November 9, 2009

Thomas Chambers, American Landscape Painter

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.


  1. I must check out the American Folk Art Museum; thanks for some highlights on this current show.

  2. Hi Altoon:

    Karen and I spend part of our morning going over your blog. We enjoy all of the topics: art discoveries, nature walks, what's for dinner, and work in progress. I found myself thinking about "magic" as an aesthetic property. You had used that word on one of your walks. Most philosophers are very nervous about words like that, but not me. Thomas Chambers is a nice discovery: we loved the clouds.

    Tom and Karen

  3. I like pizzazz to describe his colors. I was shocked, truthfully, when I saw the color. I was expecting the quiet Hudson School colors. But now I like these a lot. Interesting how he used prints for his work.

  4. I recently 'discovered' Thomas Chambers and I'm sorry I missed the shows at the Folk Art Museum as well as the Philadelphia Museum. His work is a bit more primitive than that of Fitz Hugh Lane, which I have loved for years, but still bears a similarity I think. Also just discovered your blog as I was searching for more on Chambers. It looks fascinating and will add it to my 'favorites' as it is too large to explore in one sitting.


  5. Thanks for visiting, Richard; I'm pleased you are enjoying wandering through the blog. I agree with you on the similarity between Lane and Chambers, though of course Chambers is more expressive and "primitive".

  6. thank you for introducing me to to this wonderfully relevant painter for me! very grateful!

    1. I love Chambers' paintings and am very happy to share his work with you deanmelbourne. So glad you like it.