Portrait of Mrs. James W. Wallack

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Portrait of Mrs. James W. Wallack

United States, circa 1828
Paintings
Oil on canvas
30 1/4 x 25 1/8 in. (76.84 x 63.82 cm)
Gift of the Members of the American Art Council's 1985 Spring Trip (M.85.33)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

In 1817 James William Wallack, actor and theatrical producer, married actress Susan Johnstone, who was daughter of John Henry Johnstone (known as Irish Johnstone, a singer, comedian, and member of the...
In 1817 James William Wallack, actor and theatrical producer, married actress Susan Johnstone, who was daughter of John Henry Johnstone (known as Irish Johnstone, a singer, comedian, and member of the circle of the Prince of Wales). She enjoyed successful comic roles using her maiden name. In 1818 and frequently after that she came to New York with her husband. Of their four sons, the eldest, John Johnstone Wallack, known as Lester Wallack, was also an actor, as was his second son, Arthur. Mrs. Wallack died in 1851. Like his contemporary THOMAS SULLY, Henry Inman painted several portraits of theatrical figures. Sully exhibited a Portrait of Mrs. Wallack at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1819. Inman painted a full-length-in-small of James William Wallack (unlocated), portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Wallack (both unlocated) that he exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1828, and yet another portrait of Mrs. Wallack, n.d. (Museum of the City of New York). Hair and costume styles indicate that the museum’s portrait was painted about 1828 and the portrait in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York much later. In both portraits of Mrs. Wallack one can see the full romantic style that won for Inman the title "the American Lawrence."
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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.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • Blanco F., José and Patricia Hunt-Hurst, eds. Clothing and Fashion: American Fashion from Head to Toe, vol. 2, The Federal Era Through the 19th Century. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2016.