William Holbrook Beard began his career as a portraitist. In 1856, he traveled to Italy, Germany, and Switzerland with Hudson River School painters Thomas Worthington Whittredge and Albert Bierstadt. He subsequently worked in Buffalo, New York, and was instrumental in establishing the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy in 1862. Beard eventually settled in New York City, opening a studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building, which was then occupied by such famous artists as William Merritt Chase, Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, and Winslow Homer. Beard became a popular animal painter (or animalier), whose images included rabbits, cats, monkeys, squirrels, and especially bears. He was both praised and criticized for his humorous satires that often substituted animals for humans in his visual social commentary. He represented the condition of man and universal concerns by painting allegorical and fantasy subjects depicting jealousy, pride, drunkenness, and greed.
His Majesty Receives is typical of the artist’s blend of humorous fantasy with satirical undertones. Beard wrote a book entitled Humor in Animals (1885), in which he “quotes” the fox describing his species as having a brutal sort of humor, which is brought on by its need to hunt and kill in order to survive. In this canvas, the fox, swaggering in a royal robe, intimidates a rabbit, while other rabbits and squirrels dressed like portly businessmen, look on. Beard’s painting may lampoon an episode of American political or social history, though its specific reference is not known.
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