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Scene on the Kentucky River

Beck, George
Place Made:
Lexington Kentucky United States of America
Date Made:
oil on paper
Framed: 20 15/16 x 26 7/8 x 1 15/16in.
Accession Number:
English-born George Beck was the first painter to work exclusively as a landscapist in America and, also, one of the earliest to cross the Allegheny Mountains. His westward move was undertaken not merely as an itinerant painter but as a permanent settler. Beck immigrated to America in 1795, landed at Norfolk, Virginia, and moved to Philadelphia in 1798. In the spring of 1804, he made an extended painting trip along the western frontier, his stops including Lexington, Kentucky, where he settled permanently by 1807.

This particular view of the Kentucky River emphasizes the area’s wilderness, a theme considered eminently picturesque in the English landscape tradition. The ferry crossing in the middle left ground and two structures, barely visible on the far left bank, are the only signs of human intervention. The forcefully rushing water and unusual orange color of the sky add to the awesome aspects of Nature so compellingly captured by the artist.

RELATED OBJECTS: MESDA has several objects that were owned by the Dallam family in addition to this painting. A fancy painted side chair (Acc. 5691.2) from Winton is on loan to MESDA, as are profiles of the Dallams executed by the artist Samuel H. Dearborn (Acc. 5449.1).

DESCRIPTION: A landscape depicting a bend in a boulder- and tree-strewn river, the (viewer’s) right half of the composition filled by a rocky outcropping with trees and other vegetation atop it and, some, leaning over the water below. A ferry is visible mid-river in the (viewer’s) left side of the composition, with two architectural structures apparent on the far left shore. The sky is notable for its orange coloration. Emphasis is on the wildness of the natural setting.

FRAME: The 2 1/4-inch cyma recta gilded frame may be original, although it is slightly oversized. Egg and dart ornament borders the sight edge, while beading appears inside the quarter-round outer edge.

Daniel Ackermann, “Research Note: ‘…that ingenious artist Mr. Beck’–George Beck’s American Wilderness,” The Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts, vol. 35, 2014.

This scene and another by Beck showing Boone’s Knoll (CWF acc. no. 1968-502) were owned by Major William S. Dallam (d. 1845) and his wife, Letitia Meredith Dallam (1790-1868). They hung at Winton, the couple’s home in Lexington, Kentucky, and may have previously hung at Pope’s Villa in Lexington during the Dallam’s occupancy there.
Credit Line:
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation