Off the Cuff: Fort Wayne’s Past in a Portrait

Whoever is shown in this painting, parts of it were painted well and parts of it show a great lack of skill or a disinterest in accurately depicting parts of the picture. This painting was commissioned to local painter Horace Rockwell, who made a modest living in the business of commercial portraiture and occasionally executed nearly life-sized family portraits like that of the Hanna family. Rockwell, exercising the style of the time that people should be depicted naturally and without idealization, paid special attention to the faces of the Hanna family and rather skillfully shows how these people probably looked in real life. Ironically, the bodies of these people look quite unnatural, lacking anatomically correct bone structure and proportion. Feet look more like wooden wedges, shoulders slump like shapeless sacks of flour, and the youngest Hanna in the portrait is shown to have only four toes.  Rockwell has problems with his composition as well. An empty spot in the middle of the painting leaves an awkward division between the sitters, and almost no attention is paid to the background, which the artist has chosen to resolve by painting it a flat brown with no clue to tell us where this family is sitting.

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