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 John Beaufain Irving  (1825 - 1877)

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Lived/Active: New York/South Carolina      Known for: genre, portrait and history painting

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
The Gossips, 1873
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A native of Charleston, South Carolina, John Irving began as an amateur portraitist in Charleston, and then after studying in Germany with Emanuel Leutze at the Dusseldorf Academy, returned to Charleston where he did more sophisticated portraiture.

However the Civil War interfered with his career, and when it was over, he moved to New York City where he had a studio in the Tenth Street Studios and painted several aristocrat portraits including John Jacob Astor. However, his main interest was historical genre, a pursuit influenced by the French painter, Jean-Louis Meissonier.

Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:
The son of well-to-do Charlestonians, John Beaufain Irving enjoyed a childhood and young adult years of relative ease.  His mother was a member of the prominent Cruger family of New York, and his father was a physician, planter and author of A Day on the Cooper River (Charleston: 1842) and The South Carolina Jockey Club (1857), a history of the equestrian sport in his state. (1)

John Beaufain Irving received the education of a southern gentleman, which included instruction in drawing and painting.  He painted portraits in Charleston for a while before he went to Dusseldorf in 1851 to study under Emmanuel Leutze.  He returned to Charleston seven years later to resume his career as a portraitist, recording the likenesses of such Charleston ladies as Mrs. William James Bell and Mrs. Warren Adams as well as members of his own family. (2)

Opportunities for a portraitist being quite slim in post-war Charleston, Irving came to New York with his wife, the former Mary Hamilton of Charleston.  There, perhaps through family connections, he procured space in the much sought after (and costly!)
Tenth Street Studio Building.  His neighbors included Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, Sanford Robinson Gifford and Winslow Homer, a list, which amounted to virtually a "Who's Who" of the New York art world.

The Tenth Street studios were scenes of visits, parties and "cats in the hall", according to one of its nineteenth century artist-residents.  The building was also a show place for the occupants' work, for "reception days", occurred two to three times each winter when studio doors stood open and the public was invited to visit. (3)

We may assume that Irving, who had turned from portraiture to genre and historical themes with his move to the northeast profited from these affairs, for his paintings were purchased by some of New York's greatest collectors.  Thomas B. Clarke owned Washington at the Bedside of Colonel Rahl and a scene reminiscent of the artist's student days entitled Dusseldorf Interior.  Irving painted the portraits of Mr. and Mrs. August Belmont who owned his picture, The Wine Tasters.

So keen was Belmont's interest in Irving, that after the artist's untimely death, Belmont opened his private gallery to the public for four days in an effort to create a fund for the support of the artist's family.  There was a one-dollar admission fee, and a printed catalogue of the exhibit was available for twenty-five cents. (4)

Irving had died on April 20, 1877.  He was survived by his wife, his father who by then was living in West Bergen, New Jersey, and eight children. (5)

Irving regularly exhibited his work at the National Academy of Design, which resulted in his being elected an "Academician" of that prestigious institution in 1872. He also participated for many years in the fall and spring shows at the Brooklyn Art Association.

Irving submitted a painting entitled The Patient Fisherboy to the Fall Exhibition of 1868.  A critic for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle had this to say:

The Patient Fisherboy, by J. Beaufain Irving, is one of the best paintings of its class on exhibition. I t represents a lightly clad boy, some three years old, sitting in a chair and fishing in a basin.  He has watched his bright float until sleep has overcome him, but he still holds his line.  The attitude of the child is very excellent, and the coloring of the flesh is natural in the extreme.  The background of black and green wallpaper is most elaborately worked up, and the shading is very fine.  One of the chief merits of the picture is the minute painting of the interior. (6)

The date of the painting is "1873", five years after the foregoing review was written. One of two explanations may account for this discrepancy: (1) Irving may have exhibited the painting illustrated herein at the Brooklyn Art Association in 1868 without having signed or dated it, intending to keep it in his private collection and signing it five years later when he sold it, or (2) Irving may have painted and exhibited in 1868 another picture identical to the one reproduced herein, sold it, and received a request from an admirer of the work to have one painted just like it.  Until a journal or account book belonging to Irving turns up, or until another picture similar to this one comes to light, it will be impossible to solve the mystery.

1 Most biographical information, except where otherwise noted is from Dictionary of American Biography, vol. IX, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, pp. 501-502.

2 John Beaufain Irving papers, Archives of American Art.

3 Garnet McCoy, "Visits, Parties, and Cats in the Hall: The Tenth Street
Studio Building and its Inmates in the Nineteenth Century", Archives of
American Art, vol. 6, no. 1, January 1966, pp. 1-8.

4 "Public Exhibition of the Belmont Collection, for the Benefit of the Family of the Late Artist, Mr. J. Beaufain Irving, at the Residence of Mr. August Belmont . . . ", New York: 1877.

5 A letter written by Irving to S. Piroleau Ravenel, Sr., dated November 29, 1875. Irving may have had more children by the time of his death seventeen months later. Quoted in Anna Wells Rutledge "Artists in the Life of Charleston through Colony and State from Restoration to Reconstruction." Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1980, p. 168.

6 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 17, 1868.

Cynthia Seibels
Copyright 1990 Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc.
This essay and its contents are the property of Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced in part or in full without express written permission.

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