Thursday, May 10, 2012

A New Look: Samuel F. B. Morse's Gallery of the Louvre

Image: Samuel F. B. Morse, Gallery of the Louvre, 1831–1833, oil on canvas, Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Daniel J. Terra Collection

Known today primarily for his role in the development of the electromagnetic telegraph, Samuel F. B. Morse began his career as a painter. One of his most important works is on loan from the Terra Foundation for American Art—the newly conserved Gallery of the Louvre (1831–1833). The painting depicts masterpieces from the Louvre's collection that Morse "reinstalled" in one of that museum's grandest galleries, the Salon Carré. He also envisioned the space as a workshop where individuals study, sketch, and copy from his imagined assemblage of the Louvre's finest works, including paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Veronese, Caravaggio, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Watteau. Morse depicted himself in front, leaning over his daughter as she sketches, and included friend and author James Fenimore Cooper at left with his wife and daughter.

Executed in Paris and New York, the Gallery of the Louvre was intended to inspire and inform American audiences. The painting was praised by critics, but rejected by the public for having little narrative interest. Crushed by the response, the artist soon ceased painting altogether and turned to his successful experiments with the telegraph and the Morse code.

Schedule: Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, March 1–June 12, 2011; National Gallery of Art, June 25, 2011–July 8, 2012