This painting is a full-size study for one of the figures in The Discoverer, a mural that William Morris Hunt painted on the vaulted roof of the Assembly Chamber at New York’s state capitol in Albany. The mural showed Christopher Columbus standing boldly in a boat facing west. Winged Fortune stood behind him, her left hand holding the rudder as her right hand spread the sail. Hope sat in the bow, Science held a navigational chart, and Faith, covering her eyes, swam blindly ahead. The confidence of Columbus reflected the optimism of post-Civil War Americans; the country shifted from a rural to an industrial society, providing many new opportunities in business, railroads, and westward expansion.
Hunt only had two months to paint the murals, making many preparatory studies like this one. Using a simplified style, he contrasted dark outlines with masses of strong light in order to give the figure volume. Hunt believed an enlarged image needed little additional detail. Sadly, not long after Hunt’s death, massive leakage and cracking began to destroy the murals, which he had painted directly onto the wall. Eventually, a new ceiling was added to the chamber, concealing the murals completely.
Credit Line: Text courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art.