The taste for the subject of ruins in the literature and painting of the nineteenth century was pervasive. It was related to a widespread interest in Ancient Rome and Greece, as well as to the cult of the picturesque, in which ruins were perceived as a demonstration of man’s complicated...
The taste for the subject of ruins in the literature and painting of the nineteenth century was pervasive. It was related to a widespread interest in Ancient Rome and Greece, as well as to the cult of the picturesque, in which ruins were perceived as a demonstration of man’s complicated relationship to nature. The subject was also appealing at a time when the Grand Tour became increasingly popular as a necessity for the acculturation of American gentlemen. “Romantic Landscape with Temple,” painted by Thomas Doughty in 1834, fits directly within this movement. Here, a man in a red jacket stands on the banks of a river, gazing across the water to a monumental stone temple overgrown with ivy. In the distance, mountain peaks rise above the flat landscape, their shape repeated below in a miniature scale by the white sails of far-off ships. While many Americans depicted ruins, including Thomas Cole in “An Italian Autumn” (1989.229), Doughty’s painting is unique in the way the solitary figure is dwarfed in favor of a grandiose vista. Doughty masterfully evoked the subjective and melancholic experience of viewing the impermanent and shifting natural landscape. The lone figure caught between the ruins of man, on his left, and the majestic natural mountains, on his right, evokes the melancholic reflections of the Comte de Volney who wrote: “The aspect of a great deserted city, the memory of past times, the comparison with its present condition, all raised my heart to elevated thoughts. I sat down on the trunk of a column and there, my elbow resting on my knee, my head supported by my hand, sometimes directing my gaze toward the desert, sometimes fixing it upon the ruins, I abandoned myself to a profound reverie.”[From “Chapter One: The Journey,” in C.F. Volney, Ruins, or, Meditation on the Revolutions of Empires and the Law of Nature, New York: Twentieth Century Publishing, 1890 (orig. pub. 1791)] While Doughty was all but forgotten by the time of his death in 1856, his sensitive portrayal of man’s impermanence, seen in paintings such as this one, have secured his reputation in contemporary scholarship. Naomi H. Slipp
Lower center: T DOUGHTY 1834
1834, the artist. 1847, probably sold by William Y. Balch to Henry Codman (1789-1853), Boston ; 1853, by descent to his son, John Amory Codman (1824-1886), Boston; 1886, by descent to his daughter, Martha Codman (Mrs. Maxim) Karolik (1858-1948), Newport, R.I.; 1848, by inheritance to her husband, Maxim Karolik, Newport; 1964, bequest of Maxim Karolik to the MFA. (Accession Date: May 13, 1964)  A bill found in the Codman family papers reads: Boston, June 30, 1847 Mr. H. Codman/ bought of William Y. Balch/ looking glass, portrait and picture-frame manufactory/ no. 10 Tremont Row/ 3 paintings by Doughty $105.00 Rec'd payt. William Y. Balch. Mr. Codman owned four paintings by Doughty, so it is not certain that "Romantic Landscape with a Temple" was one of the three purchased on this occasion.
Bequest of Maxim Karolik