George Wilhelm Frye, (Germany/Alabama, 1822-1872) oval oil on canvas painting of Southern historical interest, depicting a bearded African American man standing beside a posted newspaper, attired in a white shirt, red pants and suspenders, a straw hat and black boots. The subject holds a brush tinged with whitewash or white glue and a paint pail, and just behind him, on the wall, is posted the front page of the Louisville Commercial Newspaper (1869-1902). Signed lower left margin “W F”. Unframed. 26 3/4″ H x 21 3/4″ W. Exhibited, The Howard Steamboat Museum “Fall Into Art” exhibit, 2010. Provenance: Estate of Lynn Scholl Renau, Louisville, Kentucky. Note: Lynn Renau was awarded the Isaac Murphy Award for her groundbreaking research about slavery and African American history in Kentucky. This painting, which hung over her desk, was among her most prized pieces. Frye’s decision to title the newspaper “The Louisville Commercial” and give it such visual prominence is significant, especially when viewed beside his working class, African American subject. Founded by the DuPont family in 1870, The Louisville Commercial was the only Republican daily newspaper in Kentucky, and it also circulated in Southern Indiana and Middle and West Tennessee. According to one period description quoted in “Chronicling America,” “its rigorous exposure of corruption and wastefulness in municipal affairs has given it strong local popularity and influence; it is a favorite in families and with business men, and the saloons and gambling dens are bitterly hostile towards it.” Biderman DuPont, sole owner of the paper by 1874, had supported the Union cause and in an 1860 letter to his mother, wrote that “Slavery is a moral evil….” (source: Timothy J. Mullin, “The du Ponts in Kentucky,” DLSC Faculty Publications, Western Kentucky University, 2009). In an 1873 ad the newspaper boasted it had “met the Democratic papers at every point and exposed their misstatements” (American Newspaper Directory, Vol. 4). Biography: “George Wilhelm (William) Frye (1822-1872) was a portrait artist from Germany who established a studio in Huntsville, Madison County; he also painted in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee. His depictions of life in the western Black Belt of Alabama were important records of the antebellum period in the state. He also tutored future Alabama artist Maria Howard Weeden for two years. Historians are able to follow his career through court records and the newspaper advertisements Frye placed in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee; several advertisements in Alabama newspapers announce his relocations. By 1845, Frye had settled in Louisville, Kentucky, where he painted portraits, and he opened a second studio in Huntsville by March 1847 while maintaining the Louisville location at least into 1848. On May 18, 1848, he married Virginia Hale in Hunstville; the couple would have four children. He became a U.S. citizen on August 29, 1854, in Madison County. During the next several years, Frye opened temporary studios in numerous locations around the South, including Memphis, Tennessee, and advertised his services there for four months in 1857. Frye’s growing reputation as a portrait painter prompted the Agricultural and Horticultural Society Fair of West Alabama to enlist him as a fine arts judge in 1859”. (Source: “The Encyclopedia of Alabama” by E. Bryding Adams). Alternate spelling George William Frey. CONDITION: Canvas is embrittled, loose from stretcher on right side, and stretcher creases evident at top and left sides. Right side has significant 21 L. vertical crease with loss and flaking and 8 perforations, largest 2 L. Left side with 3 perforations, largest 2 L. ? L. tear center above male figures head. Various abrasions and scratches with loss, largest 1 ½ L. No inpainting or alterations detected with black light.
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