William Sidney Mount was America's first major genre painter [see "Rustic Dance after a Sleigh Ride," 48.458, an early effort, and "The Bone Player," 48.461, a mature work]. He is less well known for his landscape paintings, rarely producing large scale works, but frequently sketching...
William Sidney Mount was America's first major genre painter [see "Rustic Dance after a Sleigh Ride," 48.458, an early effort, and "The Bone Player," 48.461, a mature work]. He is less well known for his landscape paintings, rarely producing large scale works, but frequently sketching landscapes in pencil ["Farmhouse with Spreading Tree," 62.97]. He also made broadly-painted, small pastoral scenes in oil on board or on paper mounted on board, like "The Fence on the Hill" and "The Barn by the Pool," [48.459]. He made these sketches out-of-doors primarily on Long Island in the vicinity of Stony Brook, where he lived for much of his adult life. Mount kept a catalogue of his work from 1825 to 1866, in which he listed portraits, genre paintings, and some notes on his landscapes (Alfred Frankenstein, "William Sidney Mount," New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1975, pp. 470-75). While he did not include his oil sketches by title in his records, he did refer to them in general. In 1843, Mount mentioned painting oil sketches during his trip to Catskill, New York, and he noted in 1844, 1851, and 1855 that he had made a few "sketches in oil from nature." Bothered by insects and the vagaries of weather during his sketching campaigns, he commissioned the building of a portable studio of his own design in 1861. The studio was equipped with plate-glass windows, a sky light, ventilation, a stove, and wheels, and could be moved by two horse teams. Thereafter, Mount could make oil sketches from nature in relative comfort. "The Fence on the Hill" is not dated, but a reference in Mount's diary from October 28, 1853 concerning sketches made on prepared oiled paper suggests that the MFA's painting might date from the early 1850s: "I should be more regular in painting from nature. It is exciting to paint in the open air. Studies must be made in the Spring as well as in the Autumn…Three Falls past I painted landscapes in the open air-one sitting each-principally on prepared oiled paper. It gives one great dexterity of hand" (Frankenstein, p. 270). "The Fence on the Hill" was painted in oil on paper, which was later mounted on paperboard, and the colors of the scene indicate that it was undertaken in the autumn months of the year. Mount depicted a view down to a body of water that is likely Long Island Sound, and included a few houses as well as vegetation turning golden brown. The fence in the foreground is a motif that Mount used as a framing device in other oil sketches, among them "Rail Fence, Long Island" (about 1850, Christie's New York, March 5, 2009, lot 00127) and "Cracking Nuts" (1856, Christie's New York, March 11, 1993, lot 00009). Mount also employed split rail fences in his genre paintings, including "Country Lad on a Fence" (1831, Doyle New York, American Furniture, Decorative Arts & 19th Century Paintings, November 19, 2012, Lot 21), which is also known from Joseph Alexander Adams's 1834 engraving and is very similar in composition to "The Fence on the Hill." Fences also play important roles in "The 'Herald' in the Country" (1853, The Museums at Stony Brook), where the fence rails are dislodged by a poacher, and in the temperance painting "Loss and Gain" (1848, The Museums at Stony Brook), where the fence keeps the jug of liquor away from a drunken man. Mount was one of the first American artists to paint oil studies out of doors and one of the first to exhibit them. He entered "Sketch from Nature" (location unknown) in the National Academy of Design in 1832. Mount explained his preference for working "en plein air" in an undated diary entry: "Of painting in the open air - I am the first American I know of that painted directly, that is, made studies in the open air with oil colors. An artist in painting a landscape in the open fields is animated by nature and can do more in the right spirit, in the same length of time, than he can possibly accomplish in his paint room from memory or from his sketches" (quoted in Eleanor Jones Harvey, "The Painted Sketch: American Impressions from Nature 1830-1880," Dallas, Texas: Dallas Art Museum, 1998, p. 44). By the mid-nineteenth century, many American landscapists, most notably Frederic E. Church and Albert Bierstadt, were painting out of doors, and the National Academy of Design had instituted a "sketch room" where selected oil studies were displayed. When Mount died in 1868, he left more than sixty oil studies, which were divided among his next of kin. The early history of "The Fence on the Hill" is unknown; it may have been one of the oil studies thus distributed. It was shown at an exhibition of Mount's work in 1942 at the Brooklyn Museum and was owned at the time by Harry Stone of New York. Stone had been a rare book dealer who became interested in nineteenth-century American paintings and opened the Primitives Gallery of Harry Stone in New York in 1942. He owned eight oil sketches by Mount, which he loaned to the Brooklyn exhibition. William Constable, the paintings curator at the Museum of Fine Arts at the time, attended the Brooklyn show and was captivated by the freshness of Mount's oil sketches, especially "The Fence on the Hill" and "The Barn by the Pool." Both studies became part of the MFA's collection when Maxim Karolik, who worked closely with Constable when amassing his collection, bought the sketches in 1944 and gave them to the Museum in 1948. Janet Comey
The artist; with Harry Stone, New York, 1942; to Maxim Karolik, Newport, R.I., 1944; to MFA, 1948, bequest of Martha C. (Mrs. Maxim) Karolik.
Bequest of Martha C. Karolik for the M. and M. Karolik Collection of American Paintings, 1815-1865