Portrait of Jacob Gerard Koch

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Portrait of Jacob Gerard Koch

United States, circa 1817
Paintings
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 34 1/16 × 29 in. (86.52 × 73.66 cm) Frame: 43 1/2 × 38 1/2 × 3 in. (110.49 × 97.79 × 7.62 cm)
Purchased with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection, Mary D. Keeler Bequest and Dr. Dorothea Moore (78.5.1)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

The letter that the male sitter has apparently just pulled from his correspondence folder is addressed to [Ja]cob Gerard Koch (1761-1830), a prosperous merchant and prominent citizen of Philadelphia....
The letter that the male sitter has apparently just pulled from his correspondence folder is addressed to [Ja]cob Gerard Koch (1761-1830), a prosperous merchant and prominent citizen of Philadelphia. Born in Holland, Koch emigrated to America before 1778. His business as an importer and merchant of "German" linens made him wealthy enough to purchase a country estate, Fountain Green, at the Falls of the Schuylkill in about 1801 and leave an immense estate in 1830 of more than a million dollars. A conspicuous patriot during the War of 1812, he contributed five thousand dollars toward the building of a frigate. Contemporaries remarked upon his exceptional corpulence; he weighed more than three hundred pounds. The letter bears a postal hand stamp "SHIP" and a manuscript rate marking "6." Although the six-cent rate was in use for a long time (1794-1861), the earliest known use of the "SHIP" hand stamp was in 1817, which suggests to historian Frederick S. Dickson that the paintings should be dated between 1817 and 1820, when Koch retired from business and moved to Paris. At that time he was married to his second wife, Jane Griffith (born in Ireland about 1772), whom he had married in Philadelphia in 1801. She survived her husband and lived in Paris until 1848. In 1833 Mrs. Koch wrote to her brother-in-law Matthew Huizinga Messchert in Philadelphia to order a copy of the portraits from THOMAS SULLY, who referred to them in his journal as by "R. Peale," confirming the stylistic evidence that points to an attribution of the original portraits to Rembrandt Peale. Closely comparable with the Koch portrait, for instance, would be Rembrandt Peale’s portrait of General Samuel Smith from the period of about 1817-18, in Baltimore’s Peale Museum, and his portrait of Isaac McKim of the same period at the Maryland Historical Society. Peale frequently posed his male subjects with one arm over a chair back to create a pyramidal composition, as in the portrait of Koch. Together with a general simplification and geometrizing of form, this most stable of compositions contributes to the neoclassical order of the portrait, which, however, is balanced by the strong contrasts and turbulent sky painted in the romantic tradition. As was his custom, Peale carried out the wife’s portrait in an even more romantic manner, with flowing lines, softer modeling, and a less direct gaze. While the male and female types are dissimilar, the unified architectural space between the portraits leaves little doubt that they are a pair. This background is among the most elaborate and impressive that Rembrandt Peale painted. Together with the richness and high quality of the figure painting, it marks the pair as among the artist’s finest works.
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About The Era

The art of the early Federal period did not greatly differ from that of the late colonial era. Portraits dominated the small field of painting....
The art of the early Federal period did not greatly differ from that of the late colonial era. Portraits dominated the small field of painting. Victories on land and at sea in the War of 1812 brought the fledgling democracy greater confidence and new national pride. By 1829, when Andrew Jackson assumed the presidency, the foundations for an independent culture were securely laid. The philosopher-poet Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed the mood of the country in 1837: “our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close.” The following decades would bring a swell of artistic creativity, focused on native themes that extolled the seemingly limitless bounty of the New World.
Portraiture, and to a lesser extent history painting, continued to occupy American artists, but increasing numbers turned to views of the local countryside and its inhabitants. Although the industrial revolution only began in the United States after the War of 1812, the following three decades witnessed economic changes, especially in the north, that significantly affected working conditions, family structure, and even religion. Paintings illustrated American virtues like ingenuity and industry as well as the pleasures of country life. The new taste for genre pictures—scenes of ordinary people involved in everyday activities—seemed ideally suited to the egalitarian attitude of the Jacksonian era.
This period also saw the rise of the country’s first truly national school of landscape painting, ultimately known as the Hudson River school. Its earliest, best-known exponent, Thomas Cole, sometimes painted romantic literary subjects in European settings, but his dramatic depictions of the American wilderness helped spur the popularity of American views. As the country developed, paintings of uninhabited wilderness were replaced by views of farms, towns, and factories, but American artists retained their sense of awe about the land.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Quick, Michael et. al. American Portraiture in the Grand Manner: 1720-1920.  Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1981.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • About the Era.
  • Quick, Michael et. al. American Portraiture in the Grand Manner: 1720-1920.  Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1981.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • LACMA: Obras Maestras 1750-1950: Pintura Estadounidense Del Museo De Arte Del Condado De Los Angeles. Mexico, D.F.: Museo Nacional de Arte, 2006.
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