Ship in a Storm, ca. 1836-45, 14 x 18 inches
Delaware Water Gap, ca. 1840-50, 18 x 24 inches
View of Nahant (Sunset), ca. 1843-50, 22 x 30 inches
Niagara Falls from the American Side, ca. 1843-58, 18 x 24 inches
Landscape with Mount Vesuvius, ca. 1843-60, 22 x 30
A wonderfully peculiar painter, Thomas Chambers' work stood out to me in books that surveyed American landscape painting of the 19th century. That is, if it was shown at all, since he was very much overlooked and forgotten till recent years. There is currently a large survey show of his painting at the American Folk Art Museum in New York, on view till March 2010, which is a real treat to see.
For many years, I've had a soft spot in my heart for American primitive, or naive, paintings, similar to that for Italian primitives, as mentioned in my previous post. I consider myself a "linear" painter, as opposed to a "painterly" one, using relatively flat forms with hard edges, and clear planar space. These characteristics describe a primitive sensibility, as opposed to the more fluid and volumetric painting of what I might call a sophisticated aesthetic. Fra Angelico to Veronese, for instance. Chambers' paintings are linear with verve and sweep, his color a decorative romp. Within the simplified and stylized form are passages of amazing sensitivity: he gets the translucent color of water, whether waves or waterfalls, uncannily accurately; his skies, whether colored with softness or drama, carry a convincing quality of light.
Chambers' paintings are such fun to look at; he paints everything with pizazz. Since he got most of his images from black and white prints, we know that his imagination was a driving force in his work, and as you can see from the images above, it ranged widely in subject and mood, but was always full of exuberant energy, as though even the most peaceful scenes embodied an unstoppable life force.