Payne Fine Arts is proud to offer a still-life by Patty Thum, a circular oil painting of roses – yellow, white, pink and red – against a blue sky.
Louisville, Kentucky, native Patty Thum (1853-1926) was one of the most influential figures in regional art from the Victorian period through the 1920s.
She had a national audience thanks to popular lithographic reproductions of her flower paintings that appeared in newspapers and painting magazines.
She also helped determine Louisville’s artistic agenda through her writings about art, primarily as a critic for the Louisville Herald newspaper.
In addition, she was a practitioner of that popular Arts & Crafts art form pyrography, even inventing a machine for wood burning.
Thum first studied art at Vassar College, from which she graduated in 1874. Then she went to New York City to study at the Art Students League with William Merritt Chase. She returned to Louisville in the 1870s and began her art career. In the 1880s she headed back to New York briefly for study with Thomas Eakins.
She exhibited in Louisville, Cincinnati, St. Louis, New York and Chicago.
During her lifetime, her landscapes were collected, but she was primarily known as a “rose painter” and a portraitist. Her two masterpieces are in the Speed Art Museum in Louisville. “Lady of the Lilies” is a large painting that showcases Thum’s mastery of the garden landscape and the female form; the second, “Uncle Remus,” displays her accomplished handling of the portrait, in this case a stalwart African-American male who seems to have a story to tell.
Toward the end of her life, Thum looked back on the art scene and the artists she had known. Her 14-page typescript, “Artists of the Past in Kentucky,” laments the fact that the good painters of her time were no longer respected, or even known, and that many of them suffered that fate while still alive. “But who is appreciated by any general public which cares but little first or last for the makers of beauty, let them be poets of the pen or brush,” she wrote. “Sufficient to artists must be the joy they themselves have in their work.”
Thum was the subject of a landmark retrospective in 2009, “Patty Thum,” at the Howard Steamboat Museum in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and was represented in the ground-breaking exhibition “Kentucky Women Artists: 1850-2002” in 2001-2002. The catalog from the Howard show is available from the museum.
Our still-life, measuring 16 inches in diameter, is the first tondo by Thum we’ve seen. Adding to its singularity is the fact that the painting is on a concave, fabric-plaster form that resembles a picnic paper plate or bowl. We refer to this as the Chinet school. This was a popular painting surface at the turn of the 20th century; some artists felt that the concave surface gave the picture depth. Kentucky’s great late-Victorian landscape painter Carl Brenner also painted on this form.
The painting, which is in its original T.N. Lindsey frame, comes from a major Kentucky collection. Prior to that, it had been in the same family since being bought from the artist. We're dating it to 1895, give or take five years or so.
Payne Fine Arts has several other pieces by Patty Thum. Among them, a watercolor of a Kentucky landscape; a still-life painting on a photograph; drawings of Thum flower paintings for National Academy of Design exhibition catalogs; and original chromolithographs of Thum paintings. There’s even a Thanksgiving-greeting postcard she did.
For more information, go to the PFA Web site, www.paynefinearts.com.