Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Saga of Seal and Polar Bear, Part II
The last time we met, I was telling you about a fantastic painting in the permanent collection, Seal and Polar Bear by Charles Sidney Raleigh.

I had decided to feature the work in my upcoming exhibition How Extraordinary!, but I knew virtually nothing the artist who painted it. So it was off to the books in search of the enigmatic painter.

 Charles Sidney Raleigh in his later years (Image courtesy of the Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C, ).

Charles Sidney Raleigh was born in Gloucester, England in 1830. He ran away to sea when he was ten or twelve, no one is exactly sure when. He became a merchant seaman, but other than that we don’t know much about this part of his life. 

Let’s flash forward to 1870, then, when Raleigh’s life direction changed dramatically.
While returning from a voyage to Rio de Janeiro, Raleigh and his shipmates became sick with a mysterious fever. He convalesced in Sandwich, Massachusetts, at the house of a fellow crewman. During his recovery, Raleigh fell in love with his host’s daughter, Amelia, and married her. They settled down in New Bedford Massachusetts, and had six children together. To support his growing family, Raleigh embarked on a new career as a self-taught painter. 

While painting may not seem like an instinctual choice of career after seafaring, Raleigh was a talented artist, and is thought to have executed over 1,100 works. Over 600 of these were meticulous, highly detailed portraits of ships, but he also painted murals, shops signs, and even the interior of his own house.
Coincidentally, Shelburne Museum has one of his shop signs, for Purrington and Taber:

Signboard for Purrington and Taber, Painters, ca. 1870-1880

Raleigh also painted polar bear scenes. He never visited the Arctic himself, but instead relied on the accounts of whalers and explorers to gain an understanding of the region. His polar bear paintings have an abstract, cartoonish look, but they also exude a sense of energy and excitement.

Raleigh died in 1925, having lived a long, productive life.
Now I knew a little more about the artist, but I still needed to learn about the painting itself. What would I find out? Stay tuned for Part III...

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