Seymour Joseph Guy (1824-1910)
Little Girl in White Dress with Parrot,1886
signed and dated "SJ Guy 1886" upper right
oil on canvas, 40 by 35 1/2 in.
Seymour Joseph Guy was born in 1824 in Greenwich, England, to an innkeeper and commercial landowner and his wife. Guy was educated in nearby schools and was drawn to sketching and art at an early age. Against the wishes of his guardian, Guy found work as a sign painter in order to afford his art materials. He likely studied with Thomas Buttersworth, the marine painter, in the mid-1830s. By 1839 Guy had taken an apprenticeship with an oil and color maker, where he learned the technical underpinnings of paint that would go on to define his career. He studied avidly at the British Museum and in the studio of Ambrosini Jerôme (1810-1883).
Guy married in 1852, and in 1854 he and his family moved to New York to further pursue his art career. His family would go on to include nine children, who frequently served as his models and as inspiration for playful genre paintings. Guy set up in Brooklyn and made a circle of artist friends. By 1863, he established himself in the Tenth Street Studio Building in Manhattan. The building also housed the studios of Sanford Robinson Gifford, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, and William Merritt Chase over the course of Guy’s forty-seven-year tenure in his studio.
Guy achieved success over the course of his American career and was known for the technique, charm, and precision he brought to each of his canvases. At the end of his career, he was a popular mentor for younger artists and was a much-loved member of the Century Association in New York.
This painting presents a clever scene, in which a surprised young girl appears interrupted in the middle of an opulent setting. An exotic African grey parrot perches on the back of a chair, holding a shuttlecock, and a “battledore” or badminton racquet lies on the floor.
Guy depicts the colors of the oriental carpet, with its texture and decorative lines flattened for perspective, and shows the tassels flipped over giving the sense of an interrupted, active scene. The cherubic young girl dressed in white leads the viewer to wonder what event has taken place. Not just a charming genre scene, this painting is also a symbol of status, luxury, and nineteenth century opulence by a classic American artist.
Provenance: Private Collection, Vermont
Literature: Bruce Weber, “Seymour Joseph Guy: 'Little Master' of American genre painting,” The Magazine Antiques, November 2009.
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