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Portrait of a Young Archer

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  • Description
    In 1867, Henry Tuckerman praised Louis Lang’s “brilliant colors” and “glowing pictures of our popular holidays. He is fond,” Tuckerman wrote, “of delineating female and infantile beauty, with gay dresses and flowers” (Henry T. Tuckerman, Book of the Artists: American Artist Life, pp. 434– 35). Tuckerman’s admiring assessment was shared by major art patrons of the day. In an addendum to his book, Tuckerman listed the holdings of prominent collectors. Abraham M. Cozzens, Robert M. Olyphant, Marshall Roberts, and Robert L. Stuart of New York owned works by Lang, as did James Harrison of Philadelphia, and William W. Corcoran, J. C. McGuire, R. S. Chilton, and G. W. Riggs of Washington, D.C.

    Indeed, Louis Lang was a familiar presence in the New York City art world in the second half of the nineteenth century. Samuel Isham, in The History of American Painting (1905), vividly recalled Lang as “a cheery, bustling little figure in the art world for many years, a constant exhibitor at the Academy, active in the clubs and in social circles, and trying to infuse into the life of the day something of the Düsseldorfian gemüthlichkei [sic]” (1936 ed., p. 296). The Academy, to which Isham alludes, is the National Academy of Design, where Lang exhibited for thirty-eight years, from 1847 through 1885. He was elected an associate academician in 1850 and a full academician in 1852. In 1887, Lang was still active enough to serve as a member of the hanging committee for the Annual Exhibition. Lang was a stalwart of the Artist’s Fund Society and regularly sent works to their exhibitions. In 1861 and 1865, he participated in art shows raising money for war relief. Lang shared a studio with John Frederick Kensett (1816–1872) for over twenty years. Both men were elected to membership in the Century Club in 1849, remaining members until their deaths. Over the years, Lang exhibited over eighty pictures at the Century. Though never a resident of Brooklyn, Lang contributed regularly to exhibitions at the Brooklyn Art Association, beginning in 1861 and continuing until 1882.

    Kensett and Lang, best friends, were very different artists. Kensett turned out poetic landscapes that were highly prized at the time, and were restored to popular regard in the late twentieth century. Lang was a figure painter who embellished scenes from history, literature, mythology and contemporary genre with graceful creatures placed in idyllic settings. His canvases very much reflected both his own cheerful temperament and also the taste of his time. Though Lang’s work remains in a number of major museum collections, his charming images reflect a period sensibility that has yet to come full circle. Today, Louis Lang is a relatively obscure artist, with little literature outside of biographical dictionaries, fleeting mentions in periodicals, and a few contemporary accounts, chief among them Henry Tuckerman.

    Louis Lang was born in Waldsee, a small, scenic, silk-weaving town located between two lakes near the Swiss and Austrian borders in the south German province of Württemberg. Waldsee’s late Gothic church and fifteenth century town hall may have inspired and also provided work for the artist’s father, a history painter by trade. Young Louis trained as a musician in Waldsee and sang in the cathedral choir. When his father became ill, however, he turned to his natural talent for art to generate income for the family, painting carriages, designing monuments and decorating churches. The turn proved decisive. Lang spent four years on nearby Lake Constance, painting and selling several hundred pastel portraits.

    In 1834, Lang followed his art muse to Paris, where he stayed for a brief time before going to Stuttgart, the capital city of Württemberg. In 1838, he sailed for America, joining a steady stream of European artists who sensed professional opportunity in a growing new world population with a paucity of trained artists. Lang settled in Philadelphia. By 1840, he was exhibiting work at the Artists’ Fund Society Exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, as well as sending work to the American Art-Union in New York. His early pictures included portraiture, a bread-andbutter specialty for a young artist and a continuation of his work along Lake Constance. Lang’s original patrons (to judge by the surnames of the owners of exhibited works) appear to have been members of the German community in Philadelphia. Throughout his career Lang actively promoted his work in a variety of venues. He participated in academy exhibitions, sent works to charity exhibits, sold through dealers and auction houses, and presumably invited would-be patrons to his studio. Though he left Philadelphia, he maintained his ties there, showing at the Pennsylvania Academy through the 1860s, as well as selling canvases through James S. Earle, Philadelphia’s premier art dealer. In 1876, he sent a genre scene to the art section of the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

    Ever restless, Lang roosted, but did not remain, in Philadelphia. He returned to Europe in 1841, going this time to Italy, where he shared a studio in Venice with New York artist, Thomas Pritchard Rossiter. (1818–1871). Rossiter was traveling in Europe with fellow American artists John William Casilear (1811–1893), Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), and Kensett. This connection to New York artists determined the direction of Lang’s future career. After spending time in Bologna, Florence, and Rome, Lang returned to America in 1845, and established himself this time in New York City. Initially, he earned a living by reprising his youthful activities in Waldsee, working as a decorative painter and modeling ornamental plaster figures.

