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American Paintings — George Frederick Bensell - Closing In



George Frederick Bensell - Closing In George Frederick Bensell - Closing In


Medium:  Oil on board
Dimensions:  29 3/4 x 36 inches

The American West was a captivating subject for artists of the nineteenth-century. The American War of Independence had inspired a national need for an identity divorced from that of Britain and American artists found this in the majestic landscape and people of the American West. Their paintings answered such critics as the Reverend Sydney Smith, who in his 1820 article for the Edinburgh Review, asked: "In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? Or goes to an American play? Or looks at an American picture or statue?" Moreover, they responded to the call of their fellow countrymen who greatly desired images of their newly founded nation. In an 1816 address delivered at the opening ceremonies of the American Academy of the Fine Arts, the governor of New York state, De Witt Clinton, exalted both the American wilderness and the American cultural landscape as appropriate subjects for native arts, questioning: "And can there be a country in the world better calculated than ours to exercise and to exalt the imagination - to call into activity the creative powers of the mind, and to afford just views of the beautiful, the wonderful, and the sublime?"

George Frederick Bensell's painting, Closing In, shows a direct response to such desires. Born in Philadelphia, he trained with John Lambdin and quickly became a skilled painter of historical subjects, genre and portraits. He exhibited annually at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts between 1856 and 1868 and was a founder and active member of the Philadelphia Sketch Club. In this exceptional painting, Bensell captures the essence of frontier life as the hunter draws his gun fearful of a confrontation with the Native Americans he has glimpsed through the trees. Frontier life was a popular genre for American painters and such subject matter was commonly depicted by the famous publishing firm of Currier and Ives. Indeed Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait's American Frontier Life, was produced as a lithograph from 1862 to 1863, by Currier and Ives, and shares a similar theme to that of Bensellís Closing In. Like Tait, Bensell's Indians are of the Eastern frontier and the scene is most probably a product of his imagination.

The considerable skill displayed in both his painting technique and compositional arrangement make Closing In an exceptional example of George Frederick Bensell's work. His paintings are highly regarded but difficult to acquire due to the artist's untimely death at the age of 42, cutting short his accomplished career.
 

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