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Guitar Player, 1867
Frank Buchser (1828 – 1890)

View Artist Bio
Oil on canvas
24 x 18 inches
Signature Details: Initialed lower left
Status: Placed in a Private Collection

A self-styled and romantic adventurer-artist, Frank Buchser was born in Feldbrunnen, Switzerland, north of Bern. He studied at the Academy of St. Luke in Rome in 1847, served with the Papal Swiss Guard, and fought for Italian independence with Garibaldi in 1849. Later that year, he trained under Jean Victor Schnetz, a family relative, before enrolling at the Antwerp Academy in 1850. Buchser was significantly influenced by Gustav Courbet’s 1855 exhibition in Paris, which led him to seek a greater realism in his own work.


His formal education complete, Buchser embarked on a life of travel, painting, and writing. He gained broad experience and success as an artist in Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Holland, France, England, and Germany, before embarking on a five-year sojourn in America (1866 - 1871). Buchser arrived in Washington, D.C. with Swiss letters of introduction to federal government officials. These documents outlined the artist’s ambitious proposal: to make portraits of Abraham Lincoln; his successor, then-President Andrew Johnson; Johnson’s cabinet members; and the Civil War generals, Lee, Sherman, and Grant. Buchser’s plan was to have this grand portrait series displayed in the Swiss Federal Parliament as a diplomatic tribute to the United States, the newest republic, from Switzerland, the oldest.


Early in his trip, Buchser executed Four Black Marble Players (1867), a unique and original genre painting of the early, post-Civil War period rendered in exquisite, realistic form and detail. The canvas depicts a Washington street scene of African American shoeshine boys shooting marbles. The figures are shown in the shade against a wall inscribed with a childish stick-figure drawing and the words, “Jhon Brown”—alluding to the famous abolitionist who led the failed slave insurrection at Harper’s Ferry and was hanged and martyred. In addition to the rectangular case to the left which identifies the figures as shoeshine workers or bootblacks, Buchser has included allegorical and patriotic elements in the red and white stripes of a flag over the shoulder of the seated boy on the left and in the tattered military jacket, complete with brass cuff buttons, of the foreground player.


During the five years he spent in the United States, Buchser traveled and worked widely, recording the likenesses of key national leaders, including Generals Robert E. Lee and William T. Sherman, as well as President Andrew Johnson. Buchser set sail for England in 1871, having produced an important and comprehensive body of work that included landscape views, portraits, and vibrant genre scenes of American life.


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

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