September 21, 2007
An exhibition and sale of a large selection of oil paintings, watercolors, and drawings by Charles Lewis Fussell is now open to the public. Although Fussell was an active presence in Philadelphia and New York art circles from 1863 until his death, his historical importance has only recently begun to emerge. This exhibition, the most comprehensive showing of the artist’s work ever held, is accompanied by a scholarly catalogue with color illustrations.
Fussell was born in West Vincent, Chester County, Pennsylvania, to a prominent Quaker family that eventually settled in Philadelphia. After graduating from Central High School, where he befriended fellow student Thomas Eakins, Fussell studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1859 and began to exhibit there in 1863. He also took private art lessons from Peter Frederick Rothermel. Fussell resumed his studies at the Academy after serving on home guard duty during the Civil War, and became interested in landscape during an extended visit to Colorado in the spring of 1870.
The artist, who never married, spent the next seven years wandering through New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania in search of inspiring scenery and returned to Philadelphia in 1878. During the summer of 1882 Fussell spent two weeks at the artists’ colony in East Hampton, Long Island, New York, and he traveled to Ohio the following spring. Nothing more is known about his activities until he settled in Brooklyn in 1889, where over the next eight years he painted numerous views of the borough’s rapidly vanishing landscape. The exhibition comprises a number of plein-air oil sketches from this period of Canarsie, Coney Island, Crow’s Hill (present-day Crown Heights), Flatbush, Fort Hamilton, and Sheepshead Bay, as well as North Beach and Rockaway in Queens.
Around 1897 Fussell went to live with his aunt, the noted Quaker social reformer and educator Graceanna Lewis, in Media, Delaware County. There he lived a withdrawn existence, painting the local landscape and giving art lessons. Many of his views of Media and Ridley Creek are included in this exhibition. Fussell became interested in watercolor at this time and became exceptionally proficient with the medium, and at this late phase of his career achieved a measure of critical acclaim that had eluded him in the past. A newspaper article from this time described Fussell as “one of our veteran artists” whose “pictures sell readily,” and noted that he had “grown gray in the service of art, and with his silvery pate, luxuriant beard, and benign and benevolent expression, he might easily pose for a portrait of St. Nicholas.” Fussell died in Media and was buried in Providence Meeting cemetery.
The Schwarz Gallery is located in a Center City Philadelphia townhouse near Rittenhouse Square. We welcome visitors Monday through Friday, 9am to 5:30pm, Saturday 10am to 5pm.
The gallery is closed on Saturdays June 1–August 31 except by appointment.