Dimensions: 10 x 11 ¾ inches (spandrel)
About the artist
Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait was one of nineteenth-century America’s leading painters of animals and sporting life. Born in 1819, in Livesey Hall, England, near Liverpool, Tait was the son of a maritime merchant. At eight years of age, when his father faced financial destitution, Tait was sent to live with relatives in the country outside of Lancaster. It was there that Tait discovered a love for animals, nature, hunting, and fishing that would continue to inspire him for the remainder of his life.
By the age of twelve, Tait was working at Agnew and Zanetti Repository of Art, an art dealer in Manchester, England. Also at this time, he arranged for a studio space at the Royal Institute in Manchester, where he worked in the evenings teaching himself to paint by copying the works on view at the Institute. Steeped in admiration for the subjects of British artist Edwin Landseer (1802–1873) and the style of the Pre-Raphaelites, Tait established himself as a realistic painter of landscapes, animals, and sporting scenes. The popularity of such subject matter was at its zenith in nineteenth-century Britain, most certainly heightened by the passion for the countryside and nature displayed by the newly crowned Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, later to become Edward VII, who was a great proponent of outdoor pursuits, such as shooting and hunting.
In 1838, Tait left the Agnew lithography reproduction business to marry, and subsequently worked as a teacher of drawing and lithography in Liverpool. Tait first became curious about America upon seeing George Catlin’s traveling exhibition of Indian portraits and artifacts in Paris in the late 1840’s. He was very intrigued by Catlin’s interpretation of the American West, and made the decision to emigrate to the United States in 1850.
Although he settled in New York city and established a studio there, he soon discovered the beauty of the Adirondacks in upstate New York, where he found great inspiration in the topography and fauna of the region. An avid sportsman and hunter himself, Tait was one of the earliest artists to work extensively in the Adirondack Mountains. His romantic and dramatic depictions of nature and life in the Adirondacks were enormously popular with the American public throughout the pre-Civil War era. In 1852, Currier & Ives began to publish lithographs and chromolithographs of his work, from which he gained wide recognition and earned a steady and substantial income. His works were also reproduced by Louis Prang and Company during this period, making Tait one of the most widely known artists of the mid-nineteenth century. Although he never traveled farther west than the Adirondacks, Tait is considered one of the principal painters of the American frontier, along with artists George Catlin (1794–1872), William Ranney (1813–1857), and Karl Bodmer (1809–1893). The series of work Tait produced depicting American Indians and life on the Western frontier, which were widely reproduced and widely accepted as definitive views of life on the frontier, were wholly based upon Bodmer’s illustrations and Catlin’s prints.
Tait was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1853, only three years after his arrival in America. Between 1852 and 1860, he exhibited over forty paintings at the National Academy of Design, and was elected an Academician in 1858. Although the genre paintings that were reproduced by Currier and Ives and Prang bought him great notoriety, his specialty was small, moderately priced animal paintings, which he produced in great number and which were also extremely popular. Tait was also a master of the dead game still life, furthering the popularity of this theme among both American public and a whole generation of American artists. The present work, Barnyard, is an exquisite example of another of Tait’s popular themes, the depiction of domesticated animals. Painted in 1866, this work was most certainly painted from life in the barnyard of his Westchester County New York farm, where he lived with his wife from 1861 until 1869. Barnyard beautifully illustrates Tait’s masterful and meticulous style, a style that endeared him to his admiring public and accounted for his long, productive, and successful career.
Over the course of Tait’s prolific career, he exhibited over two hundred paintings at the National Academy of Design. He also exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Brooklyn Art Association, the Boston Art Club, and the Art Institute of Chicago. His work can be found in numerous museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Amon Carter Museum, the Denver Art Museum, and the Yale University Art Gallery.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1852–69
National Academy of Design, New York, New York, 1852–60, 1861–1900
Boston Art Club, Boston, Massachusetts, 1891
Philadelphia Art Club, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1898
Brooklyn Art Association, 1863–86
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
National Academy of Design, New York, New York, (Associate) 1853
National Academy of Design, New York, New York, (Full Academician) 1858
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts
The Adirondack Museum, Blue Mountain Lake, New York
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
The Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, New York
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, District of Columbia
Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut
Painters of the Humble Truth, Masterpieces of American Still Life 1801–1939, William H. Gerdts
American Art Analog, Chelsea House Publishers
Who Was Who in American Art, 1564–1975, Sound View Press