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Mountain Courtship , 1916
James Roy Hopkins (1877-1969)

View Artist Bio
Oil on canvas
45 x 64 inches
Signature Details: JAMES R. HOPKINS. 1916.
Status: The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

James Roy Hopkins specialized in genre scenes of beautiful women in sunlit rooms or outdoor gardens. He also painted the portraits of elegant French and American ladies. But the subject that brought him the most acclaim is a series of pictures executed during the summers of 1915, 1916, and 1917, when he took a studio in the Cumberland Mountains of eastern Kentucky and painted the local people. Mountain Courtship is the most significant work of this group. In the words of a contemporary critic, it “tells a story so poignant that in it Ibsen might have found inspiration.” (Haswell, p. cxviii)

Two lovers walk along a riverbank in the falling shadows of late afternoon, preceded by the girl’s mother. The scene, presented as if it was being performed on a stage, brings the figures close to the picture plane, and we see that the women stand in sharp contrast to the impaired youth who accompanies them. The boy’s degenerated condition occurred often in this remote and isolated region, but it was rarely discussed and never painted.  Hopkins was the first to discover the expressive possibilities of the mountain people, and to use the background of their lives to produce a story. “If the story told is sometimes unpleasant,” the critic continued, “there is always the beauty of line and colour to appease the supersensitive . . . in [Mountain Courtship] the pictorially beautiful and the subjectively interesting are happily united. (Haswell, p. cxix)

Born in Irwin, Ohio, but raised in Mechanicsburg, Hopkins studied at the Columbus Art School and spent two years with Frank Duveneck at the Cincinnati Academy of Art. He worked for several years in New York City as an illustrator of medical textbooks, then traveled to Paris and enrolled at the Academy Colorossi, and established himself in a studio at 55 Rue Dantzig.

Hopkins returned to the United States in 1904 to marry his former classmate, Edna Bel Boies. The couple took a honeymoon trip that included a three-month stay in Japan to study Japanese woodblock prints, then settled in Paris and started building their artistic careers. With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, they returned to the United States and Hopkins joined the staff of the Cincinnati Academy of Art. While in this position, he spent the summers of 1915 through 1917 in Cumberland Falls, Kentucky.

The “Cumberland Suite” is composed of about fifteen oil paintings. Nearly half are character studies of a man identified by Hopkins as Andy Vanover, a guide at the Brunson Inn, and an occasional local preacher. “My models were always members of the Vanover clan,” the artist wrote, “as the other ruling family refused to pose for me since I had become identified as a painter of the Vanovers.” (Welch, p. 3)

While the impact of Mountain Courtship relies on the pathos of the girl’s situation, it also gains its theme from the tension between youth and age. In addition to the powerful storyline, it is one of the artist’s most beautifully designed works. The background, flat and muted in color, has a linear, almost Japanese quality; the rhythmic patterns of the costumes and foliage create a tapestry of soft color and texture. Nancy Rivard Shaw


Welch, C. Robert. “James R. Hopkins: Painter of the Cumberlands.” Research report, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, Kentucky, 1983.

Estate of James R. Hopkins; Harold Hopkins; Robert Austin; Mrs. Edward Hunt; Mary Ran; First National Bank of Cincinnati; private collection.

Thirty-Third Annual Exhibition of American Oil Paintings and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago, 1916 (received the Norman Wait Harris Bronze Medal).

112th Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1917.

Paintings by Frederick Carl Frieseke, James R. Hopkins, Gardner Symons Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, 1918, no. 20.

Annual Exhibition of American Oil Paintings and Sculpture, National Academy of Design, New York, 1920 (received Thomas B. Clarke Prize).

Exhibition of Paintings by James R. Hopkins, Buffalo Fine Arts Academy/Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, February 3-14, 1926, no. 1.

James Roy Hopkins: Ohio Artist, 1877-1969, Springfield Art Center, Springfield, Ohio, 1977, no. 44.

Bryant, Lorinda M. American Pictures and Their Painters. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1928, pp. 236-37; ill. 186.

Catron, Patricia D’Arcy. James Roy Hopkins: Ohio Artist, 1877-1969. Springfield, Ohio: Springfield Art Center, 1977, color ill. No. 44.

Clark, Edna Maris. Ohio Art and Artists. Richmond: Garrett and Massie, 1932, p. 316.

Haswell, Ernest Bruce. “The Recent Works of James R. Hopkins.” The International Studio 63 (February 1918), pp. cxiii-cxix.

Merrick, Lula. “He Paints the Cumberland Mountain Folk,” The Mentor (July 1927), pp. 12-14, ill.

Smith, Eleanor Blakesly. “James R. Hopkins,” The Columbus Dispatch, February 1, 1948, p. 316.

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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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