A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections and events at the RIHS

Object Thursday: Providence from Across the Cove, 1818

Providence from Across the Cove. Oil on canvas by Alvin Fisher, 1818. RIHS 1905.2.1

Of all the paintings in the RIHS Collection, this is probably my favorite landscape, though its sister painting, made by Fisher in 1819, is a close second.

It hangs on the second floor of the John Brown House Museum next to the 1819 painting, and the two together make a kind of Providence panorama. Side by side, the clouds appear to be heading up the Bay, bringing rain, common for Providence springtime.

Of course, the view is idyllic, idealized, with the obligatory cows, but beyond the 19th century conventions, this is a good example of what Nina Simon calls a Social Object.

A social object is one that connects the people who create, own, use, critique, or consume it. Social objects are transactional, facilitating exchanges among those who encounter them.

The painting starts many conversations, whether a docent-led inquiry, “Do you recognize any buildings?” or a visitor’s question,”Is that really Providence?”

There are tens of stories in this painting:

“Why there  cows downtown?”
Look, a red pelisse!
“Are they on a picnic?”
I can remember when there was a dairy farm on the East Side, just after the War…

All these statements, questions and stories are, to me, what make this painting great, well beyond its beauty.

You can take a trip to the Museum to begin your own imaginings, or share them in the comments here.

~Kirsten Hammerstrom, Director of Collections

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This entry was posted on 9 May 2013 by in Collection Notes, Object Thursdays and tagged , , , , , , .

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