Mental Floss

Master Marketer: Thomas Chambers

Andréa Fernandes

At the request of reader Therese, today's "Feel Art Again" post features Thomas Chambers (1808-1866). The British-American painter's specialties were landscapes and maritime paintings, both of which often featured dramatic skies. Since this week is also "Sky Awareness Week," Chambers was a logical choice.

1. As far as scholars know, Thomas Chambers received no formal art education. They speculate he learned to paint from his older brother, George, himself a self-taught artist. George started out "painting trunks and buckets" and eventually became prominent enough that he was painting for King William IV and exhibiting in the Royal Academy.

2. Chambers produced approximately 10 to 12 paintings of the view of West Point from the river. In each, the U.S. Military Academy buildings are small but detailed. The scene was one of his most popular views.

3. Considered a "master marketer," Chambers knew how to respond to the public's interests and desires. Chambers would play to the public's interest by painting battle scenes from famous novels and popular news stories. Scholars believe Chambers was more inclined to meet the public's demands because he depended on the income from his paintings to survive.

4. Chambers never exhibited at any official art exhibitions during his time, which actually may have been to his benefit. As one scholar remarked, "the critics of the 1840s and "˜50s would have been horrified by his art: It was too bright and flat, it wasn't fully furnished, it was reproachfully dependent on printed sources and therefore insufficiently original."

5. Although Chambers' works were popular with the public, he eventually fell out of favor. When he died in England in 1869, Chambers was disabled and penniless, living in the poorhouse.

A larger version of "Boston Harbor" (shown above) is available here. Fans should check out the Chambers collections at the National Library of Australia (2), University of Rochester (2), Addison Gallery of American Art (2), The Athenaeum (3), and the National Gallery of Art (10). "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.