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A Nineteenth-Century Painter of Outdoor Life
Among the finest of the prints published by Currier & Ives and their contemporaries were reproductions of paintings done by leading artists of the period. Because these artists pictured interesting phases of American life during the years of development and expansion that marked the nineteenth century, both prints and paintings are in favor today, both for their historic importance and their artistic value.
Currier & Ives made a practice of commissioning artists for special work. Several of them were distinguished in their fields. One at least was not overanxious to have his paintings reproduced as prints. He was Arthur FitzWilliam Tait (1819-1905), painter of sporting and outdoor life. He was born near Liverpool, England, and at the age of fifteen entered the Royal Institute in Manchester. Literally working his way, he was employed by a firm of art dealers by day and at night studied at the Royal Institute by special arrangement.
Tait arrived in New York as a trained artist in 1850. Within three years, he was an associate of the National Academy of Design and by 1858 was admitted to full membership. Between 1852 and 1860, he exhibited over forty canvases there, one of them being "Trappers At Fault, Looking For The Trail" (Illustration 110). Signed and dated "New York, 1852," it shows a prairie landscape.
All of these paintings portrayed some form of outdoor life. The subjects ranged from deer and bear hunting and trout fishing to such homely scenes as maple sugaring in the forest. It is said that Tait's love of nature and the outdoor scene was the driving force that brought him to this country of vast distances where there was ample subject matter for his artistry.
Unlike other painters whose work was reproduced by Currier & Ives, Tait was never in their employ nor was he too easy to get along with. According to the late Harry T. Peters, Tait's correspondence with this firm showed that he was most critical of the way in which his pictures were reproduced and did not much approve of their being reproduced in the first place.
Nevertheless, a good number of them were so done and with such care that today they rank among the best of the Currier & Ives prints. They are mostly in the large-folio size and sold for what was then a good price-a dollar and a half to three dollars. In 1928, one of the rarest of these prints "Life of a Hunter, `A Tight Fix,' " sold at auction for the record price of three thousand dollars. Other Tait paintings later published as prints include: "Snowed Up, Ruffed Grouse in Winter" which is one of the best of his pictures; "American Forest Scene, Maple Sugaring," dramatizing one of the simple country pleasures of the last century; and "Brook Trout Fishing, `An Anxious Moment.'"