Thomas Pollack Anshutz : Sewing by the Hearth
Thomas Pollack Anshutz (Sewing by the Hearth)

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Artist: Thomas Pollack Anshutz
Title: Sewing by the Hearth
Year: c. 1884
Media: Oil on canvas, 17 x 24 inches
Provenance: Mrs. Norman B. Woolworth, New York
Description: Label on backing verso: (printed) “PORTLAND MUSEUM OF ART”/[ . . . ]/[ . . . ]/ (typewritten) “Thomas Pollock Anshutz/American, 1851 1912/INTERIOR/oil on canvas/stretcher: 17 x 23 15/16 inches/not signed/COLLECTION OF MRS. NORMAN B. WOOLWORTH”
EXHIBITED: Coe Kerr Gallery, Inc., New York, The American Painting Collection of Mrs. Norman B. Woolworth: An Exhibition for the Benefit of The Girl Scout Council of Greater New York (November 10 28, 1970), p. 47, fig. 2

The 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia stimulated public interest in American colonial history, decorative arts, and customs. Over the next six years, for example, Thomas Eakins (1844 1916) produced a series of oils, watercolors, and sculptures that represented women seated in colonial interiors, dressed in old fashioned attire, and engaged in such domestic activities as knitting and spinning, or simply lost in thought. His earliest example of this sentimental, historical genre was In Grandmother’s Time (1876; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts), and he used a similar figure as the chaperone in the well known William Rush Carving His Allegorical Figure of the Schuylkill River (1876 77; Philadelphia Museum of Art). Thomas Pollock Anshutz had moved to Philadelphia in 1876 and enrolled in the Philadelphia Sketch Club, where Eakins was an instructor. He then followed Eakins to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and became the elder artist’s assistant and protégé, eventually succeeding him as Chief Demonstrator of Anatomy in 1881 and Assistant Professor of Painting and Drawing in 1882.1

Probably executed around 1884, Anshutz’s Sewing by the Hearth exemplifies both Eakins’s powerful influence and the post Centennial nostalgia for early American antiquarian genre subjects. The composition may also have been influenced by Anshutz’s familiarity with Frederick S. Dellenbaugh’s (1854 1935) La Viellesse (1882; location unknown), a painting that he could have seen at the Pennsylvania Academy’s annual exhibition in 1883.2 Seated in a dimly lit interior, an elderly woman has laid aside her sewing basket and seems to have fallen asleep. The room’s furnishings, especially the Windsor chairs, old cupboard, bedwarmer, and sofa, evoke an early nineteenth century ambience. The echo of things past resonates in the empty armchair at the left, and one surmises that it belonged to the woman’s deceased husband. The extinguished candle on the table suggests that her own demise is imminent. The painting’s meditative, melancholy quality is softened, however, by the anecdotal presence of the cat who sleeps in the warmth of the unseen fireplace. A signed, smaller version of this painting was illustrated in American Paintings and Sculpture ([New York: Christie’s East, April 23, 1997], lot 26, p. 20). In 1891, shortly before his departure for France, Anshutz would paint a variant of this theme in A Studio Study (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts).

1. The most complete discussion of Anshutz’s career to date is Randall C. Griffin, Thomas Anshutz: Artist and Teacher (Huntington, N.Y.: Heckscher Museum, in association with the University of Washington Press, Seattle, Washington, 1994).
2. Dellenbaugh’s painting was illustrated in the Academy’s exhibition catalogue, Fifty Fourth Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1883), fig. 12.

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Price: Price upon request
Inventory: RS 5440
Category: •a:American•a:PAFA•a:Pennsylvania•a:Philadelphia•genre•interior•night•nineteenth century•
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