December 4, 2022 2:00 EST

American Art and Pennsylvania Impressionists Featuring the Collection of Charles and Virginia Bowden

  Lot 6


William Holbrook Beard (American, 1825–1900)
The Guardians of the Flag

Inscribed '1812/1861' bottom left, oil on canvas
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6cm)
Executed in 1864.
Housed in its original period giltwood frame.


Menconi + Schoelkopf, New York, New York.
Acquired directly from the above.
Private Collection, Connecticut.

$50,000 - $80,000

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Inscribed '1812/1861' bottom left, oil on canvas
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6cm)
Executed in 1864.
Housed in its original period giltwood frame.


Menconi + Schoelkopf, New York, New York.
Acquired directly from the above.
Private Collection, Connecticut.


Artist Fund Society, New York, New York, 1864, no. 116.
"Great North Western Fair," Chicago, Illinois, May 30-June 25, 1865, no. 104.
Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Buffalo, New York, 1866, no. 80.
Art Association, Utica, New York, 1868, no. 64.


"The City and Vicinity," in Buffalo Courier, October 15, 1864, p. 3 (illustrated).
"Music and Art," in Buffalo Music Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express, November 18, 1864, p. 3 (illustrated).
Catalogue of Paintings, Statuary Etc. in the Art Department of the Great North-Western Fair Held in Chicago, Ill., June, 1865 for the Benefit of the U.S. Sanitary Commission and Soldiers' Home, Great North-Western Fair, Chicago, 1865, n.p.
Buffalo Morning Express, February 8, 1866.
"Art Gallery: The Annual Exhibition of Paintings by the Utica Art Association..." in Utica Daily Observer, January 1868.
Alexander Gallery and William H. Gerdts,
William Holbrook Beard: Animals in Fantasy, an exhibition catalogue, Alexander Gallery, New York, 1981, p.17 (commented, not illustrated).


William Holbrook Beard’s most celebrated works feature animals—frequently monkeys and bears, but also a roster of avian protagonists—engaged in human-like activities, or as ciphers for contemporary social and political happenings. Beard’s careful understanding of anatomy and sensitivity to the nature of his creatures distinguish his paintings, which were often sharply satirical or allegorical, as in The Guardians of the Flag.

Here, a convocation of eagles perches atop a rocky outcropping. One of them, wings outstretched, clenches in its beak an American flag, its stars and stripes unfurling in the wind. The balance of eagles, brown-bodied and alert, stand sentinel around the perimeter of the rock. Another, mid-flight, surveys the goings on below. The dates “1812” and “1861”—commemorating the onset of the War of 1812 and Civil War, respectively—are inscribed into a rock in the lower left foreground.

Painted in 1864 while the Civil War raged, The Guardians of the Flag is a not-so-subtle commentary on the imperiled American Republic. A gray sky, cloud-filled and turbulent, alludes to the present conflict, while the date, 1812, offers a pointed reminder of the struggles of yesteryear. Just a few generations removed from the War of 1812—whose own Battle of Baltimore would inspire Francis Scott Key to compose the Star-Spangled Banner—the flag, and its stout defense, was a matter of national concern.

Appropriately, Beard selected the bald eagle—national bird of the United States since 1782 and long a symbol of pride, strength and resolve—for his “guardians.” Protecting the flag and, thereby, preserving the Union, Beard’s platoon of eagles—thirteen in all—are rendered equal to the task. On the horizon, at some remove, Beard includes a glimmer of sunshine, and a glimmer of hope.

Born in Painesville, Ohio in 1925, Beard traveled to Italy, Switzerland, and Germany in 1856, where he emerged as a leading figure of the Düsseldorf School. Upon his return, after settling briefly in Buffalo, he relocated to New York City, leasing space at the Tenth Street Studio Building. There, Beard would work—and find camaraderie—alongside fellow artists, Winslow Homer, William Merritt Chase, and Fredric Edwin Church. The Guardians of the Flag, Beard’s hymn to national unity, finds easy parallels in Church’s Civil War-era canvases, among them Twilight in the Wilderness (1860), Our Banner in the Sky (1861), and Our Flag (1864). The last of these, a dramatic vision of the American flag planted atop a craggy mountain peak, echoes Beard’s confidence in the triumph of the Union.


The unlined canvas in very good, almost excellent original condition. With slight, flattened and stabilized, craquelure at upper left corner. Examination under UV light reveals scattered areas where the old greenish varnish shines through, thus indicating a selective cleaning. Pinpoint restoration visible in the sky in the upper left corner, at upper right on parts of the flag, as well as at bottom center (between the two eagles, on one of the eagle's tail, and on the other one's chest). See Specialist's pictures for more details.

Frame: 28 x 24 1/2 x 3 in.

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