The Pioneers

Creation date
oil on canvas
19 x 27 in. 24-1/2 x 31-5/8 in. (framed)
Credit line
James E. Roberts Fund and Emma Harter Sweetser Fund
Accession number
Currently On View

The Pioneers resemble a style of British landscape painting known as "picturesque," which features images such as the shadowy valley, rugged woodcutters, twisted trees and romantic stone ruins.

English-born Shaw painted the branches and leaves with a delicate touch.

The piece was purchased from the Robert Rice Gallery in Houston in 1979
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The Picturesque Aesthetic

Joshua Shaw was born in Bellingborough, Lincolnshire, England, where he apprenticed under a sign painter, simultaneously earning a living and studying art. He worked as a landscape painter in Bath, exhibiting occasionally at the Royal Academy and the British Institution in London. In London, he became acquainted with American expatriate artist Benjamin West. Shaw immigrated to Philadelphia in 1817 to oversee the installation of Benjamin West’s painting Christ Healing the Sick at the Pennsylvania Hospital. In 1819, he traveled with his teenage son to the South to create watercolor scenes of the area that were engraved in acquaint and published as a book, Picturesque Views of American Scenery (1820-1821). After returning to Philadelphia, Shaw created over two hundred oil paintings.

The Pioneers exemplifies the picturesque aesthetic popular among English artists during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-centuries. The shadowy valley, rugged woodcutters, and twisted trees exhibit striking contrasts of light and dark, rough textures, and intricate forms. Shaw’s scene may be based on the topography of Pennsylvania’s Delaware Water Gap. In another allusion to the picturesque, Shaw fashioned two of the rocky features in the distant valley to resemble the ruins of European castles.

Naeve, John C. et al. 150 Years of Philadelphia Painters and Paintings. Philadelphia: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1999.