How Samuel L. Gerry Found the Divine in Natural Harmony

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Feb 22, 2019 9:29PM

When Samuel Lancaster Gerry started painting genre and landscape scenes in and around Boston, he had come a long way from his humble origins as a sign and decorative painter. A spiritual man, Gerry believed in the popular religious notion that Nature encompassed the divine, writing in an 1857 article in The Crayon: “[artists shall]…paint, not for the amusement of self or others, but for the instruction, and the honor of Him, in whose great gallery of painting and sculpture we daily make memorandum studies." (1)

The lush, harmonious country summer shown here in Bringing in the Hay reveals his appreciation for the beauty of the natural world. The detailed rendering of the trees and foliage, the crystalline waters and the sun-tinged clouds transport viewers to a tranquil haven. The painting combines Gerry’s strengths for both landscape and genre, as a farmer and his dog lead the hay wagon along the road home, an event highlighting the blessings Nature grants those who successfully work the land. This subtle narrative element dovetails with the theme of our current exhibition, “Indefatigable Spirit: The American Work Ethic,” illustrating the hard work and can-do attitude on which Americans have prided themselves for generations. The show captures moments of daily life from different eras in American history.

Gerry’s search for artistic inspiration drew him to England, France, Switzerland and Italy during the mid-1830s, where he befriended fellow artist George Loring Brown and fell under the influence of Barbizon painter Constant Troyon. Though he remained largely self-taught, he offered classes at the Tremont Street Studio Building, became a leading promoter of the arts, and exhibited in nearly every Boston Art Club exhibition from its inception until the year he died. He also exhibited at the National Academy, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Boston Athenaeum, and made frequent trips throughout New England and the Lake George region of New York procuring material for his poetic landscapes.

Today, Gerry’s works are represented in major museum collections including Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, Massachusetts, and the Brooklyn Museum.

(1) The Crayon, 4 November 1857, p. 351.

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