Girl with Turkeys

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Girl with Turkeys

United States, circa 1883-1884
Paintings
Oil on canvas
30 1/16 x 50 1/16 in. (76.36 x 127.16 cm)
Gift of William T. Cresmer (56.2)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

Rustic farm life not only furnished financial support for Fuller during the 1860s but also served as the main inspiration for his late landscapes....
Rustic farm life not only furnished financial support for Fuller during the 1860s but also served as the main inspiration for his late landscapes. Even more than Millet and the other Barbizon painters he admired, Fuller viewed farm life in idyllic terms. His pastorals often consist of a small figure standing to the extreme side of a broad, open field. Girl with Turkeys is similar to Turkey Pasture in Kentucky, 1878 (Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Va.) in which a single female stands to the left in the foreground near the flock of turkeys she is tending. During the last several years of his life Fuller created a number of such farm scenes, which reveal his rural New England heritage. As with all his pastorals, the activity depicted is of minor importance, for the open field with its light and air provide the vehicle for the artist to express the harmony of an idyllic rustic life. Fuller painted the entire scene in his typical earthy, but nuanced palette of muted brown, beige, ocher, and khaki green. His handling of the paint was equally suggestive; the strokes, often applied one layer over another, and the scribbled effect of his brush handle drawn over the wet paint in the foliage suggest the activity of the trees, but the rest of the scene is enveloped in a delicate haze as the soft strokes of the atmosphere blur all outlines. Like other advanced artists of the period, Fuller was as much interested in paint manipulation as in representation. Contemporary critics recognized Fuller’s poetic nature and his place in American culture. When this painting was exhibited at Doll and Richards an unidentified reviewer astutely noted: It is with the work of Fuller as it is with the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson. It matters little what one reads of Emerson ... its influence is an indefinite exhilaration-or, rather, inspiration; the definite things he says are secondary in their value. So it is with Fuller. His pictures are impossible as nature but beyond value as dignifying and ennobling impulses. In the present instance the vague, phantasmal girl and her wandering turkeys, the shadowy hut close under the thick deep forest, the hazy shapes of trees ... and the dull yellow sky, while none of them could be considered possible in the smallest degree, are yet details of a whole which is singularly impressive. In the Fuller memorial volume Girl with Turkeys was dated to the artist’s last year. The painting has a label from A. A. Walker of 594 Washington Street, who was a colorman located at such an address in Boston from 1877 to 1880. When it was sold at auction less than thirty years after its creation, the painting received a record price for a Fuller painting and the second highest price ever brought by a contemporary American picture at auction.
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About The Era

The late nineteenth century witnessed a growing cosmopolitanism and sophistication in American culture....
The late nineteenth century witnessed a growing cosmopolitanism and sophistication in American culture. Great riches were amassed by railroad tycoons and land barons, and along with this came the desire for a luxurious standard of living. Collectors filled their homes with European as well as American works of art. American artists, generally trained abroad, often painted in styles that were indistinguishable from their European counterparts.
Most Americans who studied abroad did so in the European academies, which promoted uplifting subject matter and a representational style that emphasized well-modeled, clearly defined forms and realistic color. Academic painting served American artists well, for their clients demanded elaborate large-scale paintings to demonstrate their wealth and social positions. With an emphasis on material objects and textures, academic artists immortalized their patrons’ importance in full-length portraits.
Academic painting dominated taste in Europe throughout the century. But in the 1860s impressionism emerged in France as a reaction to this hegemony. By the 1880s this “new painting” was still considered progressive. Mary Cassatt was the only American invited to participate in the revolutionary Paris impressionist exhibitions. Despite her participation and the early interest of several other American painters, few Americans explored impressionism until the 1890s. Impressionist painters no longer had to choose subject matter of an elevated character but instead could depict everyday scenes and incidents. Nor did impressionists have to record the physical world with the objective detail of a photograph. Artists were now encouraged to leave their studios and paint outside under different weather conditions. American impressionists used the new aesthetic to capture the charm and beauty of the countryside and the city as well as the quiet delicacy of domestic interiors.
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Label

Exhibition Label, 1997 ...
Exhibition Label, 1997 Although little known today, during his lifetime George Fuller was acclaimed as one of America’s finest poetic painters. When Girl with Turkeys was exhibited in Boston a reviewer praised, “the vague, phantasmal girl ... thick deep forest, [and] the hazy shapes of trees” as evoking dignified and ennobling impulses. Due to financial circumstances the artist was forced to spend much of his adult life managing the family farm at Deerfield, Massachusetts, so he was well versed in the habits of rural life and the many moods of nature. This painting, one of his larger farm scenes, is typical in its absence of details and narrow tonal palette. Despite its delicate mood of contemplation, the painting is quite rich in its muted colors and varied brushwork. At a time when Massachusetts and many other areas of the United States were experiencing increasing industrialization and urbanization, this pastoral was an idyllic hymn to lost innocence. The handsome frame by Carrig-Rohane was added to the painting in 1924. Carrig-Rohane, the leading frame maker in Boston, was renowned for carefully toning the gilding to harmonize with each painting. The founder of the frameshop, painter Herman Dudley Murphy, established the practice of carving the firm’s name and date into the back of each frame. The inscription signified that the frame was one of a kind, rather than mass-produced.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.