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One of the nineteenth century’s premier naval artists, Julian Oliver Davidson was born in Cumberland, Maryland to a family of education and means. As a child, Davidson made five trips to Cuba, sailing with his engineer father who was overseeing railroad construction in that country. Thus began Davidson’s love for the ocean, a passion that would inform his personal and professional life thereafter. At the age of seventeen, Davidson ran away to sea, crewing on ships that traveled to the Mediterranean and Orient. He returned home, laden with sketchbooks and paintings from his experiences, and, settling in New York, undertook instruction with the Dutch painter Mauritz F. H. de Haas in the legendary Tenth Street Studio Building. There, he came into contact with Hudson River luminaries such as Winslow Homer, Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, and Stanford R. Gifford. The romantic sensibilities of the Hudson River school can be seen in the vigor and vitality of Davidson’s marine scenes and large history paintings, including a series of works documenting key naval engagements of the War of 1812.
Davidson’s remarkable facility with naval illustration proved highly marketable during the Civil War. He was a regular illustrator for both The Century and Harper’s, providing detailed artistic accounts of naval operations and battles. Later in his career, he found equal commercial demand for his depictions of sailing sports. A champion rower, Davidson lived on the Hudson River where he found ample subject matter for his brush.
A frequent exhibitor at the National Academy of Design and the Salmagundi Club, Davidson’s life was cut short by a sudden illness at the age of forty-one.
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