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American School, 19th Century The Junction formed in Medford by the Meeting of the [Mystic] River, Canal, and Railroad.

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American Furniture & Decorative Arts - 2640B
Date / Time :
March 03, 2013 10:00AM


American School, 19th Century

The Junction formed in Medford by the Meeting of the [Mystic] River, Canal, and Railroad. Unsigned, titled in inscriptions below. Oil on fiberboard, 19 1/4 x 22 1/2 in., in a black-painted wood frame with gilt-brass floriform bosses in the corners. Condition: Minor retouch.

Literature: A similar painting by the same unknown artist is pictured in Sumpter Priddy, American Fancy: Exuberance in the Arts 1790-1840 (Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee Art Museum, 2004), p. 124, and is pictured in an advertisement for Marguerite Riordan, Stonington, Connecticut, in The Magazine Antiques, September 1987, p. 373.

Provenance: Descended from the original owner in the Brooks-Wheeler family of Watertown, Concord, Medford, and Winchester, Massachusetts.

Note: In the 1830s, the public imagination in the United States was captivated by motion. Canals were connecting eastern cities with Western resources, like the Erie Canal in New York and the Middlesex Canal in Massachusetts. Radiating outward from trade centers like Baltimore and Boston, the earliest railroads began to snake through rural areas, offering faster and more reliable transport for goods and passengers throughout the year. Daredevils and showmen took to the air in balloons, making headlines with their well-attended launches from public spaces like the Boston Common.

Americans observed these developments from their homes and farms, reading newspaper accounts of railroad construction and saving prints of new public figures like balloonist Charles Ferson Durant. Especially in New England, their lives were lived in the shadow of a long history. In Medford, Massachusetts, where English settlement had begun in 1630, the confluence of so many transportation innovations was especially notable. In this painting by an unknown, likely untrained artist, a handful of residents observe Medford's unique intersection of the Mystic River, the Middlesex Canal, and the Boston & Lowell Railroad, newly completed in 1835. In the distance, an aeronaut in his balloon floats above the countryside, almost certainly a reference to a well-publicized ascent by Durant from Boston Common in 1834.

A note on the back of the painting in period handwriting indicates that the houses are not strictly accurate representations but stand in for effect. Apparently quoting from prominent Medford, Massachusetts, citizen Shepherd Brooks (1835-1922), an inscription on the back of the painting reads, "West Medford view 1835 taken from Mystic River below R.R. bridge. R.R. built 1835. The canal made 1803, given up 1851. Fine houses in picture are imaginary." Indeed, the intersection between the three (river, canal, and railroad) is also slightly skewed: the intersection existed but was not quite so angular as the painting suggests.

In the lower left, a canal boat proceeds northward along the Middlesex Canal toward a lock, likely carrying raw material like cotton which was shipped into Boston for the burgeoning textile mills of Lowell. Though that route revolutionized transport between the two cities, it was limited by the seasons: frozen water in winter and muddy towpaths in spring made travel difficult. Constructed to provide year-round, reliable shipping, the Boston & Lowell Railroad inadvertently sparked the public's interest in passenger travel. The stagecoach-style cars pulled by the early locomotive in this painting appear chock-full of eager travellers, who put up with the bumpy ride of a granite-bed railway to make the journey at 60 miles per hour.

In this painting, the artist draws together a remarkable confluence of the industrial and the domestic and imbues them with great charm and enthusiasm. In overlapping the Medford transportation intersection with an anonymous set of observers and their homes, he successfully manages a delicate balance between the growing excitement of America's Industrial Revolution and the enduring beauty of New England's domestic landscape.

Estimate $20,000-30,000

Minor retouch to a few small scattered spots in sky at u.c. and a few small sparse background spots.

Note: The Shepherd Brooks Estate is an historic property at 275 Grove Street in Medford, Massachusetts. The 82-acre property is owned by the city of Medford, and managed by a trust established to preserve the property. Its principal feature is the manor house constructed in 1881 by Shepherd Brooks, a member of a prominent Medford family. The grounds are open to the public daily, and tours of the house are available during the summer.The property added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

The absence of a condition statement does not imply that the lot is in perfect condition or completely free from wear and tear, imperfections or the effects of aging. Condition requests can be obtained via email (lot inquiry button) or by telephone to the appropriate gallery location (Boston/617.350.5400 or Marlborough/508.970.3000). Any condition statement given, as a courtesy to a client, is only an opinion and should not be treated as a statement of fact. Skinner Inc. shall have no responsibility for any error or omission.


Medford, Massachusetts, Middlesex Canal, Shepherd Brooks, American School, same unknown artist, Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee Art Museum, Stonington, Marguerite Riordan, Connecticut, New England, Watertown, Winchester, United States, Erie Canal, Charles Ferson Durant, transportation innovations, Mystic River, untrained artist, R.R. bridge, passenger travel, transportation intersection, Boston and Lowell Railroad, Geography of Massachusetts, Hospitality_Recreation, Medford, Massachusetts, Medford, Oregon, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Shepherd Brooks Estate, Somerville, Massachusetts, West Medford, Winchester, Massachusetts