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 James Henry Cafferty  (1819 - 1869)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: genre, landscape, and portrait painting, book illustration

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Ad Code: 3
James Henry Cafferty
from Auction House Records.
The Inauguration of George Washington
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
James Cafferty, a portrait, landscape and genre painter and book illustrator, was prominent in New York City academic circles.  By 1939, he was working in the city as a sign painter, and in 1841 he was enrolled in the National Academy of Design* in the Antique class.  In 1843, he was beginning several decades of participation in the Academy annual exhibition.  Until the 1850s, most of his entries were landscapes, but during the last decade of his life, he focused on still life, many of them with fish and game subjects.  From 1857 to 1858, he served on the National Academy Council.

In 1843, he was elected vice-president of the New York Sketch Club.  To support his painting during the mid 19th century, he sold art supplies.  Also the American Art Union* purchased many of his landscape paintings for their annual lottery sales exhibition.  However, when he died, it was apparent that he was not financially successful as the National Academy Council circulated the message that the family needed fifty dollars towards funeral expenses.

Little is known of the youth of James Cafferty, except that he was from a large family in Albany and that the father was a tailor.  He wrote of early art association with Charles Loring Elliott, which leads to the assumption that he took lessons from Elliott.

Jonathan P. Harding, Paintings and Sculpture in the Collection of the National Academy of Design, 1826-1925, Volume One.  David Dearinger, Editor, p. 80

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from Museum of the City of New York:
A portrait, landscape and genre painter, James Cafferty had a studio in New York City and was a member of the American National Academy and the National Academy of Design.

One of his most famous paintings was Wall Street, Half Past 2 O'Clock, October 13, 1857 and was executed in 1858 in collaboration with Charles G. Rosenberg. An oil on canvas, 50" x 40", the painting depicts the moment of financial panic resulting from the suspension of specie payments by all but one of New York's fifty-eight banks.  Banking did not resume until December 12 of that year.

The group of men shown in the street are quite dark in black suits and top hats, coloration that conveys the despairing mood of the moment.  In contrast, the city above is golden and luminous with the spire of Trinity Church as its expressive focal point.  The view is along Wall Street, looking west from William Street to Broadway, where the clock of Trinity Church displays the notorious moment frozen for all time.

Several people active in the 1857 crisis are recognizable: Cornelius Vanderbilt, arguably the era's most significant manipulator of markets, on the extreme right; Jacob Little, a major figure in the country's mid-nineteenth century railroad expansion, in the center wearing a light gray drovers' topcoat; Frederick Hudson, managing editor of the New York Herald and the brother of E. W. Hudson, who commissioned this painting, visible next to the bearded man on the left; and the bearded man himself, a self-portrait of the artist Cafferty.

The prominence also given to the figures of the unknown newsboys reflects the mid-nineteenth century interest in artistic representations of common people and occupations, a marked change from earlier painters' preoccupation with historic subjects, landscapes, and portraits of affluent patrons.  Cafferty frequently depicted working children, whose condition he viewed as part of the harsh realities of urban life.  The involvement of the artists' patron in news dissemination might also have contributed to the focus on newsboys.

This painting was exhibited that year at the National Academy of Design, where Cafferty was a member (Associate of the National Academy, 1849; National Academician, 1853). Rosenberg was not a member of the Academy.

While two artists working on the same picture is unusual, James Henry Cafferty, who worked largely as a portraitist, and Charles G. Rosenberg, who pursued a dual career as an author and painter, collaborated artistically on more than one occasion. In the past, it was thought that Cafferty painted the figures while Rosenberg executed the architectural elements, but recent research indicates that Rosenberg may have painted some of the figures as well.

As for Cafferty, his exhibition entries at the National Academy of Design over a twenty-year period list landscapes, genres, and still lifes, as well as portraits, including those of fellow artists Jasper Cropsey, John M. Falconer, Samuel Raymond Fanshaw, and Thomas Dow Jones.

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