May 2, 2010
Boston Harbor, mid 19th Century
Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch 1980.62.4
Boston Harbor typifies Chamber’s use of repeated rounded contours and boldly saturated colors. Some have compared his style and energy to that of an illustrator. In fact, many of his paintings, including this one, employ compositions similar to popular prints of his time. Chambers work offered a bold and vibrant approach to seascape and landscape, in contrast to the more sophisticated style of leaders of the Hudson River School, which dominated the American art world at the time. Boston Harbor was introduced to the public in a successful auction in 1845. Chambers entered a great number of his works in this auction under various titles including what is now known at Boston Harbor. During this auction many buyers were merchants and were encouraged to buy paintings in pairs. It is understood that Boston Harbor may have been purchased to hang in a shipping office. The work is a classic example of Chambers’ strong sense of his distinctive, bold style.
Thomas Chambers was born in England to a merchant sailor and washerwoman. Although little is known about his life and artistic training, Chambers is best known as a painter of American landscapes and marine life, particularly scenes of the Hudson River and Boston Harbor, after having lived in both New York and Boston from 1834-1866. Chambers made little income from his work and struggled during most of his career. Thus, there remains little to document his life. His work is noted for a very bold use of paint and color and extreme light and dark contrasts. He is often considered a primitive American painter due to his use of rounded, pointed shapes and strong contours employed in shaping clouds and waves. His best known paintings are Villa on the Hudson Near Weehawken (New York State Historical Society), The Constitution and The Guerriere (Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Niagara Falls (Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford).
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