Ohio History Journal

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CINCINNATI, 1830-1850


WHEN AN 1840 editor of the New York

Star wrote, "Cincinnati! What is there in

the atmosphere of Cincinnati, that has so

thoroughly awakened the arts of sculpture

and painting?" he was expressing an out-

sider's appraisal of the Queen City. The

famous Mrs. Trollope, after three years in

Cincinnati, had come nearer the truth

with her observation on the indigenous

American artist:

With regard to the fine arts, their

paintings, I think, are quite as good,

or rather better, than might be ex-

pected from the patronage they re-

ceive; the wonder is that any man

can be found with courage enough to

devote himself to a profession in

which he has so little chance of find-

ing a maintenance. The trade of a

carpenter opens an infinitely better

prospect; and this is so well known,

that nothing but a genuine passion for

the art could beguile any one to pur-

sue it.2

Despite economic insecurity, more than

sixty painters joined the ranks of prac-

ticing artists in Cincinnati between 1830

and 1850. Some of these artists, notably


Thomas Worthington Whittredge and Wil-

liam H. Powell, achieved reputations still

nationally recognized today. Many other

painters, such as Abraham G. D. Tuthill,

James H. Beard, John P. Frankenstein,

Lilly Martin Spencer, and Joseph Oriel

Eaton, then commanded higher fees and

were equally important, but are now rele-

gated to near-obscurity. Changes in taste

and lack of information about these art-

ists and their works have led to their obliv-

ion. Also, their inclination to travel around

the country (and abroad, when financially

possible) tended to scatter their better

works and prevent true evaluation of their


Taken as a group these artists repre-

sent the greatest disparity in professional

training and experience. Tuthill, an in-

veterate wanderer, remained in Cincinnati

longer than in most cities that he visited.

As a young man he had studied with Ben-

jamin West in London; and later he had

spent a year in Paris. When he arrived

in the Queen City in 1830, he was a thirty-

year veteran of portrait painting in the

northeastern states and Detroit. On the

other hand, James H. Beard, who arrived

the same year, was only nineteen years

old. His training consisted of four lessons