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Lessons in Likeness: Portrait Painters in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley, 1802-1920

by Estill Curtis Pennington foreword by Ellen G. Miles

Availablecloth$50.00s 978-0-8131-2612-8
276 pages  Pubdate: 11/26/2010  9 x 12  151 color photos, 3 illustrations, 1 map

From 1802, when the young artist William Edward West began painting portraits on a downriver trip to New Orleans, to 1918, when John Alberts, the last of Frank Duveneck’s students, worked in Louisville, a wide variety of portrait artists were active in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley. Lessons in Likeness: Portrait Painters in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley, 1802–1920 charts the course of those artists as they painted the mighty and the lowly, statesmen and business magnates as well as country folk living far from urban centers. Paintings by each artist are illustrated, when possible, from The Filson Historical Society collection of some 400 portraits representing one of the most extensive holdings available for study in the region.

This volume begins with a cultural chronology—a backdrop of critical events that shaped the taste and times of both artist and sitter. The chronology is followed by brief biographies of the artists, both legends and recent discoveries, illustrated by their work. Matthew Harris Jouett, who studied with Gilbert Stuart, William Edward West, who painted Lord Byron, and Frank Duveneck are well-known; far less so are James T. Poindexter, who painted charming children’s portraits in western Kentucky, Reason Croft, a recently discovered itinerant in the Louisville area, and Oliver Frazer, the last resident portrait artist in Lexington during the romantic era. Pennington’s study offers a captivating history of portraiture not only as a cherished possession but also representing a period of cultural and artistic transitions in the history of the Ohio River Valley region.

Estill Curtis Pennington has served in curatorial capacities for the Archives of American Art, the National Portrait Gallery, the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Morris Museum of Art. His publications include William Edward West, 1788–1857, Kentucky Painter; Look Away: Reality and Sentiment in Southern Art; Downriver: Currents of Style in Louisiana Art 1800–1950, A Southern Collection; and Kentucky: The Master Painters from the Frontier Era to the Great Depression.

“This book is much needed in the field of southern art. It makes a significant contribution to art history by updating the history of art in Kentucky and the Ohio Valley.”— John Michael Vlach, author of The Planter's Prospect: Privilege and Slavery in Plantation Paintings

"Lessons in Likeness is a thorough and thoughtful exploration of an important regional tradition, one of the best such studies we have. The book’s exhaustive and reliable documentation will please scholars, the lively writing is engaging, and the illustrations are stunning. Pennington’s understanding of the cultural context for art in Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley is unsurpassed."--Charles Reagan Wilson, editor of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture

"Shows that fine art has flourished in the Bluegrass longer than most people think. . . . The book is likely to become an important reference work on Kentucky's cultural history"--Lexington Herald-Leader

"In a handsome large-format book, the noted art historian and curator, with the help of The Filson Historical Society, looks at the careers of the portraitists who painted some of the most noted families in Kentucky and whose works hang in historical sites across the commonwealth."--Lexington Herald-Leader

"Includes wonderful illustrations of the faces of men and women who graced the frontier of Kentucky ever captured on canvas and paper."--Bits & Pieces of Hardin County History

"Pennington, a long-time scholar of Kentucky portraiture, offers a valuable resource of history."--Kentucky Living

"Pennington identifies those artists, examines their careers, and provides a cultural and artistic context for the period in which they worked."--Kentucky Monthly

"A 276-page book of lush pictures and fascinating stories."--Louisville Courier-Journal

"Because Pennington recounts how this more esoteric aspect of art history took place within a historical backdrop of extraordinary political, social, and ecomonic upheaval, he makes something recondite far more accessible and engrossing."--Library Journal

"Estill Curtis Pennington continues to shine light on the historical art lanscape of Kentucky and nearby environs."--Kentucky Monthly

"Reflects. . . expertise and fine scholarship."--Kentucky Kaleidoscope

“Very informative and useful in learning about early Kentucky portraiture and what these paintings can tell a family-history researcher today.” --Kentucky Ancestors

"Well-written, exhaustively researched and copiously illustrated, 'Lessons in Likeness' is a captivating book that reveals Kentucky's important role in the history of American portraiture. Although there have been a few earlier attempts to explore this topic, none of them measures up to Pennington's remarkably broad scope and his impressive ability to integrate regional and national narratives into a cohesive whole. Erudite and enjoyable, 'Lessons in Likeness' is worthwile reading." -- Bowling Green Daily News

"This book might well have been entitiled Painting Life in the Interior South, sa far (as so successfully) does it range behond Kentucky Portraiture." -- Indiana Magazine of History

"This study is the most comprehensive overview to date of portrait painting in Kentucky and its neighboring areas in southern Ohio and southern Indiana in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It aims to 'identify' the artists active in the region, 'illustrate their works, and recall the cultural terrain on which they painted.'" -- Journal of Illinois History

"Estill Curtis Pennington's Lessons in Likeness . . . is actually several books in one. On one hand, it is a history of American art through the lens of a particular group of artists working in a place that is at first the American frontier, and then later the nation's heartland. It is also a biographical catalog of severnty-seven artists who worked in Kentucky and along the Ohio River. And finally, it chronicles the historical memory of a region by drawing primarliy on the collection of the Filson Historical Society, one of the region's premier repositories of local memory. Pennington, a distinguished southern-art historian, manages to weave all three of these books together in to one useful volume." -- Northwest Ohio History

Winner of a 2011 Kentucky Historical Society's General Award.

"Pennington's work, undergirded by an impressive range of archival and other period sources, demonstrates that Kentucky may have been a border state, but it was hardly a cultural backwater." -- Lee Glazer, The Journal of Southern History -- Lee Glazer -- The Journal of Southern History

"Estill Curtis Pennington's Lessons in Likeness is a pleasure to discover." -- Henry Adams, Ohio Valley History -- Henry Adams -- Ohio Valley History