Thursday, June 14, 2007

William Henry Chandler: Discovery and Homage


About three years ago, I took an antique walnut frame into a local frame shop for repair. The owner and I started talking about the many restorations of old paintings he was doing--including some lovely pieces from the Hudson Valley School, an early 20th century movement that focused primarily on landscape themes.

When I returned to the house, I remembered a pastel in my office that was one of the few things of my father's that I had inherited. It was a long, narrow fall landscape that my mother had had reframed in a heavy gold gilded frame. Mother was the art lover in our house. But this piece I knew was my dad's.

I went to my office and looked at the painting, now perched on the credenza. The painting had been tucked away, hung in a hallway in my home growing up. It later achieved prominence when it was hung over the mantel at my mother's condominium until her death.

I had always liked the simplicity of the scene, and especially the glow of the fire warming folks on a fall evening. But where I had always wondered had the scene had been painted? Maybe it was Hudson Valley School.

I scanned the piece and for the first time, found a signature: CHANDLER in a round cursive at the bottom left.William Henry Chandler, it turns out ( 1854-1928 ) is considered by some as American's foremost pastel artist. William was born in New Jersey to a deeply religious family, and like the Impressionist, Lautrec, had a lifelong limp from a childhood accident. As a young man, he moved to Chicago and worked as a cameo engraver ( all the rage at the time ). Chandler married there, but chose to leave after the death of his first wife, Jennie, and their youngest child, Nellie.

Back in New York, Chandler began producing original art--an alternative to a very popular print trend with famous print makers like Currier & Ives. Most of his work was pastel landscapes featuring some form of water, mountains and another focal point like a cabin, mill, boat or cottage. I find it interesting to note that Chandler was always known for his humanitarian work. In Chicago, Chandler, a Methodist, worked with small children in a mission school, and while in New York, he worked with the poor in the Bowery.

I couldn't figure out how my dad would have bought a New York artist's work when we lived in the Midwest--and seldom even spoke about art. Then I found out that Chandler sold his original works to gift shops and department stores around the US and Canada--including Marshall Field's (the Saks Fifth Avenue of Chicago at that time). I'm guessing that my father's business partner bought the Chandler piece for my father for Christmas.

I've grown to love this piece of art. Last year, after a long look at the piece, I realized that the pastels were smeared onto the glass, probably from the jostling from moving it from my mother's. So, I found a restorer who painstakingly cleaned the piece. She took all of the loose pastel off of the glass, and cleaning the painting to the original sharpness of the colors Chandler had used 120 years ago.

When I brought the painting home after the restoration last week, I moved it from the office credenza in the upstairs office to the family room for all to see.

I guess that's my homage to Chandler-- and to my father.


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