Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Bear in William Holbrook Beard

I just discovered the work of William Holbrook Beard (American, 1824-1900). You may know him from this painting, which is commonly mistitled as The Teddy Bear's Picnic. It's actually called Wall Street Jubilee, or The Bears of Wall Street Celebrating a Drop in the Stock Market.



The painting hung for a long time in The Strangers Club * in New York City.

Holbrook Beard painted animals his whole life. He liked bears and monkeys, and I can't decide if the monkeys are racist creepy monkeys or if he, like Donald Roller Wilson, has just thought long and hard about how humanity stacks up against our furry cousins. It's interesting to think of the two of them working a century apart from each other. Here's a great Donald Roller Wilson painting.



The title is no less than this, capitals and all: COOKIE AT SIXTEEN YEARS OF AGE, HOLDING JANE, (TOO TENSE TO TAKE THE BOTTLE), ALONG WITH NAUGHTY BETTY AT FOUR YEARS OF AGE, (TORMENTING JANE), WITH JANE JUST HAVING COME FROM A REGRETTABLE SITUATION IN A TRAILER PARK OUTSIDE THE CITY LIMITS OF PONCA CITY, OKLAHOMA. WITH ALL THREE GIRLS TOGETHER, NOW, IN THE VERY CENTER OF BRENDA'S NUT FARM CLOSE TO LITTLE ROCK, (NEAR ENOUGH THE FATHER'S HOUSE SO THAT HE COULD SEE THEM FROM HIS ROOM IN THE TOWER).

But back to Holbrook Beard. He's fascinating. And it's interesting to bear in mind that this is how he pictured himself.



Self Portrait in the 10th Street Studio

There's all this evocative stuff in his work: there's mythology, mortality, Darwinism, comedy, cuteness, nobility, classicism- it's a huge, weird range. There is an irritating picture of a noble stag and a great picture of death with a tiger. His body of work is so odd and varied that I think it's best to just show the paintings. I've added dates when I have them.

Susannah and the Elders 1865.



So You Wanna Get Married, Eh'? 1886



The Runaway Match , 1877



Divorce




The Bulls and Bears in the Market



Fox Hunters Dream 1859



The Disputed Way, 1889



Bears in the Watermelon Patch 1871



The Witches Convention 1876



Discovery of Adam , 1891



Scientists at Work, 1894



For What was I Created, 1886



Bear and Cubs 1864



Begging for Apples 1898



School Rules



Monk's Soliloquy (!?!?!)



Pigs is So Greedy



The Lost Balloon (This cracks me up. It's like he decided those boring Hudson River School painters needed a little spicing up.)



This is my favorite. The Power of Death.



And because it's good to know that bad art happens to the best of us, The Majestic Stag



This is William Holbrook Beard's grave, at Greenwood Cemetery. Please, somebody, if I die tomorrow, I want one of these.





*The Stranger's Club. How great is that? I've been researching it a little online and it turns out that there were also Stranger's Clubs in the Panama Canal and in Buenos Aires. Edgar Wallace mentions it in a book called The Shadow Man, which provides a neat description of the club.


"That building, sir? Oh, that's the Strangers Club. It used to be the Banbury Club, for hunting people, but it didn't pay, and then a foreign gentleman opened it as a club of some kind. I don't know what they are, but they have scientific lectures every week--they've got a wonderful hall downstairs, and I believe the cooking's very good."

Later in the book, a Deputy Chief Constable says this:

"I happen to know all about the Strangers Club. It is extraordinarily well conducted and every Thursday there is a series of lectures in the basement lecture hall; they have been given by some of the greatest scientists in this country. Dr. Jansen has an international reputation--"

There's also this:

"Evidently the servants at the Strangers Club, though they might be hand-picked for some qualities, were not chosen either or their good manners or their finesse."

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Samantha,

I too began researching William Beard after my mom passed away this spring, and I ended up with my favorite print of hers, "The Bear Dance" (which is also called, as you know, "Wall Street Jubilee").

What you may not know is that poor ole William spent 102 years at his final resting place in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn in an unmarked grave. Sad.

The headstone and bronze bear statue that now adorn his grave were placed there in Oct. 2002.

I've attached two links (PDF's) regarding the sculpture who made and donated the bear, along with details of the ceremony.

Enjoy!
Dave W. - Rockaway, NJ

http://www.green-wood.com/pdf/spring2002.pdf
http://www.green-wood.com/pdf/spring2003.pdf

Sam Simpson said...

Man-those links are great! Thanks, Dave W! (Sorry it took me so long to respond- I've had no internet access...)

John Johnson said...

Samantha,

Interesting you should mention the Stag as "bad art". Here is a story on that particular painting: A couple in Massachusetts had a conversation about collecting art because they were addicted to picking at yard sales and their small single BR apartment was jam-packed with furniture and accessories. They couldn't turn down the great deals they discovered at New England yard sales, flea markets and auctions. The husband suggested art - and the wife said "No way, we don't know anything about art." So they agreed to do research and hopefully stumble upon a subject, some type of small art collectible or a group of artists that they would recognize when they saw it. Two weeks passed and they found themselves at a yard sale in Ashland, MA. The year was 1989. The sale was loaded with people all looking for the early deals. The husband saw a painting that was old and dirty and had no signature. He asked the owner in the garage, "how much"? The owner offered it for $20.00. The husband countered with $10.00 and it was accepted. It hardly fit in their hatchback and so they dropped it off at a friend's home while they explored another antique show. Three months passed and curiosity got the best of them when they saw a faded name penciled on the back of one of the stretchers, yet no signature. So they called two prominent art galleries in Boston only to be turned down by both of them as not having time for a "picker's worthless wares". But one of the galleries referred them to an auctioneer in Cambridge, so they called and were invited down to inquire. The auctioneer's name was Jim Bakker. He met the husband and asked what the painting was of and what the name was on the stretcher. The husband said "W.H. Beard" but had no confidence as the painting was not signed. Mr. Bakker took off the paper from the painting which was resting sideways against the wall and said "Yes, that's one of his". The husband said - "but it's not signed." Bakker said "Yes it is, it's camouflaged in the leaves - right there." He ushered the husband over to his desk and said "This would go nice in my upcoming auction as he opened up the centerfold of the magazine "Antiques" which advertised his upcoming auction. "I'll make some calls and am sure I can garner some interest", he said. The husband looked at him and said - "How does this work?" Bakker said, "I'll insure it and hold it if you want to offer it and if it doesn't sell, then there's no pain for either of us." The husband said, "What do you think it will bring?" Bakker replied "5 or 10". The husband replied back, "5 or 10 what?" Bakker responded with "thousand". So they insured the painting for $7500.00 and placed it in the upcoming auction. It was to be held at the Royal Sonesta hotel 30 days from then. The painting went to a museum for $5,000 and Sam, to me that is the best piece of bad art my wife and I ever purchased for $10.00. My wife and I picked for 15 years (before the kids came along) and loved every minute of it. We had other finds that introduced us to dealers who serviced celebrities including Goldie Hawn, Oprah and others. A duck press got us introduced to Julia Child. But this piece of "bad art" of W.H. Beard's was one of the coolest finds we ever came across for the price of $10.00."

Sam Simpson said...

Wow- what a great story! Congratulations!

Emma Y said...

Thank you so much for this blog post. I am writin a book about art at the moment and it has been difficult to find much about Beard so this has been very useful. Emma, Newcastle upon Tyne, England