DescriptionWILLIAM HOLBROOK BEARD (American 1824-1900)
The Discovery of Adam, 1891
Oil on canvas
18in. x 24in. (sight size). Framed
Signed and dated lower left: W.H. Beard/ 1891
Provenance: The Masco Corporation, Taylor Michigan, 1980; [Sotheby's New York December 3, 1998 lot 129]; private collection, Dallas
Exhibited: Alexander Gallery, New York, William Holbrook Beard: Animals in Fantasy, 1981, colorplate 32.
Literature: Robert McCracken Peck, "William Holbrook Beard (1824-1900)," The Magazine Antiques, November 1994, illustrated p. 699.
Best known for genre scenes of animals satirizing human behavior, William Holbrook Beard painted his first known monkey painting only two years after the publication of Charles Darwin's controversial Origin of the Species, 1859. Beard believed that animals possessed souls and could express human emotions and feelings, yet according to Robert M. Peck, "Beard refused to believe in man's descent from more primitive primates." (Peck, 1994, p.699) No other work in Beard's extensive oeuvre so clearly and humorously illustrates the artist's opinion of Darwin's theory than the present work, Discovery of Adam, 1891. Here, a group of well dressed monkeys appear confounded at the discovery that their ancestor, Adam, is in fact a turtle. Beard further conveys his message by inscribing "200,000 B.C. Adam" on the tortoise's shell. Beard possibly refers to Darwin's theory of evolution, the survival of the fittest, by depicting two prehistoric pterodactyls fighting in the left background.
Beard began his artistic career as an itinerant portrait painter throughout Ohio before moving to New York City in 1845. He opened a studio in Buffalo in 1850, where he painted mostly romantic genre paintings. In 1856 he traveled to Europe, and upon his return in 1858 he briefly settled in Buffalo. Moving to New York City in 1860, Beard set up a studio in the prestigious Tenth Street Studio Building where he began to paint his animal paintings. His paintings such as Bulls and Bears of Wall Street (The New-York Historical Society) and March of Silenus (Albright-Knox Gallery) are foremost examples of his life's work. Beard exhibited extensively throughout his career at venues including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, National Academy of Design, and the Brooklyn Art Association.
Beard wrote his own treatise, Humor in Animals, published in 1885, in which he devoted chapters to individual species of animals and birds, anthropomorphizing various aspects of each, while offering a significant key to the artist's pictorial interpretations. His paintings are found in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the New-York Historical Society, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Rhode Island School of Design.
Condition: canvas has been beva wax relined onto original stretcher. 10 percent inpaint throughout found in areas of pterodactyl's wing, upper right corner of sky, face of second monkey from right, below right of the turtle, and upper left corner.
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