JOHN QUIDOR 1801 - 1881 THE MONEY DIGGERS signed John Quidor and dated N. York 1856 , l.c. oil on canvas 27 by 34 in. (68.6 by 86.4 cm)
Wichita, Kansas, Wichita Art Museum; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Art History Galleries, John Quidor: Painter of American Legend, September-November 1973, pp. 24, 28, 33, 60, 61, illustrated pl. 11
New York, Alexander Gallery, American Genre Paintings, February-March 1984, no. 2, illustrated in color
Yonkers, New York, Hudson River Museum, Dutch New York: The Roots of the Hudson Valley Culture, June 2009-January 2010, pp. 234-5, illustrated, 272d, illustrated in color
John I.H. Baur, "Introduction," essay in John Quidor, Utica, New York, 1965, p. 63
David M. Sokol, John Quidor: His Life and Work, Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1971, pp. 93-5
Christopher Kent Wilson, The Life and Work of John Quidor, Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University, 1982, pp. xiv, 176-181, illustrated pl. 104
Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Carol Troyen and Trevor J. Fairbrother, A New World: Masterpieces of American Painting 1760-1910, Boston, Massachusetts, 1983, p. 223
Mimi D. Bloch, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Richard Manney, Irvington, New York
Berry-Hill Galleries, New York
Masco Corporation, Taylor, Michigan (sold: Sotheby's, New York, December 3, 1998, lot 126)
Alexander Gallery, New York (acquired at above sale)
Acquired by the present owner from the above
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John Quidor drew the subject matter for his witty genre scenes from the fanciful writings of Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper, who were among the most popular writers of the early 19th Century. Quidor began his career in 1818 as an apprentice to John Wesley Jarvis, a portrait painter in New York, but he is not known to have made a living painting portraits. He adopted the literary themes for which he is now remembered sometime in the early 1820s and continued to paint images illustrating the writings of Irving and Cooper into the 1830s.
In 1837 Quidor left New York and moved to Illinois where he was involved in land speculation in addition to trying his hand at religious painting. When Quidor returned to New York in 1851 he sought to revive his reputation as a painter of literary genre scenes by repeating a number of the subjects he had originally painted in the 1820s and 30s. Quidor completed an earlier version of The Money Diggers in 1832, now in the collection of The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn New York (oil on canvas, 16 3/4 by 21 1/2 in.).
As Donald D. Keyes writes, The Money Diggers is "based on Washington Irving's 'Wolfert Webber, or Golden Dreams,' from Tales of a Traveller, first published in 1824. Wolfert Webber is a Dutch farmer who dreams of discovering buried treasure. With the aid of a black man named Mud Sam and a Dr. Knipperhauser, who brings along a divining rod, drugs, herbs, and a book on witchcraft, he hunts for treasure buried by a buccaneer near Long Island Sound. But at the moment the booty is unearthed, the pirate's ghost appears, claiming his treasure and terrifying the farmer and his superstitious cohorts.
At length the spade of the old fisherman struck upon something that sounded hollow; the sound vibrated to Wolfert's heart. He struck his spade again.
"'Tis a chest," said Sam.
"Full of gold, I warrant it!" cried Wolfert, clasping his hands with a rapture.
Scarcely had he uttered the words when a sound from overhead caught his ear. He cast up his eyes and lo! by the expiring light of the fire he beheld, just over the disk of the rock, what appeared to be the grim visage of the drowned buccaneer, grinning hideously down upon him.
Wolfert gave a loud cry and let fall the lantern. His panic communicated itself to his companions. The negro leaped out of the hole; the doctor dropped his book and basket, and began to pray in German. All was horror and confusion.
Despite the popularity of Irving's tale and the widespread vogue for gothic horror stories, the irrationality and grotesque distortion of Quidor's rendition offended contemporary genteel sensibilities, and it was almost completely neglected" (Stebbins, Troyen and Fairbrother, pp. 222-23).
Quidor's interpretation of Irving's story contains elements of caricature and exaggeration probably inspired by the work of English caricaturists such as Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank. Michael D. Zellman notes, "Quidor was a visionary, not an illustrator; he infused a literary setting with the power of his own imagination, evoking terror or a grotesque humor like that of Rowlandson or Hogarth. He used vibrant brushwork and a dark golden palette reminiscent of the Dutch School, although the transparent glazes he invented have browned with age" (300 Years of American Art, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1987, vol. I, p. 128). In the midst of this sinister forest interior, Quidor has indeed isolated a moment of pure terror that is registered in each figure's paralyzed stance, gesture and face. The artist's use of hands is especially clever as fingers frozen with fright are echoed by the gnarled, petrified branches of the trees.
William Gerdts has suggested that Quidor's association with Henry Inman, who had been a fellow apprentice in Jarvis' studio, may have been inspirational to the stylistic development of Quidor's literary paintings. Other artists had plied American literature for subjects, but Quidor's idiosyncratic approach and continued interest in the stories of Irving and Cooper set him apart as one of their most intriguing illustrators.