Important American Paintings - September 2010
Charles Spencer Humphreys
Still Life with French Porcelain and Strawberries, 1862
Oil on board, 19 × 25 inches
Signed and dated at lower right: "Chas. S. Humphreys. July 5th 1862."

RS 3260

Charles Spencer Humphreys was born in Moorestown, New Jersey, where his father owned a general store. He surfaced in Camden in May 1837, advertising himself in a local newspaper as a house, sign, and ornamental painter. He shared a studio with his brother Richard Humphreys (1803–1872) from 1840 to 1844 and around that time married Caroline Fetters, with whom he had five children. The majority of Humphreys’s surviving works represent horses, the earliest known example being a lettered sign made for the Mansion House in Cape May (now the Cape May Historical Museum, Cape May Court House). He is thought to have decorated harnesses and breast straps for a Camden harness manufacturer and also painted wagons. Humphreys made paintings for the interior of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Camden in 1850. During the early 1850s he began to paint the subjects for which he became famous, portraits of specific racehorses posed against landscape backgrounds or being driven by their owners or trainers. Humphreys retired to Long Branch, where he died. Horseracing enthusiasts held Humphreys’s work in high esteem. Some of his paintings were reproduced as color lithographs, and his portraits of horses and designs for carriages reportedly were included in the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. His death was reported in both American and foreign newspapers.1 Still Life with French Porcelain and Strawberries is an extremely rare still life by the artist. The porcelain so prominently displayed in this composition was exported to this country from France in significant quantities during the nineteenth century and are contemporary with the painting. The spoons appear to be American coin silver, which would also date to around this period. They are contained in a glass spooner, an object made specifically for this purpose.2


1. For biographical information on Humphreys, see Howard R. Kemble and Arthur D. Pierce, "A Distinguished Camden Artist," The Bulletin of the Camden County Historical Society, vol. 4 (May 1961), pp. 141. For a recent discussion of his career, see Deborah Chotner, Julie Aronson, Sarah D. Cash, and Laurie Weitzenkorn, American Naive Paintings, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art, Systematic Catalogue (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1992), pp. 213–15.

2. I am indebted to Malcolm N. MacNeil of Doyle New York for identifying these objects.


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