The man known today for Morse code and the electromagnetic telegraph, Samuel F.B. Morse, began his career as a painter. From Jan. 23 through April 18, Morse’s Gallery of the Louvre and the Art of Invention will be on display at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
There is no cost to view the exhibition.
In 1829, Morse embarked upon a three-year period of study in Paris. This culminated in the monumental painting Gallery of the Louvre, in which the artist chose masterpieces from the Louvre’s collection and depicted them as if they had been exhibited together in one of the museum’s grandest spaces.
The work brings together Morse’s artistic and scientific pursuits, revealing an adoration of the old masters as well as the artist’s Calvinist worldview and conservative cultural politics. In total, Morse included 38 of his favorite masterworks in this tightly arranged “salon-style” presentation. Gallery of the Louvre was created between 1831 and 1833 in Paris and New York and is now part of the collection of the Terra Foundation for American Art in Chicago.
“We are pleased to offer our visitors the rare opportunity to see a brilliant artistic experimentation in one of the most significant American paintings of the early nineteenth century,” said Manuela Well-Off-Man, Crystal Bridges curator.
Morse hoped Gallery of the Louvre would offer Americans a fine example for arts education, as well as stimulate art collecting and patronage. Scholars believe that Morse painted himself (at front center) in the role of teacher advising a student. The author James Fennimore Cooper, a friend of Morse, is depicted at left with his wife and daughter.
Morse showed Gallery of the Louvre as a single-painting exhibition only twice – in New York City and New Haven, Conn. – where it was praised by critics and connoisseurs but failed to capture the imagination of the public.
Crushed by the lukewarm public response, Morse soon ceased painting, moving on to his more successful experiments with the electromagnetic telegraph, and, most famously, Morse code.
After months of conservation and years of scholarly study, this work of American art reveals Morse’s fascination with the transmission of information: in both his desire to share masterworks from Europe with the American people, and his invention of Morse code.