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Finishing a John Stobart Painting

I am deeply honored to have been asked by John Stobart’s widow (and head of the Stobart Foundation) to finish a painting of South Street (at his request) that he was unable to complete before his passing in early 2023.  I will be regularly chronicling my progress finishing the piece using John’s notes, research, methods and materials in a series of blog posts, below:

Chapter 1: An Introduction (link here)

Chapter 2: John’s Methods and Materials (link here)

Chapter 3: The Subject Matter Depicted (below):

Chapter 4: What Needs to Be Done (link here)

Chapter 5: Starting the Painting Process (link here)

Chapter 6: Finishing the Downeaster (link here)

Chapter 7: Finishing the Black Schooner (link here)

Chapter 8: My Other All Time Hero (link here)

Chapter 9: From Blob to Barge (link here):

Chapter 10: Nearly Finished, And Discovering An Earlier Version Of The Painting (link here)

Chapter 11: Finally Finished (link here)

John’s unfinished painting of New York is so far along it’s easy to immediately identify the subject matter — another take on his iconic South Street works. Thankfully, he had also already ordered a nameplate (or ‘tablet’) for the frame, so we know the title he chose which further reveals the scene.

I also have the key reference book he was using for inspiration, and from his notes scribbled on certain pages and elsewhere, can decipher his thinking in composing the painting. Of “New York: Brooklyn Bridge From South Street 1884” he wrote (as seen in the picture above), “loading barrels for rice crop which could be spoiling in Savannah” and (I think) “loading barrels for rice crop that were supposed to have been returned to Georgia but badly needed in Savannah for awaiting probably overripening rice laying in wait there.” The Brooklyn Bridge had been opened for only a year.

Not sure where he found the reference to a barrel shortage in the South in 1884. My bit of Google research doesn’t specifically refer to that issue, and I can’t find it in any of his reference books or notes. I did learn that rice was a major cash crop in Georgia and South Carolina but steadily declined in the decades after the Civil War. If you are following my Stobart Project blog and have any insight I’d love to hear it.

John painted the great merchant and clipper ship era on South Street many times, depicting the spectacle of bowsprits looming over the street, the hubub of human activity and bustling storefronts, all with an extraordinary ability to transport us back in time and right into the scene. He was a master of atmosphere and light. Here are a number of his paintings of South Street:

This newest, unfinished painting is from a fresh perspective. It’s clear John was inspired by images in his reference book “Maritime New York” which came to me with the project. Here are a few pages from the book, some with his scribbled notes (the yellow stickies are mine):

And here is a xerox John made combining two of the pages above, with his notations:

His handwriting reads” “Amalgamating these 2…that join up…note bridge top left in this one…note entire deck covered with upright barrels then covered with platforms so the crew can handle sail settings etc” and “Pier 28…my viewpoint is next pier over…Pier 27”

The schooner depicted in the xerox above is clearly inspiration for the foreground one in the painting, though John has altered the viewpoint slightly so we are not seeing her so point on the nose. And the advertising banner rigged between the shrouds has been changed from “Georgetown” to “Charleston”. Here’s another image from the book that looks like inspiration for the downeaster on the pier next to the bridge too:

Here then, is the unfinished painting, as he left it. In my next installment I will superimpose my notes over the image to reveal what I think need to be done to complete the work:

Next, Chapter 4: What Needs To Be Done (link here)

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