(United States, 1855–1919, active in France)
The Baptism, 1892
Julius L. Stewart’s education, career, and reputation were all formed in Europe. Son of the wealthy expatriate art collector William Stewart, this artist had entrée into the salons of rich Americans living abroad and their European friends. In this stratum of social privilege Stewart found virtually all his subjects.
His popularity and success continued from 1878, when Stewart first exhibited paintings in the Paris Salon, to the end of the century. The Baptism, last of his elaborate group subjects, received acclaim at the Berlin International Exposition. In the late 1890s Stewart painted outdoor scene paintings of Venice, and later, depictions of religious subjects.
By the end of the decade his career began to decline, and Stewart received little further public or critical attention. Initially, Stewart painted single figures but soon became known for his elaborate narrative paintings. The painstaking detail of the figures assembled in The Baptism suggests particularity. The men’s faces are strongly individual, although the women’s are less so. The scene was probably inspired by a specific baptism, but the identity of the family is unknown. The Baptism, with its illusionism, elaborate composition, implied narrative, and slow ceremonial pace, is a tour de force of technical skill and a prime example of late nineteenth-century aesthetics. The richly covered damask walls, the silk, satin, and lace trim of the elaborate attire, and the soft, delicately rendered skin of the women and children are as astonishing as their identity is cryptic.