Arts & Culture


The Cincinnati Story

Cincinnati Art Museum Teacher Resource. The Cincinnati Story provides background on the history of Cincinnati, supplemented by images of key figures, art movements, and locations of the Queen City.

Nicholas Longworth was Cincinnati’s first millionaire. A successful banker, lawyer and winemaker (whose vineyards sat atop Mt. Adams), Longworth was also an abolitionist and strong supporter of local art. His former home is now the Taft Museum of Art. What does his facial expression convey to the viewer?
One of Longworth’s beneficiaries was Cincinnati artist, Robert S. Duncanson, the first prominent African American artist in the U.S. Longworth commissioned Duncanson to create a series of murals at his home (which can still be seen today at the Taft Museum of Art). Duncanson’s artwork highlighted the beauty and opportunity of the American landscape. Do you see any symbols of opportunity in this painting? This portion of the Little Miami River can still be seen at John Bryan State Park near Yellow Springs, OH.
One of Cincinnati’s most well-known and beloved artists, Frank Duveneck, was born in Covington, KY to German immigrants. He studied abroad in Munich, returning to the US with a dark palette popular in northern Europe and a tendency toward loose, impressionist-style brushstrokes. Duveneck taught at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, then adjoining the Cincinnati Art Museum. His studio comprised the third floor of the Art Museum. Zoom in to look at the details of his brushstrokes.
Henry L. Fry and his son, William Henry Fry, started a furniture-carving business in Cincinnati in the mid-19th century. The Frys became instrumental in Cincinnati’s status as a center for art-carved furniture as they began teaching their craft to Cincinnatians (many of whom were women). Nicholas Longworth’s son, Joseph Longworth commissioned the Frys to carve the interior of his East Walnut Hills home, and later for his daughter, Maria’s home. Maria and many of her friends began taking woodcarving classes from the Frys.
Benn Pitman was a teacher of woodcarving at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. He was the designer of this bedstead, but his wife, Agnes Nourse Pitman did the carving. Her sister, Elizabeth Nourse painted the panels. Many of Pitman’s students were women, fostering the role of women in the decorative arts which extended into art pottery (such as Rookwood Pottery).
As one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, Cincinnati attracted a number of craftsmen and artisans seeking job opportunities. In the years prior to 1850, Cincinnati boasted the largest concentration of silversmiths, jewelers, watch and clockmakers in the Midwest. Increased wealth in the United States created a demand for expensive items such as silver, discovery of gold and silver deposits in the American West intensified this interest.
In August 1879, McLaughlin imagined creating the largest underglaze decorated vase in America. Popular opinion was that “bigger was better,” but it was likely her fierce rivalry with Maria Longworth Nichols Storer that influenced her undertaking. The “Ali Baba” vase is the product of this endeavor.
The Rookwood Pottery Company was founded by Mary Louise McLaughlin’s rival, Maria Longworth Nichols Storer (granddaughter of Nicholas Longworth, daughter of Joseph Longworth) in 1880. Rookwood Pottery became an international sensation, winning many awards. It is still extremely popular amongst art pottery collectors. Maria had a strong interest in Japanese motifs, hiring a variety of decorators from Japan and encouraging designs such as the cranes seen here, a popular symbol in Japanese art. The decorator, Albert Robert Velentien was employed by Rookwood for 24 years, serving as the company’s head decorator for a time.
In 1860, wealthy Cincinnati business partners, Tyler Davidson and Henry Probasco decided to present the citizens of Cincinnati with a fountain as a token of gratitude for their success. Upon Davidson’s death in 1865, Probasco traveled to Europe in search of a designer. He was shown drawings by August Von Kreling of a fountain depicting people in everyday activities, simply enjoying the many attributes of water. On October 6, 1871 the fountain was dedicated. It is often referred to as the “Genius of Waters.”
Although the fountain is barely visible in this painting, its importance as a gathering place for Cincinnatians can be felt. The work was commissioned in 1892, by Cincinnati retailer Mabley & Carew Department Store, for their store window. The painting shows the faces of a crowd watching an annual pantomime show organized by Mabley & Carew. These performances, often based on fairy tales, included song, dance and comedic elements for families to enjoy together.
Reuben Springer gave generously to cultural institutions in Cincinnati such as the Cincinnati Art Museum. However, his most notable contribution to Cincinnati was the donation of the majority of funds necessary to create Cincinnati’s Music Hall (which opened in 1878). Preston Powers was the son of the notable sculptor, Hiram Powers.
William Henry Elder became the second Archbishop of Cincinnati (1883-1904), instituting many policies for fiscal accountability, bringing the diocese out of debt. Elder High School in Cincinnati is named for him. This portrait was painted by Thomas Eakins, one of the most influential portrait painters and teachers of the time. He was known for his frank and honest portraits, staying true to anatomical form. Which of the Archbishop’s features are most realistic?
Located in the nearby neighborhood of Mt. Adams, the Church of the Immaculata has been a staple of the Cincinnati skyline since 1859. Built to serve the German Catholic immigrant population in Cincinnati, it has since become a site of pilgrimage on Good Friday as parishioners “pray the steps” leading up the hillside to the church.
This painting depicts the Art Museum within its lush Eden Park setting in the early 20th century. The original building can be seen beyond what is now Seasongood Pavilion. The original Cincinnati streetcar can be seen on its track flanking the museum grounds.
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