American School Still Life; Andrew John Henry Way, c.1870
Way, Andrew John Henry (Maryland, 1826-1888); “Catawba Grapes”; c.1870; oil on canvas; signed lower left; un-lined canvas on original stretchers; stenciled on reverse: “FROM Wm. MINIFIE & SONS; ARTISTS DEPOT; No. 5 N. CHARLES STREET; BALTIMORE”; in an appropriate reproduction gilt over composition and wood frame; condition: several early small backing patches with corresponding in-painting (see image below); the surface has recently been cleaned and re-varnished; dimensions: image 20″ x 14″, frame 27 1/2″ x 21 3/8″
Way’s larger format portrayals of unharvested grapes, still on the vine with fully delineated foliage and tendrils, are rare. His realistic rendering of the grapes themselves, masterfully captures the vivid red translucency of surface, augmented by the underlying luminescence of each individual fruit. This boldly contrasts with the more painterly execution of the complementary green leafage, light and dark playing off of each other to dramatically depict a narrow shaft of sunlight’s impact on color, line, and shape. This painting decidedly ranks among the artist’s most successful works, certainly a consummate example of the “hanging grapes” still lifes for which he was so renowned.
Andrew J. H. Way first studied with John P. Frankenstein in Cincinnati and Alfred J. Miller in Baltimore. In 1850 Way went to Europe to study in Paris and Florence. Four years later he returned to Baltimore, where he lived until his death. In 1866, the Baltimore art collector William Walters hired Way to paint a cluster of Prince Albert grapes, currently in the collection of The Walters Art Museum.¹ When one of his still lifes won the praise of Emanuel Leutze about 1859, Way changed his focus from portraits to still lifes, garnering considerable distinction for his paintings of grapes, “rendered in great detail and with a particular brilliance of light”. Quite often he staged fruit against a dark background, heightening the contrast of form.² Exhibiting regularly at the National Academy of Design, he received a medal for excellence in still life at the Centennial Exposition of 1876. Way was one of the organizers of the Maryland Academy of Fine Arts in 1871 and the Charcoal Club of Baltimore in 1885.³
The Catawba grape, distinguished by its’ reddish rather than dark purple color, is one of the earliest Native American grapes used in wine production and played a major role in the growth and development of the American wine industry.² Around 1820, Maryland’s own John Adlum was documented as having grown the Catawba grape, and with introducing it into winemaking. This grape was the first native hybrid to produce quality wine, and throughout the 19th century, it was the most widely grown variety in the country.⁴
¹ Wikipedia; ² The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Charles R. Wilson, UNC Press, 2013; ³ National Museum of American Art; ⁴ www.marylandwine.com