Winter with Francis Guy

The year was 1760 when Francis Guy was born in Lorton, near Keswick, England. He grew up and was involved in his family’s silk dyer business .

Destiny had other plans.

The family moved to the United States in 1795, where Francis had every intention of continuing in the silk dyer profession. He lived for a short time in New York before moving to Baltimore around 1798. Life was unfolding in a predictable way until fire demolished his business in 1799.

Francis Guy – Winter Scene in Brooklyn (Public Domain)

There are moments that define our lives and set us on an alternative course. For Francis, 1799 was pivotal. His business destroyed, he decided on a dramatic career change from being a silk dyer to a painter. I believe this was a leap of faith, given he had no formal art education. Ever resourceful, he was able to learn by himself with the help of Robert Gilmor, one of Baltimore’s early art collectors.

Francis is known for portraying Baltimore’s daily life and everyday interactions. He continued this type of painting when he moved to Brooklyn in 1817.

Francis painted two scenes of downtown Brooklyn. These winter paintings are brilliant views of an early 19th-century Brooklyn captured from his studio window on Front street. The detail is stunning. It seems as if a viewer could step back in time simply by entering the painting.

While he lived in Brooklyn, Francis organized an ambitious exhibition for his work. Unfortunately, he died in 1820 before the exhibition closed.

Francis Guy – Winter Scene in Brooklyn (Public Domain)

Today, Francis is acknowledged as one of America’s earliest and most important landscape artist.

10 Comments »

  1. His life was all planed, so to speak, when disaster turned it all around. However, we would probably never have heard of him and his silk business, but we have the privilege of knowing his art. He painted the part of his history. It shows, so well, the scenes that define his community, the city streets and the snow filled yards.. They are delightful!

    • How very insightful, Frances. I agree – we would never have known him in his first career of silk. Life has a interesting way of evolving. What is consider a tragedy today, is a blessing tomorrow. Francis Guy reminded me to keep open to possibilities, even when circumstances look bleak.

  2. Oh I agree, his life change is interesting and inspiring. Also, who would have guessed these were paintings of Brooklyn?! I noticed the communal woodpile and pump, so important for survival. This is another artist who captures the gloomy days of winter. Your first selection shows a lively social scene while the second one doesn’t, somehow echoing our present dilemma.

    • I felt the same thing – an echo from the past. How I enjoy reading about artists and how they captured their time. As our “solitude” deepens, I am becoming more convinced that our time must be used for creative purposes, in whatever form – dancing, walking, reflecting, reading, studying, drawing, painting, poetry. You will like this quote from the book I’m reading.: For when life makes it impossible for a man to pursue his dreams, he will connive to pursue them anyway.” Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow

  3. The colorful, yet still sepia, tone is somehow incredibly pleasing to view. In the first picture . . . love the fellow who took the tumble on the ice! I’m imagining the look on the dog’s face!

    Thank you for bringing this brilliant artist to my attention. I wonder if he ever tie-dyed his silks????

    Virtual hugs,

    Judie

    • What I found most interesting was how Francis Guy embraced a dramatic career change in mid life. How did he come to this decision? It was a leap of faith, so there much have been a desire to become a painter. And then there is the self-confidence to learn on his own. When we look at a painting, we see only the story before us – well actually there are many stories in this painting. And in these narratives, we can imagine the artist’s story. I am enjoying learning about artists that I have never heard of before.

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