Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Thomas Hepburn Buckler

One of my favorite portraits is that of Thomas Hepburn Buckler. It is unlike most of the portraits in our collection and has an especially vivid background and detailed desk.

This is actually one of two portraits of Dr. Buckler that we have here at MedChi, the other of which is considerably less charming.Buckler J

Thomas Hepburn Buckler was born at Evergreen, near Baltimore, Maryland, on January 4, 1812, and was educated at St. Mary’s College, Baltimore. He took his M.D. in 1835 with a thesis on “Animal Heat.” He practiced afterwards in Baltimore as physician to the City Almshouse. From 1866 to 1890, he and his family lived in France where he became a physician in Paris under a license from the French government.

He was best known as a teacher and writer. His views were independent and original – some said original even to eccentricity. The “Medical Annals of Baltimore” gives a list of thirty-two of his writings, a great many of them on sanitary and social subjects. Among other things, the filling up the “Basin” or Inner Harbor of Baltimore, with the dirt from Federal Hill, and the introduction of the waters of the Gunpowder River for the supply of Baltimore were two ideas proposed. The latter of these recommendations was carried out many years later.

Dr. Buckler was a man of striking personal appearance and was much sought after on account of his brilliant conversational powers and wit. He never had a large practice; in fact never sought one, and lacked the steadiness and plodding perseverance of his brother, John D. Buckler. He was married twice, the second time to Eliza Ridgley of the old Maryland family which owned the Hampton Mansion, just north of Baltimore. He left a son, William H. Buckler. He died in Baltimore, April 20, 1901.


The portrait was painted by Julius LeBlanc Stewart (1855-1919), known as the “Philadelphian in Paris”.  He’s a whole other story…

imageHis father, William Hood Stewart, was a sugar plantation owner in Cuba. Although the family was from Philadelphia, they spent considerable time in Paris, where he began collecting art. He was methodical in his collecting and kept meticulous records in scrapbooks, which were acquired in 2013 by the Meadows Museum in Texas. These alphabetized scrapbooks contain sketches, collaged photos and about 190 letters from artists and fellow collectors.

Julius Stewart was considered a society painter who painted the notables of the day, as well as yachting, picnicking and other leisurely activities. imageHe was a contemporary of John Singer Sargent, who was also in Paris at that time. His family’s wealth allowed him to live the lush ex-pat life of an artist and paint what interested him. He liked large-scaled group portraits of his friends who were actresses, celebrities and aristocrats in late 1800’s Paris. Many of these portraits included a self-portrait somewhere in the crowd.

Julius Stewart exhibited regularly at the Paris Salon from the late 1870’s to the early 1900’s. Stewart is best known for his Belle Époque society portraits and sensuous nudes, of which he did a large number.

From the Farhat Museum in Beiruit comes this biographical information:

Julius Stewart was a figure and genre painter from Philadelphia who spent almost his entire life in Paris. From the 1880s through the first decade of the 20th century, he ranked with John Singer Sargent as one of the most popular expatriate American painters in Paris. He was following a genre begun by his friend, Jean Beraud, but Stewart's more vivacious work was considered especially American.

Stewart was born in 1855, and his family settled in Paris when he was ten years old. His earliest painting is dated 1876. His father, William Stewart, was an outcast art collector, who specialized in works of the contemporary Spanish-Roman school, including Zamacois, Fortuny and de Madrazo. These artists had a great influence on Stewart and in the 1880s, he studied with Zamacois and de Madrazo, as well as with Jean Leon Gerome.

He painted the life he thoroughly enjoyed - Parisian high society. Stewart's works are spirited and realistic, full of fashionable women, sumptuous fabrics and elegant drawing rooms. In addition to portraits of his well-to-do friends, Stewart fulfilled commissions for portraits of society figures and celebrities, among them the actress Sarah Bernhardt. “His portrayal of Bernhardt in the double portrait, Reading Aloud (circa 1883, private collection) is nearly identical to that of the female reader in An Enthralling Novel, right down to the facial features, center-parted upswept hairdo, ruffled high-necked blouse, and embroidered jacket. Both paintings were executed around the same time, so it is probable that the reader in An Enthralling Novel is Bernhardt. Period photos from the mid-1880s of Bernhardt show her with the same hairstyle and style of clothing.” (Carol Strone Art Advisory)

Stewart's first success was being chosen to exhibit at the Paris Salon in 1883. His reputation was firmly established with, The Hunt Ball (1885, Essex Club, Newark) and The Hunt Supper (1889, Buffalo Club, New York) was shown at the Paris Exposition. His high society women portraits show a particular fascination with their evolving roles in a changing society, from the depiction of beauty for beauty's sake to the portrayal of the educated sophisticate. In An Enthralling Novel he succeeds in conveying the reader's concentrated attention to the book, thus portraying her as a well-read woman and not just another pretty face.

At the same time that Stewart was painting high society scenes, he painted nudes out-of-doors, a subject more acceptable in France than in America in the 1890s. By 1905, he had a religious crisis and conversion, toning down his subject matter. At the beginning of World War I, he served in the Red Cross ambulance corps and suffered a nervous breakdown.

Stewart remained a bachelor, and died in 1919, having returned to the United States.

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