LUCIEN WHITING POWELL (1846-1930)
Lucien Whiting Powell was born at Levinworth Manor in Upperville, Virginia, a 10,000 acre estate granted around 1770 by the British Crown to his ancestors. The son of a distinguished Virginia family, he was raised on 322 acres of the original tract (Cutler, p. 2) and educated in the district schools and under private tutors. Interested in art at an early age, Powell later recalled: "From childhood I could always draw. I used to make pencil sketches that had real character. It was not until later that I had any paints to work with. Perhaps it was because I did not have colors at my disposal in the beginning that I used them so enthusiastically after I obtained them" (Porter, n.p.).
Before leaving for Philadelphia to undertake a fine arts education, Powell entered the 11th Virginia Cavalry at age 17 and participated in engagements at Petersburg, Richmond and Farmville, Virginia. After the war he studied with Thomas Moran in Philadelphia and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He is also said to have studied in New York City, probably with Moran who moved there in 1872.
Like Moran, Powell was an enthusiastic admirer of the popular British landscape and marine painter, J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851). Fascinated by Turner's dynamic effects and luminous colors, he traveled to London in 1875 and made a careful study of Turner's works in the National Gallery. In order to master the techniques Powell copied several of Turner's oils and watercolors. He studied briefly at the London School of Art and made sketching trips into the English countryside, often choosing the same subjects that Turner had painted.
Little is known about Powell's early career, but by 1885 he had begun spending the winter months in Washington, D.C., and his summers in nearby Virginia, a practice he maintained for the rest of his life. In 1890, inspired by the example of Turner and Moran, Powell made a sketching trip to Venice. He also visited Rome, Paris and Switzerland. In 1901 he emulated Moran by accompanying a geological expedition to the Grand Canyon. He visited the Holy Land in 1910, and revisited many scenic spots in Europe. On one occasion Powell held an exhibition on the steamer returning to the United States, and took orders for replicas of popular works.
He was a member of the Society of Washington Artists and the Washington Water Color Club, and his works were exhibited from time to time in the Corcoran Gallery of Art and at the National Gallery. His paintings can be found in several museum collections. Others are privately owned. Several Virginia landscape scenes are among these (Wright, p. 130).
Powell's paintings were extremely popular with the public. Theodore Roosevelt was probably the best-known admirer, but his most enthusiastic patron was Mary Henderson, the wife of Senator John B. Henderson of Missouri, who believed Powell to be a great genius, set up a studio for him in her Washington mansion, and subsidized him for many years (DAB, p. 149). Mrs. Henderson began acquiring the artist's works around 1895. At the time of his death in 1930, she owned more than 200 examples.
While Powell is known today for his Turneresque views of Venice and the Grand Canyon, his earliest paintings dealt with life in his native Virginia. Pride of the Farm Yard
is one of three nocturnal scenes that focus on a barnyard. They were probably painted between 1868 and 1878, shortly after Powell began his studies with Moran. The Old Log Cabin
(Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia) and Farmyard Scene
(Private Collection) depict, with slight variations, a white horse, chickens, and black people dancing in front of a ramshackle log cabin. In the present example, the horse and the chickens are posed inside the building, and the figures have been eliminated. Though we know very little about his working methods, the pictures were probably composed from sketches made by Powell in Virginia before or soon after the Civil War. Like his later studies of Venice and the Grand Canyon, they served him again and again throughout his career.
The barnyard series testifies that even at this early date, Powell thorough
ly explored a subject when it was of interest to him. He loved the effects of sunlight on landscape, especially the effects of evening light, "very much more agreeable" than the sharp light of mid-day (Flambeau, p. 7). The barnyard pictures share a similar palette. Pride of the Farm Yard
, however, has the intense coloration and dreamy imagery that would characterize Powell's mature style, whereas the others are more anecdotal and lower in key. According to an inscription on the verso, it was painted in New York.
Nancy Rivard Shaw, 2001©Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc.
Chambers, Bruce W. Art and Artists of the South: The Robert P. Coggins Collection
. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1984.
Cutler, Nancy and David. Lucien Whiting Powell: A Virginia Artist.
An unpublished paper dated April 1989, from the files of the Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia.
Falk, Peter Hastings. Who Was Who in American Art, 1564-1975
, vol. III. New York: Sound View Press, 1999.
Flambeau, Victor. "Washington's Own Artist," Lucien Powell, Is Home Again After Much Journeying in Faraway Parts of the World," The Washington Times
, Sunday, April 9, 1922.
Malone, Dumas, ed. Dictionary of American Biography
, vol. VIII. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1935.
Porter, George. "Washington's Octogenarian Artist Tells of Need of Color in Modern Life," The Washington Post
, December 13, 1925.
Samuels, Peggy and Harold. The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West
. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1976.
Wright, R. Lewis. Artists in Virginia Before 1900: An Annotated Checklist
. Charlottesville, North Carolina: The University Press of Virginia, 1983.
Lucien Whiting Powell was born at Levinworth Manor in Upperville, Virginia, the son of a distinguished Virginia family. Educated in the district schools and under private tutors, he served in the Virginia Cavalry during the Civil War, after which he studied with Thomas Moran in Philadelphia. Continuing his education abroad, Powell traveled to London in 1875. There he studied at the London School of Art, copied works by J. M. W. Turner in the National Gallery, and made sketching trips into the English countryside, often choosing the same subjects that Turner had painted.
While little is known about his early career, by 1885 Powell had begun spending the winter months in Washington, D.C., and his summers in nearby Virginia, a practice he maintained for the rest of his life. In 1890, inspired by the example of Turner and Moran, he made a sketching trip to Venice. Powell also visited Rome, Paris, and Switzerland. In 1901, he emulated Moran by accompanying a geological expedition to the Grand Canyon. He journeyed to the Holy Land in 1910 and revisited many scenic spots in Europe.
Though he is best known today for his late works and dramatic landscapes, Powell's earliest paintings dealt with life in his native Virginia. Pride of the Farmyard is one of three nocturnal scenes, likely painted between 1868 and 1878, that focus on a barnyard. Though little is known about his working methods, the pictures were probably composed from sketches made by Powell in Virginia before or soon after the Civil War. Like his later studies of Venice and the Grand Canyon, they served him again and again throughout his career.
The barnyard series testifies that even at this early date, Powell thoroughly explored a subject when it was of interest to him. He loved the effects of sunlight on landscape, especially the effects of evening light. Examples of Powell's luminous canvases can be found in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, High Museum of Art, and Butler Institute of American Art, among others.
The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina