While leafing through Dutch New York: the Roots of Hudson Valley Culture, I discovered the artist John Quidor (See a previous blog post on the book itself).
Many historic and literary types likely have seen reproductions of Quidor’s paintings inspired by Washington Irving’s two more popular short stories, Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, in various American literature compilations and studies.
Such devotees of culture and the arts may have never given much thought to the artist behind these paintings. I know that I didn’t. I only saw the paintings as evidence of the past popularity of Washington Irving.
John Quidor’s surviving oeuvre consists of thirty-five canvas paintings, mostly depicting episodes drawn from the works of Washington Irving. Two of his paintings were inspired by an Irving tale from A History of New York. The story itself was set in Communipaw, a former Dutch settlement and a neighborhood in the present-day Jersey City. Those paintings are Embarkation from Communipaw (1861) and Voyage to Hell Gate from Communipaw (1861).
Communipaw was considered a stronghold of Dutch culture and heritage well into the nineteenth century. Washington Irving accompanied future President Martin Van Buren on a visit to the then village.
Both Quidor’s Communipaw paintings depict Dutch settlers leaving New Jersey for the Long Island Sound, in the hope of separating themselves from the incoming English colonists and maintaining a undiluted Dutch identity.
In his book The Eccentrics and Other American Visionary Painters, art historian Abraham Davidson described Embarkation from Communipaw (1861) as the beginning of a sea adventure, noting that all objects and persons in the painting “are engaged together in a kind of quivering all-encompassing dance, a cosmic dance as it were.”
Quidor was an unsuccessful as an artist in his own day. His works languished in obscurity until an art curator organized the first major exhibition dedicated to Quidor at the Brooklyn Museum in 1942.
John Quidor died in Jersey City on December 14, 1881.