S.F.B. Morse: Gallery of the Louvre

George L. Dillon, Collaborating with Jan Zielinski

Had Samuel F.B. Morse succeeded in his ambition to become a great American painter, we likely would not have the Morse code and someone else would have developed the telegraph. Morse had great hopes for this gigantic canvas (180 x 274cm) when it was exhibited for the first time in New York. The painting represents the paintings hung in the Salon Carré at the time (slightly tweaked by Morse)(note the passage in the back wall into the Grand Salon). The painting was exhibited with a catalog identifying each of the paintings and sculptures (reproduced at the left; the blue coloring is added to indicate links to alternative versions of those paintings). Consistent with the genre of the gallery painting, figures involved with the paintings are represented on the floor of the Salon, and these figures include Morse himself (bending over the shoulder of an unidentified student) and James Fenimore Cooper, wife and daughter, with Cooper holding forth upon some subject. This placement captures an number of themes: the friendship of the two men, their entirely comfortable bearing in the presence of the concentrated glory of Europe, and Morse's hope of selling the painting to Cooper. (Further implications are detailed by David Tatham). The public who viewed the painting in New York and other cities did not embrace it as a bridge to Great Art (or as anything else); it lost money in the public exhibition (as did his earlier large canvas of the members of the House of Representatives) and it did not generate much in the way of commissions for Morse. Cooper's reputation and finances went into steep decline and he was unable to buy the painting. By 1837 Morse put up his brushes and concentrated on developing the telegraph. Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre were developing mechanical means of reproduction, and the age of great Gallery paintings was coming to a close.

Reproductions of almost all of the paintings can be found on line at the end of links from the following imagemap. As a small, academic joke, the rather smallish painting in the bottom row second from the right of the portal (1092) is not linked, since it is the most reproduced painting in the world—a fact that could not have been predicted from its modest treatment in Morse's Gallery of the Louvre.

Jan Zielinski suggested this project and collaborated in tracking down and supplying the images. Without him it would not have come about.

This site has a companion display of David Tenier's mid-seventeenth-century painting of the Archduke Leopold's Gallery discussed in John Berger's Ways of Seeing.

Reference: David Tatham, "Samuel F. B. Morse's Gallery of the Louvre: The Figures in the Foreground," The American Art Journal, 12 (Autumn 1982): 38-48.

Here is a page on Johann Zoffany's 18th century gallery map of the Uffizi.

poussin_231 titian_1249 caravaggio_903 poussin_220 tintoretto_1201 titian_1251 murillo_1124 veronese_1151 vandycke_430 lorraine_163 teniers_769 rembrandt_656 jouvenet_74 murillo_1126 murillo_1130 Huysmans_504 vandyck_444 titian_1256 veronese_1154 giaconda_1092 corregio_953 rubens_677 lorrain_167 titian_1252 lesueur_118 rubens_717 rosa_1214 raphael_1185 vandyck_438 guido_1064 guido_1053 rembrandt_671 vandyck_427 vernet_304 guido_1067 rubens_685 mignard_181 watteau_315 statue
_220 _903 _231 _1130 _statue _315