The Georgia Museum of Art recently acquired two significant American paintings from the West Foundation Collection of Atlanta. The foundation gave Benjamin West’s Portrait of Captain Christopher Codrington Bethell (1769) and John Linton Chapman’s Via Appia (1867) to the museum in honor of GMOA director William U. Eiland and in anticipation of the museum’s reopening this winter.
“Both paintings, important additions to the museum’s already strong collection of American art, will be on display in the new permanent collection galleries when GMOA reopens on Jan. 29,” said Paul Manoguerra, curator of American art at GMOA. “We are grateful to the West Foundation for giving these two excellent paintings in celebration of the new galleries and the work of our director.”
Since March 2009, GMOA has been undergoing a $20 million renovation and expansion that will triple its existing gallery space and add enlarged collection storage, a sculpture garden and study centers for research in the humanities. The new gallery wing will display works from the museum’s permanent collection, which currently includes more than 8,000 objects.
A native of Springfield, Pa., West was appointed historical painter for King George III in 1772 around the same time that he executed the portrait of Bethell (1728-1797). While working in London, West became a founding member of the Royal Academy in England, serving as its president from 1792-1820. He also taught other important American artists, including Samuel F.B. Morse, Washington Allston, John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart and John Trumbull, among others. The sitter, Bethell, married in July 1768, just before his 40th birthday, and this portrait was likely commissioned in celebration of that event. Bethell’s great-grandfather was among the first individuals to settle in the sugar-producing colony of Barbados in the West Indies, and his grandfather and great uncle both held public office there. The portrait is the earliest American painting in the museum’s collection
Born in Washington, D.C., but a longtime resident of Italy, American artist John Linton Chapman (1839-1905) painted the Via Appia, the ancient section of the great Roman road that led to Southern Italy, several times over the course of his career. In this version, Chapman shows the view along the ancient road looking back toward the city of Rome. The dome of St. Peter’s, the most visible landmark for any tourist approaching the city, stands at the distant horizon in Chapman’s image. Via Appia served as a keystone in the museum’s award-winning 2004 exhibition Classic Ground: Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Painting and the Italian Encounter and graces the cover of it catalogue.
“As pleased as I am that these works join the museum’s collection in my honor, I am excited that they will also be immediately available to our audiences for their study and enjoyment when we open,” said William U. Eiland, GMOA director. “I am grateful to the West Foundation’s principals, Charles and Marjorie West, for their kindness to me, to the museum and to generations of students and audiences.”