The Unusual A. F. King — Finding At The Philadelphia Antiques Show

Pittsburgh Street Scene by A. F. King Pittsburgh Street Scene by A. F. King

In the Philadelphia Antiques Show, I happened to spot a painting by A. F. King with  an unusual subject: Pittsburgh Street Scene. The meticulous painter of still life and landscape depicted a social strife event in downtown Pittsburgh that would make me wonder what was the story behind it. The dealer ascribed it possibly related to coal strike of 1910-1911, but I doubted it since the brawl happened in an liquor store. On the other side of the street there was a hotel  providing accommodation for man and beast, but it closed for no license. Could it be related to the Panic of 1907? It seems to me that the crowd swamped into the store because it had a sign “wanted five more bartenders”at the front.

This kind of historical paintings always have some anecdotes or analogies that reward the keen eyes. In the painting, a dog was dashing out at the lower left corner in a mad speed. But who is more crazy? The sardine crowd or the directionless dog who at least ran out of the uproar? A lady in yellow clothes was watching at the far end. She looked back even though she kept her pace walking out of the chaos. Two policemen were either disenchanted or awkward in directing the crowd.

As much as I admire King’s effort to paint out of his comfort zone, his limited ability in arranging a large number of subjects coherently is obvious. Somehow I even felt that the perspective was a little bit off as if the roads were titled toward the viewer to give a more dramatic top view. If it is true that the less well the figures,are painted, the better the landscape is (by Dwight William Tryon), then the  featureless figures look as if painted in haste and less inspiring. King didn’t carry the humor of David Blyth or poeticism of William Coventry Wall in  the urban scenes, yet the amateurish looking has its own charm that reflects the fortitude  and confidence of self-taught, self-improving American craftsmanship.  Such subject would not be suitable for commission or societal demand, King must have been influenced by an actual event and painted with a rush that almost carried him away from his trademarked exactness.

Label from the dealer at the Philadelphia Antiques Show
Label from the dealer at the Philadelphia Antiques Show

Geo and I both spotted a tall tower tipped above the hotel in the background, but we couldn’t figure it out the exact building. The dealer is from New Oxford, so we didn’t ask him about the possible specific location of the event in this painting. Maybe Westmoreland Museum of American Art would be interested in such an peculiar work that united a local historical event with a locally acclaimed artist.

About Hui

Wang Hui lived from 1632 - 1717 and followed in the footprints of his great grandfathers, grandfather, father and uncles and learned painting at a very early age. He was later taught by two contemporary masters, Zhang Ke and Wang Shimin, who taught him to work in the tradition of copying famous Chinese paintings. This is most likely the reason why critics claim that his work is conservative and reflects the Yuan and Song traditions. One critic claimed that "his landscape paintings reflect his nostalgic attachment to classical Chinese aesthetics. Along with the other Wangs, Wang Hui helped to perpetuate the tradition of copying the ancient masters rather than creating original work.

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