Thomas Chambers was arguably the most expressive folk artist of the 19th century. When his works began turning up in the 1930s, they made an impression upon New York art dealers Albert Duveen and Norman Hirschl, who organized an exhibition in which they dubbed him the “First American Modern.”
His works, writes NY Times critic Roberta Smith, were “neither strictly realist nor naïve…He aimed to please. His images are like chorus lines singing and dancing their hearts out, ever so slightly off-key and out of step. Every part contributes vocally and vigorously to the whole. The trilling patterns of ocean waves, rounded trees or riverside hedgerows; the sharp-edged mountains and shorelines, overemphatic clouds, glossy rivers and almost lurid sunsets—they all lock arms, and do a little more than their bit. The slight awkwardness amplifies. You see them perform and you see their performance, gaining a greater understanding of the visual appetite by having it thoroughly satisfied.”
A painter of both marine and landscape subjects, Chambers often worked from popular engravings, but where others copied, he interpreted. He enchanted. He was an American Rousseau with no salon to exhibit his work, no critics to ridicule them, and no avant-garde to carry his torch.