Spring Selection; March 2006

George Cochran Lambdin
(American, 1830–1896)
Pink Rose Vines

Oil on canvas, 29 3/4 × 19 7/8 inches

The oldest son of prominent portrait and landscape painter James R. Lambdin (1807–1889), George took an active role in Philadelphia and New York artistic activities. A member of both the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and the National Academy of Design in New York, he forged a distinguished career as a painter of sentimental and anecdotal genre scenes, Civil War subjects, and portraiture. But it was for his paintings of roses—“Lambdin’s roses,” as critics called them—that he became best known. In the 1870s and 1880s his floral still lifes were exhibited in Louisville, Philadelphia, New York, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Chicago, and even Paris, where he showed Roses on a Wall at the 1878 Exposition Universelle. And the renowned Boston chromolithographer Louis Prang (1824–1909) further popularized Lambdin’s roses by issuing at least six prints after the latter’s rose paintings.

It is not surprising that Lambdin turned to floral still life in the 1870s, for at that time Germantown, his Philadelphia neighborhood, was a virtual “hotbed” of horticultural activity. Philadelphia had long been called “a city of flower gardens,” and Germantown was the garden center of the city. There prominent horticulturists and nurseries took the lead in cultivating rare, experimental, and exotic plants. After the introduction of hybrid tea roses in the late 1860s, botanists and amateurs alike focused on new varieties of roses. One Germantown nursery, Miller and Hayes, was the largest grower of new roses in the United States; it was so esteemed internationally that a prominent European rose grower, E. Verdier, even named a select seedling the “Miller and Hayes Rose.” Caught up in this craze, and surrounded by roses and rose talk, Lambdin avidly cultivated and painted roses and other flowers in his gardens and glass rose house.

Lambdin’s floral still lifes are of several types. A few are traditional table top still lifes, such as his Vase of Flowers (1873; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), with various flowers in porcelain, glass, or bronze vases. Some, like Autumn Sunshine (1880; National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.) are conservatory arrangements in which garden pots hold various blooming plants. But most of Lambdin’s still lifes depict flowers growing as if in nature and set against a rough plaster wall, sky, or background of solid color such as green, blue, or black to show the lush textures of petals and foliage to great advantage. Although his floral compositions are essentially realistic depictions, Lambdin took artistic license in arranging and emphasizing a graceful tangle of stems and branches.

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