While Royal Academy classes were held in the morning, afternoons were dedicated to drawing from nature or copying Old Master paintings from the collection of Munich's Alte Pinakothek.
Copying paintings by Old Masters like Murillo and Rembrandt was more than a student excercise for Adams. Before leaving Indiana for Munich in 1880 he advertised in The Muncie Daily News for a fund to support his studies. Subscribers would be "reimbursed [...] with careful copies of celebrated productions of old and new masters of art...."
Since there was no access to Old Master paintings in the Midwest at that time, copies like Adams's were very appealing to collectors.
J. Ottis Adams was born in Amity, Indiana and settled with his family in Shelbyville, Indiana. The young Adams was fascinated with art and spent much of his time drawing. He enrolled in Wabash College but left a year later to study art at the South Kensington School in London where he came under the influence of John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner, whose landscapes were of particular interest to Adams. He returned to Indiana and settled in Muncie. In 1880, Adams traveled to Munich to study at the Royal Academy with fellow Indiana artists Theodore Clement Steele and Samuel Richards. Adams studied drawing and painting at the Academy and then set up his own studio in Munich. When he returned to Indiana in 1887, Adams set up a studio in Muncie and began teaching art classes. In 1889, he and fellow artist William Forsyth opened the Muncie Art School, which lasted two years. Adams participated in a group show of Hoosier artists that traveled from Indianapolis to Chicago. A critic dubbed the artists in the exhibition The Hoosier Group. Two years later, Adams, Forsyth and Steele along with other artists in the area, formed the Society of Western Artists, the first organization dedicated to promoting the work of the region’s artists. In 1898, Adams and T. C. Steele purchased a house in Brookville, Indiana later known as the Hermitage. In 1901, Adams became one of the first teachers at the newly built John Herron Art Institute where he taught from 1902 to 1906. During the latter part of his life, Adams worked in Florida and Michigan as well as Brookville.
A key part of the Royal Academy curriculum included copying works by Old Masters at Munich’s art museum, the Alte Penakothek. The Indiana artists made replicas of these works not only as student exercises but also to satisfy the ready market in America for facsimiles of great European masterpieces. Adams financed his trip to Europe by obtaining orders for such copies. This painting was probably made to fulfill part of Adams’ obligation to his Indiana supporters. The artist faithfully transcribed the 17th-century Spanish painting, only slightly altering the fruit in the lower corner. Since Indiana patrons did not have access to original Old Master paintings, such copies satisfied even the wealthiest collectors.
Wilbur David Peat. Pioneer Painters of Indiana, Indianapolis: Art Association of Indianapolis, Indiana, 1954. ASIN: B0007DFBR2
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