Tompkins Harrison Matteson
(9 May 1813 - 2 February 1884)
Whoever enjoys a friendly talk with Matteson, at his pleasant home at Sherburne, Chenango Co., N. Y,, if successful in awakening a reminiscent mood, hears a story of early hardship and struggle which seems like the opening chapter of a local novel. Born at Peterboro', Madison Co., N. Y., on the ninth of May, 1813, his father, a sagacious politician, named him for Governor Tompkins, in whose recent election --[ ] the Democratic party was then rejoicing; appointed deputy-sheriff of Morrisville, the elder Matteson allowed his boy free access to the cell of an Indian incarcerated on the charge of murder, whose carvings and drawings were famous in all the country round; supplying this unique master with the materials of his art, the young Tompkins learned to crudely practice and to faithfully love the vocation.
His first lesson was sketching a gable at his mother's knee; he followed an itinerant silhouette-limner about the village, and copied his instrument; obtained a paint-box, borrowed prints from a passing traveller, engaged in mechanical contrivances with an ingenious comrade, and improved on his schoolmaster's attempts at colored drawings, until the necessity of earning a subsistence obliged the boy to remit his favorite pursuit, tend a drug store, and became a tailor's apprentice; even then he managed to draw the figures in the "mourning-pieces" of the girls at the village academy; and finally to start off with crayons and knapsack, and, on foot and by stage-coach, seek chances to take a likeness for a few shillings, trudging wearily in the sun, faint and fasting by the wayside, sleeping in canal-boats, and reaching Albany, at last, penniless and discouraged -- to return home a wiser and sadder youth, weary of Dutch boors, of short commons, and forlorn wayfaring. He passed a week with Bradish, a portrait-painter of Manlius, N. Y., set up for himself at Cazenovia, and was sent to New York to study at the expense of a gentleman of Lenox. There, after the usual discouraging lecture, Colonel Trumbull advised and cheered him; he drew from the antique in the Academy, opened a studio in Broadway, and in 1839, returned to Western New York, and for three years was lucratively occupied with portraits, greatly befriended by Rev. Dr. Hale, of Hobart College. On a subsequent visit to the metropolis, his "Spirit of '76" won the attention of Edmonds, the genie painter, who secured its purchase by the Art-Union; a shout of praise hailed its drawing, and thenceforth Matteson prospered.
Among his pictures is one delineating a scene at the burning of Schenedlady, painted for James W. Beekman, Esq., of New York, one of whose ancestors figures therein; "The first Sabbath of the Pilgrims," "The Last of the Race," "Lafayette at Olmutz," "Whirling the Platter," and "Redeeming Forfeits;" his "Examination of a Witch," one of the largest of his compositions, was painted for William D. White, Esq., of Albany; and one of his best is "A Justice's Court;" he made the designs for the popular engravings of "The First Prayer in Congress," and "Washington's Inaugural." Henry Dwight, Esq., formerly of Geneva, N. Y., induced Matteson to resume practice in New York, and in 1841, he again established himself there, and was prosperously occupied, deriving much pleasure and profit from an "Art-Reunion," of which Elliot, Kensett, May, Gifford, Duggan, and other leading painters, were members, and where lectures and a library facilitated their progress.
In 1850, Matteson purchased a home at Sherburne, and soon after painted for Wilham Schaus, the art-dealer, the pictures of the "Signing the Contract on Board the Mayflower," "The First Sabbath of the Puritans," and "Perils of the Early Colonists," etc.; his "First Sacrament on the American Shores," much praised by Bishops Delancey and Coxe, was painted for Henry M. Mygate, Esq., of Albany. N. Y.; "Eliot Preaching to the Indians" was sold to L. Annesley, Esq., of the same city; "Rip Van Winkle's return from the Mountains" belongs to Gilbert Davidson, Esq., of Albany, and the "Hop Yard" was painted for Mortimer Conger, Esq., of Waterville, N. Y.
The national and rustic subjects drawn by this pioneer painter, indicate the average taste of the people, and suggest what themes, executed with greater finish and more subtle elaboration would most successfully illustrate this branch of art among us. Matteson was elected, in 1865, President of the Chenango Agricultural Society; he has delivered addresses before similar associations at Sherburne and Oxford; and in 1855, was chosen to represent his Assembly district in the State Legislature.
Book of the Artists. American artist life, comprising biographical and critical sketches of American artists: preceded by an historical account of the rise and progress of art in America, Henry T. Tuckerman, 1867.
Born in Madison County, N.Y., in 1813, and a pupil of the New York National Academy. He resided in New York working at his profession from 1840 to 1851, when he removed to Sherboume, and there he died in 1884. His paintings are mostly of homely and historical scenes, harmonious in colour and pleasing in effect, but not distinguished by any special vigour of handling or elaboration of technique. He became an Associate of the National Academy, but never reached Academic rank, and his pictures were not often exhibited, but were popular amongst a certain class of buyers.
Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, 1876 - Reprinted, 1894, 1899.
Matteson, Tompkins H., A. N. A. was born in Madison County, N. Y., 1813. As a boy he was an enthusiastic art student, following his profession under many difficulties. He entered the National Academy, and painted portraits in the city and state of New York for some years. His "Spirit of '76," purchased by the American Art Union, first brought him into notice as an artist. Among his early works are his:
His portrait of Mayor Havermeyer, is in the City Hall, New York. He lived in New York from 1840 to 1851, when he removed to Sherbourne, N. Y. Mr. Matteson has been for many years an Associate of the National Academy, but his pictures have not been seen on its walls since 1869, when he exhibited "At the Stile" and "Foddering Cattle."
Artists of the Nineteenth Century and their Works, By Clara Erskine Clement and Laurence Hutton, 1879.
Read complete narrative, Debating Domesticity: Gender Roles in Tompkins Matteson's "Now or Never."
Birth: May 9, 1813 - Peterboro, Madison County, New York, USA
Acclaimed as one of the most noted painters in New York during the 1850s, and was well-known for his historical subjects. His subjects were taken from American history and rural life, and he is famous chiefly for his painting of "The Spirit of '76". He studied and exhibited at the National Academy of Design and with Alvah Bradish and then established himself as a portrait painter in Sherburne, New York, before moving in 1841, to New York City. In 1850, he returned to Shelburne, where he spent the remainder of his life. He was president of the Chenango agricultural society in 1855, and a member of the legislature. Some of his most famous works are: "The Spirit of '76", "Washington Crossing the Delaware", "Pilgrim Fathers On the Deck of the Mayflower", "Perils of the Early Colonists", "The First Sabbath of the Pilgrims", "Washington Delivering his Inaugural Address", and "Rip Van Winkle's Return from the Mountains". T. H. Matteson, his wife and children rest under a gravestone designed by the artist himself.
View artist's work: Tompkins Harrison Matteson (1813-1884)