months later died in Andersonville Prison Hospital, following his capture while filling his canteen at a creek. Frederic Church’s high estimation of Jameson’s talent is revealed in a letter he wrote on April 24, 1867, from Hudson, N.Y., to Mrs. Jameson after her son’s death:
“Of all the younger Artists whose personal acquaintance I have made, and whose works and characteristics of mind and heart came to my observation, no one has interested me so much as your son, or held out better grounded hopes of future high excellence& I thank you for your thoughtful kindness in sending me the sketch which will be one of the few things I expect always to have as fixtures in &†my home.”
The sketch referred to by Church is almost certainly “Landscape,” circa 1860, the only painting attributed to Jameson at Olana. A small, undated work in oil, it is sketchy and painterly, with its more primitive conception placing it in time before Jameson’s later paintings.
Olana State Historic Site is at 5720 State Route 9G. For information, 518-828-0135 or www.olana.org .
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