Albert Fitch Bellows
Down to the Brook, 1862
13 x 21 ¼ inches
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase with funds provided by the 1072 Society, 2010
By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions
In 1863, Albert Fitch Bellows exhibited a landscape painting entitled Down to the Brook at the National Academy of Design in New York, where he had served as an elected academician for two years. It is possible that this is that work though there is another painting dating from 1863 with the same title in the collection of the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at the State University of New York at New Paltz. Whatever the case, this painting is undoubtedly a tour de force of the artist’s sense of color and atmosphere as well as his technical expertise which resulted in great fame during his lifetime.
The bucolic setting with cattle at the water’s edge, under the watchful eye of two figures, describes the natural beauty of this summer’s day. Evidence of humanity punctuates the rustic landscape; the rowboat moored across the brook, stone and wooden fences, the orderly homestead tucked into a grove of trees at left, and the distant towering church spire at right. Bellows studied in Europe and spent time in Belgium, France, and England in the mid 1850s where he was inspired by Romanticism and such artists as John Constable, apparent in the way he highlights the leafy trees to capture shimmering light and the ever changing drama of cloudscapes. Bellows also was inspired by his fellow American Romantics of the Hudson River School who celebrated the American natural world as evidence of the divine. In this case it is not just the extraordinary clarity and beauty of the setting, but the presence of the country church that confirms God’s blessing on this land.
The date of the painting reminds us that this serene image was painted as the Civil War raged, a national conflict that tore the fragile young nation apart. Often the art made during this fractious period not only sought to reveal the heavenly presence in the American landscape but to reinforce an inherent faith that God divined this country to be part of a sacred universal plan and in time, the war would end and our nation would endure. Down to the Brook therefore is an image of hope and faith and very much part of the midnineteenth- century American landscape tradition.
Upon his death, Bellows’s fellow National Academy of Design members eulogized his passing. Today his work can be found at the National Academy of Design, as well as the New York Historical Society, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum of Art.