James Gale Tyler (1855 – 1931), American
“Becalmed”, undated – probably about 1910
oil on canvas, 13 in. x 20 in.
(framed dimensions: 20 in. x 27 ¼ in.)
signed lower right: “JAMES G. TYLER”
* inscribed on upper stretcher reverse with the title “Becalmed” along with the name and address of a likely former owner of the painting, Mr. George Whitefield Betts, Jr. of Brayton Street, Englewood, New Jersey. Mr Betts (1871-1959) was a prominent maritime sttorney based out of New York and a Princeton graduate. Mr Betts’ father, George Whitefield Betts, Sr., was a “manufacturer of paints, varnishes, brushes and artists’ materials” and director of the F.W. Devoe Company (Who’s Who In New York, 1914). James Gale Tyler often used F.W. Devoe artist supplies. Stretcher also bears Christies stamp.
A very nice example of this well-known marine painter’s work. Judging from its fine coloration and brushwork, and comparing it to similar, dated works, I would say this painting was executed about 1910, when the artist’s style had matured, and he was wont to imbue his paintings with more color and mood. The scene is quieter than many of Tyler’s marines with their roiling waves and seagoing vessels. It appears that bright sunlight has broken through a mostly cloudy sky on a windless day, illuminating a coastal inlet and a schooner with tenders tied up alongside. Another vessel lies just behind the schooner and beyond that the opposite shore and beach. The rocky foreground and dory lend a sense of scale and space. While the painting’s nameplate suggests the schooner is becalmed, it appears to me to be at anchor and possibly drying sails, with several active crew members on deck.
While Tyler may be considered an academic marine painter, some of his better paintings also display elements of Impressionism in their high color key, use of broken color, loose brushwork and impasto, and this painting has all of those. The artist did not dash this painting out quickly – it appears he spent some time at the easel. The sky is wonderfully painted in layers of blues, pinks and grays with a brush that is alive and moving in various directions. The rocky shoreline in the foreground is laid in loosely with wet, buttery paint in a delightful medley of colors – oranges, reds, ochers, blues and greens. The viewer’s eye is drawn to the dramatically lit and colored schooner. The ship is beautifully rendered, showing fine detail in the hull, the masts, the rigging and the on-board tender. At the same time, the sails are painted with bold slabs of paint from the bristle brush, also in a variety of colors – creams and light shades of pink and yellow. The schooner’s hull and the tenders bring a pop of color with vivid oranges, greens and even violet.
The painting is also well composed and pleasingly balanced.
James Gale Tyler was born in Oswego, New York in 1855. He began to paint about 1870 and later went to New York City where he studied for a few months with the marine painter A. Cary Smith. However, Tyler is largely considered to be self-taught. He was interested in marine art from the start and no aspect of maritime life escaped Tyler’s attention. In addition to painting all types of boats – from old sloops to clipper ships – he painted a variety of seamen, coastal scenes and seascapes. Ultimately, he became one of the most notable marine painters and illustrators of his day, often exhibiting alongside such other marine painters as William Trost Richards, Frank Knox Morton Rehn and James Craig Nicholl.
From 1900 to 1930, Tyler traveled each year to Newport, Rhode Island, where he painted the annual America’s Cup Race. Some of these paintings were commissioned while the others were widely exhibited and critically acclaimed. The artist received a number of important commissions in his lifetime, such as from James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald (“Abandoning the Jeanette”) and from William Astor who saw one of his paintings in a framer’s window. He sold his painting “The Raging Main” to Garret Hobart, Vice President of the United States from 1897-1899.
He also supplemented his income through magazines, being a regular contributing writer and illustrator for some of the major publications of the time such as Harper’s, Century, Literary Digest and Truth. Tyler maintained studios in New York City (1882-1899), Greenwich, Connecticut (1870s on) and Providence, Rhode Island (from the mid-1880s-).
In his personal life, in 1885 Tyler married Ida M. Jourdan in Goshen, New York. The couple had a daughter, Miss Viola G. Tyler.
Having lived most of his life in Greenwich, Connecticut, Tyler moved to Pelham Manor, New York in 1930. The artist died in January, 1931 at the age of 65, at home, of heart disease, after an illness of 3 months. His wife predeceased him by one month.
Tyler was a member of the Artists Fund Society, the Salmagundi Club, the Brooklyn Art Club,the Greenwich Society of Artists, the New York Artists Fund and the Stamford, Connecticut Historical Society.
He exhibited at the National Academy of Design, the Providence Art Club, the Boston Art Club, the Brooklyn Art Association, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago (“Norman’s Woe”), the Fifth Avenue Art Galleries (solo show), Frederick Keppel & Co., New York City, and the New York Public Library (1920, “The Mayflower”, later acquired by the Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C.).
His work is in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History, United States Naval Academy, Yale University Art Gallery, the New York Historical Society in New York City, the former Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut, the Omaha Museum of Art, the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia, the Peabody-Essex Museum, the Butler Institute of American Art, the Huntington Museum of Art, the Florence Griswold Museum, Carolina Art Association Gibbes Museum of Art, Vassar College Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Everson Museum of Art of Syracuse and Onondaga County, Nantucket Historical Association, Boston College Charles S. and Isabella V. McMullen Museum, Carnegie Institute Museum of Art and the Tokyo Museum.
The painting has been relined and there are scattered areas of inpainting: a ½ in x ¾ in. area in the mainsails of the 2 ships (this tends to fit in, as the schooner Gale painted seems to carry a lot of weathered and patched canvas), in the lower left and lower right areas of the water, in the water to the right of the beached dory and in the upper left sky. There is some slight and very stable craquelure in the thicker areas of impasto in the center clouds and upper left clouds. There is a very small (1/4 in.) and very shallow vertical depression in the upper left sky area which is negligible. The painting appears clean and the colors are fresh and vibrant and, on the whole, it is a pleasure viewing this painting. The frame is later and of fine quality, carved and gilt with egg and dart motif, linen liner and attached name and title plate (year of death 1933 is inaccurate, 1931 correct).
James Gale Tyler, "Becalmed", oil on canvas, about 1910