Serene Visions Of A Time Gone By

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As a child he sketched horses and wagons, buggies, boats, and scenes described in history lessons; during sermons in church he used the pages of prayer books and hymnals to draw the angels and the Giants in the Earth of the preacher’s text. So began the career of one of America’s most prolific genre painters—Edward Lamson Henry.

Henry was born in 1841 at Charleston, South Carolina; in 1848, having lost both parents, he went to New York to live with cousins. Apparently his adopted family was well-off and encouraged his artistic leanings; when he was in his late teens, they sent him to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1860, already having exhibited at the National Academy of Design, he went to Europe to study in Paris and travel through the Continent, keeping extensive illustrated diaries. Back in New York he worked as a professional artist until 1864, when he volunteered for the Union army. After the war he rapidly achieved artistic success and popularity that lasted until his death in 1919.

Henry’s penchant for detail and realism appealed to a wide audience and was well served by his skillful draftsmanship. He was intensely interested in the American past and took great pains to ensure the fidelity of his work to earlier times, as witnessed by the vast collection of antique vehicles, costumes, and bric-a-brac that he used as props. In addition, however, he was an illustrator of late-nineteenth-century life—his own time—with a wide range of interests, from character studies to crowd scenes filled with activity.

We present here a small but evocative sample of E. L. Henry’s many hundreds of paintings.

D.K.C.