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Thomas Le Clear
Interior with Portraits
Oil on canvas
25 7/8 x 40 1/2 ins (65.7 x 102.9 cm)
American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Museum purchase made possible by the Pauline Edwards Bequest (1993.6)
This painting was included in the "American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765-1915" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (October 12, 2009 - January 24, 2010).
The online notes for the exhibition described this painting in the following way.
By about 1865 American artists were beginning to understand the implications of photography for the art of painting. This canvas reportedly was commissioned by the elder brother of the two children James and Parnell Sidway posing in the skylit studio. The paraphernalia of painting are upstaged by the photographer and his gear and the landscape is a mere prop, not an awe-inspiring view. Yet Le Clear does not simply tell a story of photography's triumph over painting. At the time the painting was made, James Sidway, a volunteer firefighter in his mid-twenties, had recently died in a hotel fire; his older sister, Parnell, had died in adolescence, more than fifteen years earlier. Thus, Le Clear may be lauding painters who, unlike photographers, could capture more than the moment at hand, invent narrative, and even restore life to individuals who had passed.