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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Offering of the Day: A Superb Original Watercolor by a Revered American Artist, John Henry Hill (1839-1922)

John Henry Hill (1839-1922)
Rushing Waterfall
Paper size: 11 3/4 x 9 inches
Framed: 21 x 18 inches
Watercolor on paper

            The struggle to formulate a unique American style in the arts began in the 19th century, when the goal for artists became not the slavish imitation of their sophisticated European counterparts, but the visual expression of a quintessentially American spirit.  The works and careers of the Hill family of artists constitute an epic record of this struggle, the success of which can be traced in this unprecedented collection of original watercolors and sketches. 

            The progenitor of the family was John Hill (1770-1850), one of the most important graphic artists working in America in the first half of the 19th century. Hill's name was carried on and his achievements surpassed by his son, John William Hill (1812- 1879). 

            John William Hill's son John Henry Hill (1839-1922) was steeped in this atmosphere and aesthetic.  He studied painting with his father and first exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1856. Elected an Associate Academician two years later, he exhibited watercolors, aquatints, and etchings there through 1891, and also showed his work regularly at the Brooklyn Art Association from 1865 to 1885.  He joined his father as a founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Truth in Art, and embraced the same ideal of truth to nature, as well as devotion to the medium of watercolor.  In 1868 and again in 1870, he traveled through Nevada, Utah, and northern California as a staff artist for a government surveying expedition.  In addition to publishing An Artist's Memorial honoring his father in 1888, he promoted his father's works by reproducing some as etchings and donating others to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  His own works were praised by Ruskin, who told him in a letter of 1881 that he had a "very great art gift." 

            The sketches and watercolors of the three Hill artists are regarded as some of the best drawings in American art, demonstrating a distinct freshness and spontaneity.  So ingrained is the taste for this aesthetic now that it is all but unbelievable that these nuanced works were considered radical in their time.  The unprecedented collection illustrated here attests to a passionate pursuit of "truth in art" and to an inspiration from native scenery, factors that were indeed revolutionary in American art and crucial to its future development.  

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