extensive entry on Gilbert Munger (1837-1903) by J.
Gray Sweeney in American Painting at the Tweed Museum of Art
outlines the fascinating story of this artist, whose work was
the subject of a Tweed Museum exhibition and publication in 2003.
In coordination with the Gilbert Munger exhibition and
publication, the Tweed Museum of Art web site hosts The
Munger Site, produced by Michael Schroeder. A Western topographical
art enthusiast and self-described "amateur art sleuth," Mr. Schroeder has assembled a comprehensive database of known Munger
paintings and a detailed historical chronology of Munger's
activities and whereabouts.
Born in North Madison, Connecticut, Munger was apprenticed
at age 13 to a natural history engraver in Washington, D.C., and soon after was engaged by the
Smithsonian Institution to engrave specimens from expeditions and railroad surveys in the western
During the Civil War, Munger was a field engineer with the Union
Army, and also made contributions in the area of map-making lithography, eventually
achieving the rank of major. Though successful at these occupations, Munger's intention was to
become a landscape painter, and he did so through self-directed study of artworks by
leading landscapists like John Kensett, Alfred Bierstadt and Asher B. Durand. Munger captured
the then-exotic grandeur of the far western U.S. in many paintings. These and other landscape subjects were wildly popular in Europe, and thus Munger lived and painted
in England, Scotland, Germany, Spain, Italy and France for the next twenty years. Munger
favored the "plein air"
style and philosophy of the French Barbizon painters, and in his
work one can see stylistic traces of Corot, Rousseau, and Daubigny.
"Rub out the signature of Gilbert Munger, an American painter,
still young, we believe, from any one of his landscapes, and it would pass for a work of
that same school which glorifies the forest scenery of Fontainebleau. Corrot, in his deeper
and firmer mood, is reproduced, with no slavish effort of dull mechanical imitation,
but with the appreciative reverence of an original hand, by this same Mr. Munger."
(London Daily Telegraph, 1886)
Munger's fame and sales grew, and he was decorated
with medals from European royalty and artistic societies. In return visits to the U.S., Munger often
visited his brothers, who had moved to St. Paul and Duluth, Minnesota. Many of his works have
made their way
into the collection of the Tweed Museum of Art as gifts from his
descendants, forming the largest known single group of works by this talented but forgotten
American artist. A recent gift from the family of the late Robert S. Orcutt of Madison,
CT, added twelve
more paintings to this collection.