Edward Harrison May (American, 1824-1887)
Oil on canvas.
78 x 51.5 in.; Framed in its original Frame (98 x 73 x 7 in.)
The career and work of Edward Harrison May is illustrative of the dynamic relationship between a nascent American school of art and the academies and ateliers of Paris during the later nineteenth century. May studied at the National Academy and with Daniel Huntington in New York; he focused on portraiture. After relocating to Paris in 1851 and entering the studio of Thomas Couture, he began producing historical and genre subjects. As with many American artists of the period, May’s time in Paris inspired decisive changes in his style and subjects. On the whole, it stimulated the creation of technically advanced and thematically sophisticated works. Recognized and celebrated in France and America, May was one of the first Americans to win a medal at a Paris Salon (1855); he was elected as a National Academician in 1878. May was recognized as a leader of the American artistic community in Paris, which included Sargent, Homer, and Cassatt. Dating from May’s most productive and innovative period, Jewish Captives at Babylon was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1863. The large painting is unique among May’s varied oeuvre: one of the few works based on Biblical history and his only known work based on an Old Testament event. The graceful posing, fluid treatment of drapery, rich, warm palette, outline and contrast of the figures against the background, and the deft use of angular, serpentine, and pyramidal lines, make Jewish Captives at Babylon among his most technically ambitious and aesthetically elegant works.