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Catalog Number KSa020599
Collection Kate Strong Historical Library
Object Name Letter
Dates of Creation 1863/05/14
Scope & Content Thursday 14 May
295 North 2nd St
Williamsburgh
Dear Sir,
It has given me the highest pleasure to examine your paintings and those of your brother, now on exhibition at the Academy. I am not quite done yet. The "Portraits in General" will come in the last paper.
In being detailed as special critic on the Cols Home Journal, I have made a bold strike for American genre painting. Two articles on the Academy have already been printed: two more are yet to come. I wish you to be sure to get the first article and see what I have to say. In this Small City (which is enough to kill any mortal critic-it is so full of work) I piquantly
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ask if anyone will loan young Benson an old flax-wheel for a model: one of those wheels upon which the linen was spun which has now been so useful in the shape of lint in staunching the wounds of our young heroes.
Now, all this is very graceful to mention in print when applied to a youngster-but I must impress a veteran of the brush to carry the day.
If you had seen what I have seen-hundreds and hundreds realized by the genre paintings of Carl Hübner and Meyer von Bremen and Ed Frere-simple little studies of spinning wheels and domestic life-you would be tempted to commit the brusquerie I once committed of pitching Belmont's Catalogue to the other end of his own gallery in sheer rage that not a single American genre painting was contained therein.
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Willis is delighted with the stand I have taken and hopes some veteran of the brush will back it.
Now, I can put you in the way of doing a splendid thing. I know what you can do in this line. Years ago I examined your studio and found therein a fine study of your great-grandmother reading her Bible by the fireside: also a cabinet miniature of her--the very poetry of old age. This was years ago, but the impression is vivid.
But, on reflection, I do not want a very old lady at the Spinning-Wheel: au contraire, let it be a good. buxom middle-aged woman spinning on a flax-wheel, with distaff in hand. I say spinning, and I mean it. There will be several "Richmonds in the field" no doubt, for the ionic Journal has great prestige and what it says will set the artists to hunting up the wheels-but I want a masterpiece! And
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you can paint it. I want an American Meyer von Bremen by next exhibition. I want- "Aunt Eliza at the Spinning-Wheel."
You go to the Misses Strong of Mount Misery and ask for the old flax-wheel on which "Aunt Eliza" used to spin their household linen. (If they have destroyed it they are vandals!) Then tell them you want "Aunt Eliza"-of Port Jefferson: her name was Brown, hut she has since changed ii to Frazer, I think. She spends the Winters in Williamsburgh, the summers at Port Jefferson and though brusque, she is a character and one of the kindest-hearted women that ever breathed. Don't make
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the mistake of relying on a photograph of her and a sketch of the motionless wheel. Get her to set in propria personae and spin real flax and make the dust fly and pill motion in the tread. Make her turn out her old-fashioned "toggery"-and see that even the fabrics are those of other days.
Then go to work and do yourself justice & I will do you justice. I will am in this country at the next exhibition. I know this is impertinent to suggest what a Mount should paint-but Willis has done bravely to come out for American art and I have always relied on you to sustain the movement.
I wish you would write a few lines expressing sour thoughts on our movement and head it Dear Dear Willis -that I may append it to my last paper in the Home Journal. Send it to my private residence.
Yours tly
J. H. Layton