[Cuba. ca. 1850s]. Oil on canvas, 13 1/2 x 23 1/2 inches. Excellent displayable condition. Framed. Item #WRCAM30458
This attractive landscape painting depicting a Cuban sugar plantation was almost certainly executed by artist Charles DeWolf Brownell, in the mid to late 1850s. As would be customary with Brownell, who was greatly influenced by the artists of the Hudson River School, the image is dominated by the Cuban landscape of lush greenery, rolling hills, and blue sky, with the main buildings on the edges of the work. There are various types of trees dotting the landscape, as well as shrubs, a stone fence, and livestock. At the bottom of the painting a horse ridden by a black servant pulls a barranca-style carriage occupied by a woman in a pink dress. In the center a man in a white suit and hat walks up a hill toward the plantation house beside a horse carrying a similarly dressed man. Five of the plantation structures are depicted. The main house, a white two-story gabled building with a balcony, is on the far left. A woman stands in the doorway. On the far right of the painting is a slat-roofed building with a large billowing chimney and slaves at work. In the center of the image are three more buildings: a thatch-roofed hut filled with sugarcane, and two storage buildings. The sky is bright blue, with pillowy white clouds rolling by.
Charles DeWolf Brownell (1822-1909) was born in Rhode Island and spent most of his adult life in Hartford and New York City. Trained as a lawyer, he abandoned the law out of conscience and turned to painting. He was greatly influenced by the Hudson River School, and his most notable works are landscape paintings. His maternal relatives, the DeWolfs, owned several sugar plantations in Cuba, and beginning in 1854, Charles Brownell spent seven consecutive winters on the island. He returned to Cuba several times over the ensuing decades. He traveled throughout the island, boarding in several plantations. Inspired by the Cuban landscape, he created a number of paintings of the island, including portraits of plantations done as commissions to help pay his expenses. In his diary Brownell notes that these commissioned paintings usually brought between forty and sixty dollars. The present work, painted in oil on a relatively modest size canvas, is in keeping with the style and form of these other works. A 1991 Kennedy Gallery exhibition catalogue of Brownell's work notes that these paintings of Cuban plantations survive in only a small number. A fine representation of mid-19th- century Cuban plantation life. Early paintings of Cuba are rare. Kennedy Galleries, CHARLES DeWOLF BROWNELL (1822-1909), EXPLORER OF THE AMERICAN LANDSCAPE, March 1991.