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The Sewing Party, 1857
Louis Lang (1814-1893)

View Artist Bio
Oil on canvas
42 1/2 x 57 1/4 inches
Signature Details: Louis Lang 1857.
Status: Available

Louis Lang was born and raised in Waldsee, Wurtenburg, Germany, where as a youth he painted church decorations and carriage designs to help support the family.  After studying art in Stuttgart and Paris, he came to America in 1838, settling first in Philadelphia, then New York.  In 1851, after several extended trips to Italy, he moved into a Waverly House studio with the landscape painter John Kensett, an arrangement that endured nearly twenty-five years.  An ambitious and prolific artist, his work was widely admired and avidly collected.  Among his many patrons were Abraham M. Couzzens, Robert M. Olyphant, Alexander T. Stewart, Robert L. Stuart, James C. McGuire, and the New York cotton broker William P. Wright, to name but a few.

Lang was elected an Academician of the National Academy of Design in 1852 and exhibited there with great success from 1847 on.  He was also an active member of the Century Association, a celebrated organization of both amateur and professional artists and writers.  Described by Worthington Whittredge as “an artist everyone loved and respected,” he was credited as “the first to introduce in any of the clubs monthly collections of pictures to be lighted up on the occasions of monthly evening meetings. This gave the artist’s an opportunity of hearing what members of all sorts had to say about their work and as artists’ works are not done to be criticized by artists alone, much advantage was gained by hearing the opinions of those who were not artists.” (p. 62)  

Lang was also an early member of The Artists’ Fund Society, founded in 1857 to benefit widows and children of deceased artists through the exhibition and sale of works contributed by living artists.  The first beneficiary was the family of William Ranney, a painter of genre scenes, who died in 1857 leaving a sizeable mortgage on his house.  Thanks to the AFS, the mortgage was retired and five thousand dollars was invested for the survivors’ benefit.  Lang was probably brought into the society’s counsels by Kensett, who was a founding member.  The Sewing Society, painted in the year of Ranney’s death, focuses on a group of genteel ladies sewing for the poor, and may have been painted in response to the Fund Society’s needs.  Lang was a lifelong member of the organization, and continued to support the AFS after his death, ordering that his pictures and sketches be sold as rapidly as possible for the account of the Society’s benevolent fund.  

According to Henry Tuckerman (pp. 434-435), Lang indulged in brilliant colors, executed several large and glowing pictures of our popular holidays, and was fond of delineating female and infantile beauty, with gay dresses and flowers.” Sewing Society, with its profusion of silks and satins, and colorful hoop skirts arranged like flowers around the portico and steps of an Italianate villa, is one of his loveliest compositions, the ladies quietly engaged in their task, while children play and husbands chat.  Lang’s fondness for decoration is revealed in the sumptuous architectural details.

Sewing Society was formerly in the collection of the early collector William P. Wright, Esq., Weehawken, N.J., who either commissioned the work, or purchased it soon after its completion in 1857.  An Englishman by birth, and the first “spot” cotton-broker to establish himself in New York City, Wright immigrated to America in 1832, and obtained a position as clerk with Ogden, Waddington & Co.  A few years later he founded the firm of William P. Wright & Co.  During the Civil War, Wright’s cotton circular was regarded as the leading authority on that staple in America.  In 1874 he retired to London with a large fortune.  While residing here, Wright was noted for his beautiful summer residence, a short distance up the Hudson (which may be the setting for Sewing Society), and for his exceptionally fine art collection, which included many water color paintings, oil paintings, engravings ancient armor, and so on.  Wright was the first owner of Rosa Bonheur’s Horse Fair (Metropolitan Museum of Art).  He was also an early owner of Eastman Johnson’s Negro Life at the South (Metropolitan Museum of Art), and John F. Kensett’s White Mountains, to name but a few.

 

Nancy Rivard Shaw, 2016

Sources:

Henry T. Tuckerman, Book of the Artists: American Artist Life, 2nd ed., (New York: James F. Carr, 1967), pp. 434-435 (listed with the present title).

“The Autobiography of Worthington Whittredge, 1820-1910,” ed. by

J. I. H. Baur, Brooklyn Museum Journal (1942), p. 62.

Exhibition labels on verso: 

Commonwealth of Virginia / Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; American Dreams:  Paintings and Decorative Arts from the Warner Collection.  September 20, 1997-January 25, 1998

New Britain Museum of American Art; An American Odyssey:  The Warner Collection of American Art.  April 1-July 3, 2011

The Frick, Pittsburgh, PA:  An American Odyssey:  The Warner Collection of American Paintings.  March 1-May 25, 2014.

 

This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.

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