Image One Credit: Thomas Chambers (American, born in England, 1808-1869), Storm Tossed Frigate, 1845, Oil on canvas, 21 7/16 x 30 3/8 inches, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch; Image Two Credit: Thomas Chambers, Old Sleepy Hollow Church, ca. 1850, Oil, 18 3/4 × 24 3/8 inches, Flint Institute of Arts, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch.

Displayed in the exhibit, The Color of the Moon, there are two works by Thomas Chambers. A painter of both landscapes and marine scenes, Chambers did not limit his subjects to views that he knew firsthand but made liberal use of both his imagination and popular engraved images.

Thomas Chambers paints a wild scene in Storm-Tossed Frigate. The viewer sees a ship tossed among waves under the light of a full moon that radiates everywhere. Chambers is perhaps best known for his maritime paintings, inspired by perilous sea journeys, shipping disasters, and stories of the sea in popular literature of his time. Although there is no exact story to be found in the text, it is likely Chambers found general inspiration for Storm Tossed Frigate in the popular novel The Pirate, written by Captain Frederick Marryat in 1836.

In Old Sleepy Hollow Church, Chambers’ moonlit churchyard is a moody creation. The viewer can almost feel a supernatural presence. Similar to his maritime paintings, Chambers was inspired by themes drawn from literature. In addition, he found inspiration in the landscape of Hudson Valley, New York. He likely would have been inspired by Washington Irving (1783–1859), one of America’s earliest writers and humorists. Chambers may have based his subject on the churchyard so vividly described by Irving in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820), where the character Ichabod Crane famously meets the Headless Horseman.

Use the questions below to help guide your looking at the two paintings.

  • Describe all the details you can find in these paintings. What do you see that is the same? Different?
  • Describe the colors used by the artist in each of the works.
  • Do you see movement in the paintings? Explain your answer.
  • What is the mood of the works? How do the colors impact the mood?
  • Is the mood the same or different in the two paintings? Why?
  • Do you see any objects that could be considered symbols? What could they represent?
  • How do these paintings make you feel? Why?
  • Which painting do you prefer? Explain your answer.
  • Pick one of the paintings. If you could tell a story about this painting, what would it be?

Come see them in person as part of The Color of the Moon, on display now through September 8th.

Download the gallery activity sheet on the work Old Sleepy Hollow Church by Thomas Chambers.