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The Triumph of Liberty, 1864
Stephen James Ferris (1835 – 1915)

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Oil on board
7 3/8 x 9 inches
Original Frame
Signature Details: S.J. Ferris fecit/ Phila 64
Status: Available

Stephen James Ferris’s elaborate and deeply allegorical The Triumph of Liberty is a quintessential example of the power of symbolic representation in the visual arts. Filled with traditional imagery of the American Republic, anti-slavery movement, and Biblical prophecy, it is Ferris’s multiple employment of these symbols in a single canvas that makes this masterwork so distinctive. Executed in a highly expressive style, the artist depicts fire, darkness, celestial events, and supernatural beings to create a compelling commentary on the Civil War.

Born in Plattsburg, New York, Ferris studied as a youth at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with John Sartain and Christian Schuessele. Under Sartain’s tutelage, he developed expertise as an etcher and printmaker. Prior to the beginning of the Civil War, Ferris traveled to Paris and received extensive training with Jean-Leon Gerome, one of the nineteenth century’s foremost advocates of academic training, at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Gerome’s insistence on technical excellence and practice of neo-classicism had a tremendous impact on Ferris, who would, throughout his career, be a proponent and practitioner of Gerome’s values. Married to Elizabeth Moran, sister of artists Edward, Thomas, and Peter Moran, Ferris became part of an artistic dynasty in Philadelphia that lasted for several generations.

Ferris enjoyed a distinguished career as an engraver, etcher, illustrator, and especially as a portraitist, painting more than two thousand likenesses. For over twenty-five years, he taught at the Philadelphia School of Design. A founding member of the Philadelphia Society of Etchers and the Philadelphia Sketch Club, Ferris exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Boston Art Club, and National Academy of Design.

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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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