FRANCIS GUY (1760–1820)
Rhinebeck Landing, Hudson River
Oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 66 in.
Painted between 1817 and 1820
RECORDED: “Catalogue of Landscape Paintings by the Late Guy, exhibited at the Shakespeare Gallery, 11 Park, New York,” exhib. cat. (1820), no. 2 // “Catalogue of Paintings by the Late Guy of Baltimore, now exhibiting at No. 253 Broadway, opposite the City Hall,” exhib. cat. (1821–22), no. 61 // “Candor,” New York Evening Post, March 12, 1822, cited in Stiles Tuttle Colwill, Francis Guy 1760–1820, exhib. cat. (Baltimore, Maryland: Museum and Library of Maryland History, Maryland Historical Society, 1981), p. 97
EXHIBITED: The Shakespeare Gallery, 11 Park, New York, May–[at least] August 1820, Landscape Paintings by [the late] Guy, no. 2 // The Pantheon Building, 253 Broadway, New York, October 1821–April 1822, Paintings by the late Guy of Baltimore, no. 61
When Francis Guy painted Rhinebeck Landing, he was at the peak of his skill and vision. The setting is a lovely riverfront, offering the traveling artist the opportunity to paint trees, rocks and water. The season is late summer, perhaps with a hint of autumn in the foliage. The overall peacefulness of the scene in fact encompasses an array of human activity, so harmoniously blended into the landscape that it only reveals itself with close scrutiny as a series of genre vignettes. Most obviously, at the lower center, a young man wearing a red jerkin perches on a rock, part of a natural pier formation framing a small natural inlet. He holds his fishing rod in his right hand. Across that same inlet another young fisherman has found success, as he hauls in a small fish that dangles from the end of his line as a young woman holding a basket on her arm looks on approvingly. At the lower left of the canvas, a man and a woman stop to chat along a pathway. The woman wears a child in a carrier on her back. Behind the couple, and partially hidden by a downward slope, a male figure balancing a pole on his shoulder walks down the path, heading towards a commercial structure. Though mostly hidden, his face and hand suggest an African American who, in 1820, could have been either a slave or a freeman. Near a building on the left a covered wagon pulled by three horses has been drawn up outside a side shed. Nearby is a figure dressed in white. A sloop is secured to the near side of the landing. On the other side of the landing is another boat, visible only by a mast with a furled sail. Three figures, possibly a man and two women stand on the landing, with a man and woman apparently engaged in a discussion over a basket. Nearby on the river, a boat with billowing sails heads toward the shore, populated by five small figures. Two of these seem involved with a large carton on the rear. The surrounding hills on both sides of the river are dotted with a variety of buildings. Their appearance in Guy’s picture reflects a contemporary description of Rhinecliff: “Steep topography, formed by contorted slate ridges and valleys, define the site-specific and seemingly random orientation of the small, frame nineteenth century houses and winding narrow roads.” In 1820, the riverfront, now the site of railroad tracks, was home to a small settlement, with the greatest concentration of buildings nearest the landing. Visible in the distance, across the river, the hills of the Catskill Mountains in Ulster County, offered a romantic view to the residents of Dutchess County. The quality of light in Guy’s picture suggests the beginning of a sunset in the west.