    In 1847, Lang made his debut at the annual exhibition of the National Academy of Design, sending two genre works from his address on Grand Street, in lower Manhattan. By 1850, when he exhibited four pictures at the National Academy, he had moved further uptown to 563 Broadway (at Prince Street, now the site of the Singer Building). In 1851, he was at 697 Broadway at Fourth Street, a studio he shared with his friends from Rome, Kensett and Rossiter. The building, known as Waverly House, was remodeled to Rossiter’s design specifically for use as artists’ studios. Rossiter married and moved on, while Kensett and Lang shared a studio for over twenty years. It was Lang’s friend and studio mate, Rossiter, who painted the requisite portrait on the occasion of Lang elevation to the status of Academician at the National Academy in 1852 (David Dearinger, ed., Paintings andSculpture in the Collection of the National Academy of Design [2004], p. 482 illus.). In 1867, Kensett and Lang moved together to 1193 Broadway, near Twenty-Eighth Street, where Lang also maintained an art school (“Fine Arts,” Putnam’s Magazine [XI, Jan. 1868, p. 133). The two parted company, apparently, in 1870 when Kensett left for the newly constructed Y.M.C.A. building at Fourth Avenue and 23rd Street. Lang later reversed direct and moved back downtown to 13 Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, facing Washington Square Park, which remained his residence to the end of his life.

    Though Lang became an American artist, there is no evidence that he ever traveled farther West than Philadelphia and he continued, periodically, to return to Europe. In 1872, prior to one such trip, he offered the contents of his studio and its furnishings for sale at the Leavitt Art Rooms. The Art Journal, in 1875, visited Lang in his studio in Rome, suggesting that the 1872 trip was a lengthy one. As late as 1884, Clement and Hutton, writing in Artists of the Nineteenth Century, noted that Lang “visits Europe frequently.”

    Louis Lang’s pictures cast a rosy glow over the experience of life in mid-nineteenth-century New York. An active member of the ante-bellum New York art community, Lang outlived his friend Kensett by over twenty years. When Jervis McEntee visited him at home in February 1884, McEntee recorded this sobering observation: “I remember Lang as a young man. Now he is 70 years old and is completely lost sight of as an artist s if he were dead and buried. It admonished me that my day of obscurity is not very far off. . . .” (Jervis McEntee papers, Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art). A sobering coda to this observation is that McEntee died in 1891, three years before the supposedly decrepit and forgotten Lang.

    While, by the end of his life, Lang’s heyday as an artist may have been long since gone, he was clearly both successful and prudent in his time. At his death, he left an estate valued at about $50,000, a substantial amount of money for an artist. This fact about the artist is known, while much about his life remains obscure, because of the publicity generated by the execution of his will. The document, written in sections in a polyglot of German and English, suggests a critical mind, more attuned to current conditions than his expression in art. Lang directed that the contents of his studio be sold to benefit the Artists Fund Society of which he had long been a faithful supporter. With regard to his family in Germany, he left the income of 50,000 marks to his niece, Laura Lang; a bequest of 5,000 marks to his nephew, Henry Lang; and to his brother, “2,000 marks that he may pay his debts.” The remainder he left to “the sick and disabled honest citizens of my native town of Waldsee,” in a fund whose income would be spent for that purpose and whose capital should remain undisturbed. The terms of the will motivated his brother, Johann, to travel from Germany to contest the document. The New York County Surrogate Judge rejected the brother’s claim, arguing that Lang had a right to direct his fortune wherever he chose, and that there was no evidence of undue influence or mental incompetence as the family suggested. (New York Times, May 24, 1893, “Left an Eccentric Will: An Ambiguous Clause in Artist Lang’s Last Testament May Make Trouble,” and New York Times, August 15, 1894, “Artist Lang’s Will Held Valid: Provision for the Poor in His Native Village to be Carried Out.”)

    The present work, descriptively titled Portrait of a Young Archer, vividly conveys the mix of technical skill and good-natured sentiment that made Louis Lang a favorite New York artist. An elegantly dressed young archer takes a break, resting comfortably on a rocky seat. One leg tucked casually under the other, the boy has rested his rococo bow on the rock to his right, while his left hand holds the quiver with his arrows. Cushioned by bushes at his back, the child enjoys the calm of a lovely day, a patch of blue sky behind him shades to a fleecy cloud, with colors perhaps suggesting the end of the day. In the distance there are birds in flight.

    Retaining its original frame with decorative motifs of leaves and berries, the oval format contributes to the grace of this image of a quiet moment in an idyllic childhood. The inscription on the back appears to be the work of the picture’s first owner, Robert J. Hubbard, a New York businessman. It remains somewhat confusing. The picture is dated 1859, but Hubbard clearly purchased it later than that, although he claims to have had it from the artist. The address given, 82 Fifth Avenue on the South West corner of 14th and Fifth Avenue, was the location, between 1870 and 1875, of a gallery and auction venue owned by Robert Somerville, and not, as might seem to be suggested, Hubbard’s residence. Lang might very well have sold this work through Somerville in the course of preparations leading to his extended trip to Europe in 1872. The board, crudely trimmed to an oval shape, was obtained from the artists’ supplier, Theodore Kelley, located from 1854 to 1855 (when the picture was painted) at 16 Arcade Street, Philadelphia. Lang was not living in Philadelphia at the time, although he was showing at the Pennsylvania Academy and could easily have obtained his supplies from Kelley, a well-known art supplier who did business both in Philadelphia and New York at different times.
  • More Information
    Documentation: Signed
    Notes: Signed ( at lower left): LL 1859
    Period: 19th Century
    Materials: Oil on board
    Creation Date: 1859
    Styles / Movements: Realism
    Dealer Reference #: APG 19911D
    Incollect Reference #: 372949
  • Dimensions
    W. 12 in; H. 14.25 in;
    W. 30.48 cm; H. 36.2 cm;
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