Joshua H. Shaw (1776-1861) Early Morning Along a River Oil on panel

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Joshua H. Shaw (1776-1861)

Early Morning Along a River

Oil on panel

Panel size: 16 1/4” x 20 1/4”

Framed size: 22 1/4” x 26 3/8”

Ca. 1817


Joshua H. Shaw's "Early Morning Along a River" is an expatriate's nostalgic remembering of the English countryside. A key figure in the development of American landscape painting, the Lincolnshire, England native arrived in the United States in 1817. Though Shaw spent much of his late artistic career in the urban environment of Philadelphia, he painted British landscapes until virtually the end of his life. This wonderful bucolic painting, which depicts cows grazing peacefully in front of a crumbling ruin, is an excellent representative of Shaw's prolific and distinguished career.

Shaw's painting contains all of the elements necessary for a successful landscape composition. A number of cows and a trio of goats, who are surrounded by swathes of magnificent greenery in the fore- and middle-grounds, lounge in front of a meandering river. In the background of the painting, below the blue and sun-drenched sky, is a crumbling ruin. Through this work, Shaw clearly hoped to convey the healthful pleasures of country living, a lifestyle far removed from the one he endured in Philadelphia. Moreover, the inclusion of a broken down church, whose appearance directly mimics those of the trees situated on the right side of the composition, is also indicative of Shaw's belief that man could live in harmony with nature. No doubt, Shaw's glorification of a pastoral existence in this work would have greatly appealed to a Jeffersonian audience.

Shaw was born in Bellingborough, Lincolnshire, England in 1776, the year of the signing of the American Declaration of Independence. Although essentially self-taught as an artist, Shaw commenced his career as an apprentice for a sign painter. After moving to Manchester, he began to create landscapes and portraits, and by the time he was 22 Shaw was exhibiting at the Royal Academy. Shaw immigrated to Philadelphia in 1817 where he founded the Artists' Fund Society and the Artists and Amateur Association. Shaw also published a valuable manual for artists and spent much of his time sketching the East coast of the United States.

Shaw's work had a tremendous influence on the early American landscape movement. Working in the same stylistic vein as Franco-Italian painter Claude Lorraine, Shaw was one of the first "pure" landscape painters to work in the United States. As such, Shaw specialized in painting unidentifiable rural landscapes. His works often contained darkened foregrounds and a sprinkling of figures, streams and distant hills.

In addition to his artistic career, Shaw also worked as an inventor. He made improvements on firearm designs and did early topographical views. Shaw moved to Bordentown, New Jersey in 1843, and died in 1861