George Gardner Fish (1822-1906)

The Bride (The Maidens); pastel on paper, 50″x36″ signed, dated and inscribed, (lower left) G.G.Fish / NYork. 1858

A Nantucket portrait painter who principally worked in pastels, George Fish was born on Nantucket, the son of Reverend Phineas and Phebe Fish. His earliest surviving work is dated 1845, painted at only twenty-three years of age. His brother, William H. Fish (1821-1880) built the splendid frames that adorn many of George Fish’s works.

Fish left Nantucket for New York in the mid-1850’s, exhibiting at the National Academy of Design from 1858 to 1863. In 1866 he married Judith J. Derrick. While the couple spent an extended honeymoon in France, Fish studied with French pastellist, Constant Joseph Brochart (1816-1899).

Eventually, Fishes returned to Nantucket with his bride. There, the artist eked out a modest career, operating at first out of rented studio space at the Nantucket Atheneum. Fish soon became a kind of eminence grise on the island. He was an experienced, learned man who lectured frequently on art and literature, and played the violin.

This pastel painting exemplifies Fish’s portraiture style. Signed and dated 1858 and inscribed “NYork”, it is one of his earliest known works to have been executed after Fish first left Nantucket. It is believed that this pastel represents Fish’s two daughters, Madeleine and Anna, together with their friends, Caroline and Florence Starbuck, who were the daughters of Fish’s patron Matthew Starbuck of Nantucket. Matthew was the son of Joseph Starbuck, an extremely prominent whaleship owner and merchant on Nantucket who built the locally famous “Three Bricks,” one each for Starbuck’s three sons. Matthew received the “Middle Brick”.

Ref: Robert A. diCuricio, Art on Nantucket: The History of Painting on Nantucket Island, (pbl.1982, pp.82-91).

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