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Gilbert Munger


An 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 United States.

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.

Gilbert Munger
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