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William Holbrook Beard

William Holbrook Beard

(1824-1900)
Born: Painesville, Ohio, Ohio, USA

William Holbrook Beard (1824-1900) is considered one of the most talented painters in Buffalo during the pre-Civil War era. William’s older brother, James Henry Beard (1811-1893), was born in Buffalo, New York. Around 1822 the Beard family moved to Painesville, Ohio, where William Holbrook was born in 1824. The younger Beard received artistic training from his brother James and they both worked as itinerant portrait painters. William settled in Buffalo in 1850, while his brother continued to travel to other cities. In 1857 Beard went to Europe to further his studies, returned briefly to Buffalo, and then moved to New York City in 1859. Beard became famous for his animal paintings, often using satire to convey each creature’s cultural meaning—a practice that dates back to antiquity and was especially popular in 19th-century European and American art.
     Locally there are other examples of Beard’s paintings that depict bears more mischievously. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery owns The March of Silenus, which Steven A. Nash described as a scathing satire: “Aimed at exposing human vulgarity, it shows a mock processional with a rotund bear as Silenus accompanied by a troupe of drunken, cavorting bears and goats.” The Buffalo Club also owns a Beard painting of drunken, boisterous bears as well as another, more idyllic scene of bears enjoying watermelon at a picnic.
     In New York City, the New-York Historical Society owns two paintings. The Bulls and Bears in the Market (1879) parodies chaos in Broad Street in front of New York’s Stock Exchange and Sub Treasury Building. Bears today continue to be a symbol of conservative economists, while bulls represent their aggressive antithesis. The Bear Dance (c. 1870) is described as a “painting of a rather exclusive party in a forest clearing…also known as The Bears of Wall Street Celebrating a Drop in the Stock Market, and The Wall Street Jubilee.” Clearly bears represented conservative political and economic values to Beard. In addition, the New-York Historical Society also owns William H. Beard in his Tenth Street Studio by his father-in-law, Thomas Le Clear (1818-1882), another Buffalo master painter.

--Nancy Weekly, Head of Collections