This engaging fragment of a sketch by the great British animal painter, Edwin Landseer (1802 – 1873), was acquired by the Museum not long after it was made. Surprisingly, it was a gift of the Brandywine School painter John McCoy (1910 – 1989).
McCoy’s early life sets him apart from many artists of this period. He was born in California, but moved to Wilmington with his family in 1915 when he was just five years old. Although his interest in art was encouraged by a Wilmington Friends School teacher, his father insisted he obtain a college degree first. Toward the end of his studies at Cornell, where he studied design and architecture, McCoy convinced his professors to allow him to spend a year abroad. He resided mainly in France, until Hitler’s election to Vice Chancellorship of Germany and rioting Nazi youth forced McCoy to flee on the Orient Express in the middle of the night. Upon returning to the United States, McCoy completed his B.F.A. at Cornell and began studying with N.C. Wyeth, where he worked side-by-side in the studio with N.C.’s son, Andrew.
Over time, McCoy developed a relationship with N.C. Wyeth’s daughter, Ann. The pair married in 1935. When his teacher died in 1945, McCoy and Andrew Wyeth completed the murals for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, which had been left unfinished at his death. A year later, McCoy began teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he remained until 1961.
Ann and John McCoy fell in love with the unpopulated landscape of Maine and spent summers there, returning to Chadds Ford for the winter. During his adult life, McCoy served in various capacities on the Board of the Wilmington Society of Fine Arts. He was given a one-man exhibition at the Delaware Art Center in 1959 and again in 1963.
McCoy’s Landseer gift is odd because it came from such a seemingly disconnected source. In putting together 100 Works for 100 Years, Museum curators wondered how this bit of a sketch by an early Victorian academic painter ended up in the hands of a Brandywine River School artist. One clue is McCoy’s love of animals. Although he rarely included animals in his work, McCoy was a lifetime animal lover who was particularly fond of horses and dogs.
It’s possible that McCoy picked this drawing up during his time spent studying abroad as a young man. In donating it to the Museum, he was fulfilling a civic responsibility as a loyal supporter of the growing regional arts institution. The gift of the drawing is listed in the 1949 Annual Report of the Delaware Art Center. As part of 100 Works for 100 Years, the Landseer sketch is on view next to the Helen Farr Sloan Library through September 16.
Margaretta S. Frederick
Chief Curator/Curator, Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Collection