The Country Parson Disturbed at Breakfast by a Couple Wishing to be Married., 1848
Oil on canvas
Signed lower right ‘Jerome Thompson pinx / 1848’. Signed and inscribed on canvas, verso: ‘Jerome Thompson / Painter / 1848’ and stamped with ‘Prepared by / Theo Kelley / rear 35 1/2 Wooster s / New York’ (in use 1846-52).
Label on verso reads: ‘The Country Parson Disturbed at Breakf[ast by a ]/ Coupl[e] Wishing to be Married’ and ‘The Parson’s wife (who, has the marriage fee) looks ….’ ‘Jerome Thomp(son)’.
Frame: In an 1850s New York or New England 5 1/2 inch gilt carved and composition antique frame, appropriate but not original to the painting. Overall size 41 ¼ x 48 inches.
The Country Parson is an excellent example of the type of painting depicting life in America which achieved great popularity and success in the years between 1835 and the outbreak of the Civil War. Jerome Thompson came from a family of painters. His father, Cephas, was a successful itinerant portrait painter and Jerome trained himself in the studio in Middleborough, Massachusetts as a portraitist in spite of his father’s opposition. The elder Thompson encouraged his oldest son, Cephas Giovanni, but thought his younger son should become a farmer. Perhaps because of severe opposition, Jerome became the best known and best regarded of the Thompson painters. At age seventeen, he left home to follow a career as an itinerant portraitist. After four years, he settled in New York City where he had considerable success.
By 1844 he had changed his directory listing from ‘portrait painter’ to ‘artist’. This change coincided with his entry into genre painting. In a letter to the American Art Union dated September 5, 1848, Thompson wrote: ‘I herewith send a picture for sale – it is a composition called going to the ‘Squires to be Married” and for which I ask $150 – this is the second time I have ever offered a picture to the American Art Union.’ This letter clearly refers to The Country Parson which has long been lost to scholarship. Lee Edwards in her two articles on Thompson for the ‘American Art Journal’ writes that this painting ‘has long since disappeared.’ The reemergence of this painting allows not only a look at Thompson’s earliest genre work, but is a great document of the life in small town New York State in the late 1840s. The breakfast table, furniture, decorative arts, and arrangement of objects give an insight into the use of objects in a household of the time. The story telling nature of the painting is easily read as a narrative that can be elaborated by the viewer.
The painting was long in the collection of the Vaughn family of Maine in their country house, ‘Hamilton House’ (now owned by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities), and appears in the 1929 inventory of the Doll’s House as well as in early photographs.
This type of ‘Life in America’ painting is rarely available in the art market, since most of the interesting works are already in a few permanent collections. Genre paintings by Thompson are in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, the Berkshire Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Evansville Museum of Arts.