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Maker(s):Champney, James Wells
Culture:American (1843-1903)
Title:painting: A View of the Deerfield Common
Date Made:ca. 1877
Materials:oil, canvas, wood, gilding
Place Made:United States; Massachusetts; Deerfield
Measurements:framed: 23 1/4 in x 31 1/4 in; 59.055 cm x 79.375 cm
Accession Number:  HD 2002.70.1
Credit Line:Partial Gift of Elizabeth S. Williams and the Museum Collections Fund
Museum Collection:  Historic Deerfield

Framed oil painting on canvas titled "A View of the Deerfield Common" by James Wells Champney (1843-1903), which depicts the Deerfield town common looking north along the Main Street. Born in Boston, James Champney served in the 45th Massachusetts Volunteers from 1862-1863 before being invalided out of the army; he then taught drawing at Dr. Dio Lewis's "Young Ladies Seminary" from 1864-1866. After deciding to become a professional artist, Champney moved to Europe where he studied in France with Pierre Edouard Frere (1819-1886), a well-known French realist genre painter; in Antwerp with Joseph Francois Henri Van Lerius (1823-1876); and in Italy. In 1870, Champney returned to Boston where he opened a studio; in 1873, he was commissioned by "Scribner's Monthly Magazine" to illustrate "The Great South; A Record of Journeys in Louisiana, Texas, the Indian Territory, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland," a series of articles on the Reconstruction South by Edward King (1848-1896) where the two travelled more than 25,000 miles and Champney contributed at least 500 illustrations. In 1873, Champney married Elizabeth Johnson Williams (1850-1922), whom he had met at the "Young Ladies Seminary;" she was a graduate of the Vassar class of 1869 who became a popular children's author of her period and many of whose whose works Champney illustrated. Born in Springfield, Ohio, Elizabeth Williams was the half-sister of Orson Bennet Williams (1834-1912) and daughter of Samuel Barnard Williams (1803-1884), originally of Deerfield, whose second wife was Caroline Johnson (d.1885) whom he married in 1844; the granddaughter of Elijah Williams (1767-1832) who married Hannah Barnard (1772-1853), daughter of Samuel Barnard (1721-1788) of Deerfield, in 1803; and great-granddaugher of Dr. Thomas Williams (1718-1775) of Deerfield. In 1876 the Champneys moved into Samuel Barnard Williams' house in Deerfield where Champney built a studio; they lived in Deerfield for several years while he was professor of art at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and one of the founders of the Smith Art Gallery. In 1879, Champney opened a studio in New York City, and from that time on the Deerfield became their summer home. James and Elizabeth had two children: Edward Frere (1874-1929) who studied art and became an architect, and Maria Mitchell (1876-1906) who was born in Deerfield, married John Sanford Humphreys in 1899, and was a miniature painter. Even as a summer resident, James Champney continued to be active in the local community, offering sketching courses, giving lectures, and preserving the town's "colonial" character. In this image, Champney idealizes Deerfield as a tranquil, rural retreat away from the disorder, industrialization, and incivility of urban America. A written note accompanies the painting: "Champney lived in Deerfield summers + married a Deerfield person, painted about 1900+- Grandma Stebbins (Mary Elizabeth Stebbins) saw this painting in a gallery in Boston + bought it - but would never tell FSS how much she paid for it. Her house was the brown one on the right side of the picture from 1910-1918 when she dies. Deerfield Academy had a special Champney exhibition about 1965-66." In 1880, Mary Elizabeth MacMahon (1858-1919) of Rochester, NY, married Charles Henry Stebbins (b.1859), the son of Evander Graves Stebbins (1821-1885) and Matilda Childs Stebbins (1824-1885) of Deerfield. According to McGowan and Miller, the house (Lot 29 III) was owned by Elizabeth H. Chapin (b.c.1843), wife of Abijah W. Chapin (1823-1891), from 1873-1893; Mrs. Stebbins bought the house in 1911 and lived there until her death in 1918, and her heirs sold it in 1921. HD has another similar painting (HD 80.029) of the common, also circa 1877, which does not show the Stebbins house.


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