Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (1819-1905) Wide Awake, Raquette Lake, 1879 signed and dated "A.F. Tait-N.A. 79" lower right oil on canvas, 26 1/4 by 22 1/2 in.
Depicting two alert deer at Raquette Lake in the Adirondacks, Tait finished this work at the YMCA on
23rd Street on January 8th, 1879. He sent it to the Utica Exhibition in New York on January 13, 1879, where it sold for $225.00.
Known as one of America’s earliest sporting artists, Arthur Fitzgerald Tait was born in Liverpool, England, in 1819. From an early age he was interested in both art and the outdoors. Tait worked for the firm of Thomas Agnew, a famous art dealer and lithographer in Manchester, trained in lithography and drawing, and explored the open land around the city. However, many of the most beautiful vistas and hunting grounds were private and off-limits. While in the employ of the art firm, Tait was exposed to the works of Edwin Landseer (1802-1873), Richard Ansdell (1818-1885), and John Frederick Herring (1815-1907), among others.
In Liverpool, beginning in 1843, Tait spent time with fellow artist George Catlin (1796-1872), which may have whetted the young artist’s appetite to explore life in America. Catlin, who was twenty-three years older than Tait, had spent much of the previous decade living in the American West chronicling the life of American natives through his careful drawings and sketches of their clothing, weapons, and ceremonies. There is little doubt that Catlin’s stories would have captivated the young and talented Tait.
In 1850, Tait boarded a boat with his wife and came to America. By 1852 Tait was pursuing his interests in wildlife and hunting, based on the subject matter of his works. He worked from a studio in New York City, but spent a great deal of time on Long Lake in the Adirondack region, where he acquired skills as an angler, hunter, and keen observer of wildlife. These skills were as important for Tait’s art as his fine ability with brush and pigment, since they gave
an authenticity to his portrayals of outdoor life which was virtually unrivalled at the time. His relative freedom to paint wherever he wanted in the vast public lands of New York was obviously liberating to the artist, who had felt confined by the strict laws governing trespassing and hunting on private property in England.
With this liberation and experience of the outdoors, Tait’s artistic career flourished. In 1852, only two years after
Tait arrived in New York, Nathaniel Currier (1813-1888) and James Merritt Ives (1824-1895) purchased the first
of many works from the budding artist. In that same year, Tait was asked to hang a half-dozen works at the National Academy of Design’s annual exhibition. By 1854 he had achieved an associate membership and four years later he became a full member. Editions of Tait’s works for Currier and Ives were reproduced by the thousands and formed some of America’s most iconic images of the Victorian era. The exceptionally popular American Field Sports series showcased Tait’s abilities as an upland bird and dog painter and included the four lithographs A Chance for Both Barrels, Flushed, On a Point, and Retrieving. These hunting scenes, along with his camping and woodland scenes, resonated with the public as an integral part of the American experience and continue to inform us of our history as a nation. Seminal works by Tait, such as An Anxious Moment, A Tight Fix, and Trappers at Fault: Looking for the Trail, have become embedded as part of our heritage and serve as signposts along our path as a nation.
Today Tait’s wilderness, frontier, and wildlife scenes hang in some of the most prominent museums and private collections, including the permanent collections of the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; the Adirondack Museum, Blue Mountain Lake, New
York; the American Museum of Western Art, Denver, Colorado; the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Denver Art Museum, Colorado; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Museum of Racing, Saratoga Springs, New York; the Shelburne Museum, Vermont; the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut; the Tate Gallery, London; and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, among others.
Wide Awake, Raquette Lake relates directly to On the ‘Qui Vive’ Raquette Lake, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Both display alert deer on the shores of Raquette Lake in the Adirondacks, where Tait lived for a time and often painted.
Provenance: Private Collection, Morristown, New Jersey Copley Fine Art Auctions, July 26, 2006, lot 184
Private Collection, New Jersey
Literature: A.F. Tait: Artist in the Adirondacks, The Adirondack Museum, Blue Mountain Lake, NY, 1974.
Warder H. Cadbury, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait: Artist in the Adirondacks, Newark, DE, 1986.
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