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( 1836-1901 )

Andrew Melrose

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ANDREW W. MELROSE (1836-1901)

A little known yet prolific landscape painter, Andrew Melrose was born in Selkirk, Scotland in 1836. There are few records of his activities before the War Between the States, but he is thought to have emigrated to the United States in 1856. Following a brief stay in this country, he spent some time in Toronto, Canada, where he married Margaret Grice in 1858. The couple lived in New York City for a few years, then settled permanently in Hudson County, New Jersey, residing successively in West Hoboken, Guttenberg and West New York.

Melrose is not known to have studied with any professional artist, so he is presumed to have been self-taught. Many of his best-known works are views of New York, including New York City and the Hudson River Valley, typically rendered in the romantic-realist style of the Hudson River School.

Melrose’s search for inspiring subjects also took him to various areas of the southern and western United States, and possibly to the British Isles and Austria. He painted a few South American and Cuban scenes as well, leading some sources to suggest he traveled there, though he seems never to have actually made the trip. Instead, he appears to have been inspired by Frederic Church’s imagery, as opposed to first-hand experience. Melrose’s large and ambitious South American scene, Morning in the Andes (1870, Newark Museum of Art, Newark, New Jersey), clearly stems from Church’s Heart of the Andes. Church’s painting, widely circulated during the 1860s through William Forrest’s engraving, was one of the most admired, emulated and directly copied images of the nineteenth century. Melrose’s admiration for Church was also expressed in other paintings; for example, Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, painted by Church in 1870, is clearly the source for at least two paintings by Melrose of the same subject and title (see Decade Review, pp. 744-745).

In about 1880, Melrose visited the mountainous regions of North Carolina. Impressed with the natural beauty of the area-- previously unrecorded by members of the Hudson River School-- Melrose captured its essence in The Land of the Sky, N. C. (present location unknown), a large and important canvas which he exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1881. Melrose was also intrigued by indigenous aspects of rural life, such as the illegal manufacturing of alcohol. Whiskey Still by Moonlight (circa 1880, Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc.), a dramatic night scene of men producing corn whiskey against a backdrop of dark, forested trees and somber moonlight, reflects this interest. A sweeping landscape view entitled Tellulah Chasm, Georgia (Allen Memorial Art Gallery, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, until 1953) also dates from this trip, as does Early Morning on the Ashley River-Going to Market (Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc.), a scene set near Charleston, South Carolina. This small oil painting, along with another of a riverside cabin entitled On the Swanee River (Private Collection), though finished works in themselves, may have served as studies for a large and complex studio work, Life on the River (Private Collection).

In the expanded picture, Melrose presents an image of man’s harmonious coexistence with a bountiful land. A group of freedmen have hauled their harvest to the west bank of the Ashley and loaded it into their flatboat. The boat is filled to capacity, so some of the produce is left onshore. Waving farewell to those left behind, the farmers begin their journey to Charleston’s historic market. The golden light that dominates the picture, the calm, mirror-like water, the sharp focus of the foreground and the overall horizontality are elements Life on the River shares with the landscapes of Church. Painted in response to luminism, it is not only one of Melrose’s largest paintings, but also perhaps one of his most accomplished, as he successfully combines genre with beautiful landscape. A small, primitive version of Life on the River, not painted by Melrose, is part of the Rivers Collection in Charleston South Carolina. The existence of this derivative work would suggest that Melrose’s larger work, or a print made from it, was known to naive artists.

Melrose’s career has not been thoroughly studied, and so the method he used for composing his pictures is presently unknown. Many small paintings, like those discussed here, have a bright, almost pastel coloration, and are delicately and loosely brushed. Their size, usually 12 x 16 inches, suggests they may have been painted en plein air. If the format had pleased the artist or patron, either at the time of execution or even years later, the small work might become the basis for a large, finished oil. On the other hand, the small pictures may have been indoor products, composed in the studio from pencil sketches made in the field, then used in various combinations in larger, more detailed compositions.

Melrose was never a major figure in the art world, but he was well respected and seems to have enjoyed the patronage of several important clients. One of these, a Mr. L. Becker of Union City, commissioned Melrose to paint a large picture entitled The Valley of the Hackensack from the Estate of L. Becker, Esq., Union City, New Jersey (Newark Art Museum, Newark, New Jersey) for each of his four children. One version of the painting, which is also known as View of the Hackensack Valley, is in the collection of the New Jersey Historical Society, Newark. The two remaining versions are unlocated (American Art in the Newark Museum, p. 352).

Melrose exhibited landscapes and genre pictures at the National Academy of Design from 1868 through 1883. He also exhibited at the Brooklyn Art Association. In 1885, he produced what is perhaps his best known work, New York Harbor and the Battery, NYC (The New-York Historical Society, New York City). Replete with figures and anecdotal detail, this pleasant, light-filled picture shows a corner of Battery Park and New York Harbor at the mouth of the Hudson River. In the left distance stands the Statue of Liberty, unveiled on October 28, 1886, the gift to America from the French to commemorate the shared ideal of liberty born of revolution. At the right, partially visible behind the trees, stands an older New York landmark, Castle Garden. Leased in 1853 by the United States government for use as an immigration depot, this structure is, in all probability, the site through which Melrose entered this country in 1856. A similar undated version by Melrose of the same subject, but differing in composition from the Society’s version, was in the collection of Ambassador and Mrs. J. William Middendorf II of New York in 1967. It was given to the White House in 1973 by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph M. Segel. At some point in the mid-1880s, Melrose produced a chromolithograph based on the Middendorfs’ version of the same subject (American Paintings and Historical Prints from the Middendorf Collection, p. 50). Many of Melrose’s paintings were published as etchings or lithographs. He is also said to have illustrated books (Seibels, 1990).

Melrose rarely dated his works, so it is difficult to trace his career after the mid-1880s, when he stopped exhibiting at the NAD. It is possible that he turned almost entirely to book illustration in the 1890s. A small painting of a cemetery near his New Jersey studio, titled Peaceful Homes (1891, Newark Museum of Art, Newark, New Jersey), is the only late picture known to date.

Melrose died on February 23, 1901 at the age of 64. He is buried in Grove Oaks Cemetery, the subject of Peaceful Homes, just a few feet from the grave he depicted in the painting. Nancy Rivard Shaw, 1999

References:

American Art in the Newark Museum: Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture. Newark, New Jersey: The Newark Museum, 1981.

Decade Review of American Artists at Auction 1/86-1/96. Mansfield, Ohio: Franklin & James Publishing, 1996.

Kloss, William, et al. Art in the White House: A Nation’s Pride. Washington, D.C.: White House Historical Association, 1992.

Koke, Richard J. American Landscapes and Genre Paintings in the New York-Historical Society, Vol. II. New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1982.

Seibels, Cynthia. An Early Morning on the Ashley River, Going to Market. Spartanburg, South Carolina: Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc., 1990.

Weiseman, Marjorie E., Curator of Western Art Before 1850, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, letter to author, 26 August 1999. According to Ms. Weiseman, two paintings by Melrose were bequeathed to Oberlin College by a patron, Charles F. Olney, in 1904. Both paintings, Tellulah Chasm, Georgia (41 3 x 23 inches) and Waterfall in Nevada (42 x 42 inches), were acquired by the donor before 1887. The pair was deaccessioned in 1953.

For more information on this artist and work, please contact us.

This essay is copyrighted by the Charleston Renaissance Gallery and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from Hicklin Galleries, LLC.

 


For more information on this artist and work, please contact us.

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

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