Fine Art Connoisseur

J.J. SHANNON AND HIS NETWORK OF FRIENDSHIPS

In 1893 the 31-year-old, London-based artist James Jebusa Shannon (1862–1923) made his American debut in the British Section of the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition with three portraits, two of which portrayed the American expatriate artist George Hitchcock and his wife, Henrietta.1 Although born in Auburn, New York, Shannon had lived in England since the age of 16, when he crossed the Atlantic to attend the National Art Training School (now the Royal College of Art) and subsequently carved out a flourishing career as a society portraitist exhibiting at major venues throughout Britain and Europe.

Shannon’s decision to display the Hitchcock portraits in Chicago suggests a deliberate bid to underscore his American origins and pave his way into a new portrait market. This assumption is reasonable because both Hitchcocks were represented elsewhere in the Exposition; on view in the American section were three of George’s canvases (including the already famous Tulip Culture, Holland) and also Gari Melchers’s Portrait of Mrs. H. (Mrs. George Hitchcock). Although such connections were unlikely to be obvious to most fair visitors, fellow artists and informed collectors and dealers may have noted Shannon’s indirect announcement of his links with the colony of artists at Egmond aan Zee, Holland, the American faction of which was headed by Hitchcock, and later by Melchers.2 Moreover, the Hitchcock portraits mark the beginning of a long professional and personal association among the Hitchcocks, Melchers, and Shannon that intermittently shaped the latter’s career.

Shannon’s portraits of the Hitchcocks had already gained critical favor in England. When his colorful, loosely brushed canvas depicting George painting outdoors was shown in 1892, Shannon’s adoption of an impressionist technique was noted as an apt reference to the sitter’s signature style. Reports of this success reached as far as the United States, as remarked in an article about Shannon in the Philadelphia . As for the portrait of Henrietta, London critics praised it as a prime example of Shannon’s skill in society

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