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The Monkey Picture

1895-1900
Origin: America, Ohio, Chagrin Falls
Overall (Unframed): 28 x 44in. (28 x 44in.) Overall (Framed): 47 1/2 x 2 3/4in. (120.7 x 7cm)
Oil on paper mounted on canvas and, later, glued to composition board; still later (1981), the auxilliary support was transferred (wax-resin lined) to a polyester web supported by a Masonite panel
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1981.103.1
An interior scene showing a tabletop laden with a still life arrangement attacked by two monkeys. The animals have scattered the various fruits and the tablewares set out with them --- a knife, glass pitcher, footed tumbler, and compote --- in their fight over a banana. Details of the room setting include paneled doors, tasseled draperies, a tiger-skin rug, printed wallpaper, patterned carpeting, and the carved, marble-topped table that supports the fruits and raucous monkeys.

In an amusing distortion of spatial reality, the tail of the monkey in the left foreground is wrapped around the neck of the tiger (rug) in the middle ground, and spilt liquid from the tipped glass douses the tiger. Similarly, the knife and the fruit falling off the front edge of the table hove in ambiguously-defined space.

The edge of the cut watermelon reveals a human-looking profile, as does one of the strawberries near the middle.

Through an open door at far right, a policman can be seen running towards the room with his billy club raised. Beyond him, the viewer sees one edge of a black cage, suggesting the monkeys' usual abode. Several sailboats are shown on water in the distance.

The frame this painting came in is possibly original and is a 2 1/4-inch stained bolection molded frame. The painting has since been placed in a modern replacement wooden frame, stained and finished with a 1/8" plexiglas barrier which is separated from the face of the painting by 1/4" strips of plexiglas with a mirrored mylar coating.
Label:Henry Church worked as a blacksmith in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Other talents included painting, drawing, and wood and stone carving. An original and independent thinker, Church prepared for death by carving his own memorial stone (in the shape of a lion), but his most monumental work was a relief-carving, now widely-known as Squaw Rock, in the stone embankment along a section of the Chagrin River.

The artist’s reasons for executing this lively painting remain speculative, but many scholars believe it was intended as a spoof on the uninspired, time-worn Victorian tabletop settings. Church’s playful rendition with the two rambunctious monkeys and aggravated policeman is a favorite with museum visitors. He apparently patterned his monkeys from an 1890s trade advertisement showing two monkeys fighting for possession of a packet of Leopold Schepp’s famous dried coconut.


Provenance:Jessie Church Sargent, Chagrin Falls, Ohio; Sam Rosenberg, New York, NY; Washburn Galleries, New York, NY.
Inscription(s):In black paint in the lower right corner is "H. Church, Ptr. Blacksmith." In the lower right of the cantaloupe rind in yellow paint is "H. Church/Pixt. Painter."