BECK, George Jacob (1748 – 1812). The Falls of the Potomac. Circa 1795 – 1798.
Gouache and Watercolor on paper in gold leaf frame (16 ½ x 22 ½ inches visible; 21 x 27 inches framed).
THE FIRST VIEW OF THE POTOMAC RIVER BY GEORGE WASHINGTON’S FAVORITE ARTIST
This watercolor gouache is clearly a companion in style and subject of The Potomac River Breaking through the Blue Ridge and Great Falls of the Potomac, both circa 1796-1797), combining as it does topographical detail with a Romantic atmosphere. Both of these works were purchased in January 1797 from Beck’s agent, Samuel Salter. They were hung in the New Room at Mount Vernon, where they may still be viewed today.
Lauded as one of the greatest predecessors of the Hudson River School and a favorite artist of President Washington, George Jacob Beck’s artwork continues to be highly sought after today. Though listed in the 1806 Lexington directory as a "Portrait Painter," Beck is most famous for his landscape work, which unquestionably contributed to the popularity of American views during the late eighteenth and nineteenth century. He was the most experienced, if not the first of the early landscape painters to work in the United States. He is considered one of the earliest professional English trained landscape painters in America.
Beck and his wife emigrated to America in 1795, drawn to the same newly settled wilderness, which Beck so successfully portrayed in his. The couple settled in Baltimore, Maryland, where Beck first painted his views of the Potomac River and achieved a tremendous amount of success. His fandom was ignited by the backing of George Washington, and following those commissions he won the patron-ship of William Hamilton, a well-known patron of English and American artists. From there Beck’s popularity skyrocketed, accumulating commission after commission. In 1798, Beck moved to Philadelphia and opened a drawing school for men and women to subsidize his income; while his wife opened a ladies’ seminary.
Despite leaving there legacy on the bustling city, their stay in Philadelphia was short lived and they soon made their way towards the beautiful American Western Frontier (Pittsburgh, Niagara Falls, Ohio, Kentucky).
“The newly settled wilderness held a great appeal for beck providing the opportunity of exploring relatively unspoiled nature while living in a social milieu where he and his wife could attract patrons and students. In Kentucky he developed a freer style, and his works increasingly celebrated the unspoiled richness of the frontier. They reveal his fascination with the subjective power and mystery of nature”. (Olsen)
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