Seymour Joseph Guy: 'Little Master' of American genre painting

1 I would like to thank Rita Ford, the great-granddaughter of Seymour Joseph Guy’s brother Frederick, for the information and references she provided concerning Guy’s English family background, and for informing me about the 1833 will of his father Frederick Bennett Guy. Locke and Hughes served as executors and administrators of the will, and it is probable that one of the men became the guardian of the three Guy children. The will is in the National Archives in London and available online at
2 For Guy’s early life and training in England, see George W. Sheldon, American Painters (New York, 1881), pp. 65–66; and the entry for the artist in National Cyclopaedia of American Biography (James T. White and Company, New York, 1901), vol. 11, p. 301.
3 In an e-mail of June 10, 2007, the painting conservator Leslie Carlyle, who is an authority on British nineteenth-century painting manuals and treatises, kindly supplied information about the responsibilities of an English apprentice in the oil and color trade.
4 Sheldon, American Painters, p. 66.
5 National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, vol. 11, p. 301.
6 Sheldon, American Painters, p. 67.
7 I would like to thank Martha J. Hoppin, the John George Brown authority, for informing me about Guy’s close friendship with Brown and their time together in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
8 Guy expressed his regard for this portrait in a letter he wrote to John M. Falconer. See Kindred Spirits: The E. Maurice Bloch Collection of Manuscripts, Letters and Sketchbooks (Arts Libri, Boston, 1992), p. 36.
9 On the Tenth Street Studio Building, see Annette Blau-grund, The Tenth Street Studio Building: Artist-entrepreneurs from the Hudson River School to the American Impressionists (Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, N.Y., 1997). For an account of Guy’s reception in the building, see “On the Easel,” New York Evening Mail, April 8, 1869, p. 6.
10 For references to Guy’s activity in Fort Lee, see “Art Notes,” Round Table, n.s. 1, no. 1 (September 9, 1865), p. 7; and “Art-Feuilleton,” Art Journal, vol. 1 (November 15, 1867), p. 14. The United States Census of 1870 lists Guy and his family as living in nearby Hackensack.
11 See “Fine Arts. The Artists’ Fund Exhibition,” Albion, vol. 44 (November 24, 1866), p. 561, which discusses Guy’s difficult task of introducing portraiture into a scene of daily life.
12 “Gallery and Studio,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 9, 1885, p. 2.
13 “Gallery and Studio. Scientific Measurements as a Help to Picture Making. Mr. Guy’s Discovery,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 13, 1885, p. 2.
14 Evening was included in the 1868 annual exhibition at the National Academy of Design, and critics were quick to praise Guy’s harmonious intermingling of genre and portraiture. See, for example, “Fine Arts. National Academy of Design,” New York Daily Tribune, June 18, 1868, p. 2.
15 National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, vol. 11, p. 301.
16 Making a Train is discussed at length in David M. Lubin, Picturing a Nation: Art and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century America (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1994), pp. 205–271.
17 Who’s There? was among a group of works donated by the Artists’ Mutual Aid Society for an auction to benefit the widow of the artist Emanuel Leutze (1816–1868). A notice of the auction reported of Guy’s painting: “The effect of the light upon her face is fine.” “Art Items,” Philadelphia Daily Evening Bulletin, Feb. 16, 1869, p. 2.
18 William H. Gerdts, “Additions to the Museum’s Collections of American Paintings and Sculpture,” [Newark] Museum, n.s., vol. 13 (Winter-Spring 1961), p. 20. I would like to thank Abigail and William H. Gerdts for permitting use of their library on American art during the course of researching this article. Sharon Newfeld, Nadja Hansen, and Maeve Connell also provided assistance.
19 W. A. Croffut, The Vanderbilts and the Story of Their Fortune (Chicago, 1886), p. 164. For a recent discussion of the painting, see Darlene Marshall, “The Character of Home: The Domestic Interior in American Painting, 1862–1893” (PhD diss., Pennsylvania State University, 2005), pp. 175–199.
20 See Thomas Bangs Thorpe, “Painters of the Century—No. VIII. Our Successful Artist—S. J. Guy,” Baldwin’s Monthly, vol. 13 (August 1876), p. 1, which strongly infers that Vanderbilt originated the idea for the painting.
21 “Fine Arts. The National Academy Exhibition,” Nation, vol. 462 (May 7, 1874), p. 304.
22 “Fine Arts: The Exhibition at the National Academy,” New York Evening Mail, April 17, 1874, p. 1.
23 “Our Feuilleton. The Academy Exhibition,” New York Evening Express, April 3, 1880, p. 1.
24 Thorpe, “Painters of the Century,” p. 1.
25 Samuel G. W. Benjamin, Art in America (New York, 1880), p. 115.
26 Sylvester R. Koehler, American Etchings (Boston, 1886), p. 54.
27 Reports, Constitution, By-Laws and List of Members of the Century Association for the Year 1910 (Knickerbocker Press, New York, 1910), p. 42. I would like tothank Jonathan P. Harding, curator of the Century Association, for bringing this reference to my attention.

BRUCE WEBER is the senior curator of nineteenth-century art at the National Academy Museum in New York.

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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