Samuel F. B. Morse (17911872), of Morse code fame, may be better known as an inventor, but he began his career as a painter, and his extraordinary six-by-nine-foot masterwork, Gallery of the Louvre, will be on view at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens Jan. 24 through May 4, 2015. The presentation of the focused exhibition Samuel F. B. Morses Gallery of the Louvre and the Art of Invention at The Huntington will mark the launch of a nine-venue tour of the United States organized by the Terra Foundation for American Art, from whose collection the painting is drawn.
Created between 1831 and 1833 in Paris and New York, Gallery of the Louvre reproduces famous works by van Dyck, Leonardo, Murillo, Poussin, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Titian, among others, arranged in an imagined installation in the Salon Carré at the Musée du Louvre in Paris. Morse depicted 38 paintings, two sculptures, and numerous figures in a single composition. The monumental canvas has been seen as a painted treatise on artistic practice, positioning Morse (the centrally placed instructor in the work) as a symbolic link between European art of the past and Americas cultural future.
Morse was born in Charlestown, Mass., in 1791. The son of a Congregational minister and geographer, he attended Yale University (then Yale College), studying science, art, and other subjects. Supporting himself with portrait painting, he caught the attention of American painter Washington Allston, with whom he traveled to London in 1811, and joined a circle of American artists that include John Singleton Copley, Benjamin West, and John Trumbull. Morse was admitted to the Royal Academy of Arts, London, at that time led by Sir Joshua Reynolds. As he wrote to his parents, Morse aspired to be among those who shall revive the splendor of the 15th century, to rival the genius of a Raphael, a Michel Angelo, or a Titian.