Alfred O. Deshong

Bust of Alfred O. Deshong, c. 1916 Samuel Murray (American 1869-1941) Roman Bronze Works, New YorkAlfred O. Deshong, a wealthy Chester industrialist, acquired his collection at a time when Japanese art and design began to strongly influence the style of Western artists. His holdings include Japanese carved ivory figures, Chinese carved hardstone vessels, Japanese and Chinese lacquerware and numerous large bronze vases.

The paintings in Deshong's collection reflect his era with genre scenes of contemporary life and romantic glimpses of customs in distant lands. The artists he favored were mostly European, trained in the academies of Germany and Italy, their education often completed in Paris. Thanks to a generous grant from the Ethel Sergeant Clark Smith Memorial Fund, the entire Deshong Collection of paintings has been restored.

Alfred Odenheimer Deshong was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, on September 30, 1837. He was educated in the public schools of Chester and at Bolmar Academy, West Chester. In 1862, Alfred and his cousin, Joshua P. Eyre (1836-1889), enlisted as privates in Company K, Tenth Regiment, Pennsylvania Militia, and served during the Antietam campaign under Captain Thatcher. In 1863, Alfred enlisted in Captain William Frick's company, 37th Regiment, Emergency Corps, and served during the Gettysburg campaign.

He was honorably discharged on August 4, 1863. For thirty years following the Civil War, Alfred and his brother, John, operated the Deshong stone quarries. The partnership ended with John's death on November 1, 1895. During his lifetime, Alfred Deshong was known for his philanthropy, particularly to Chester Hospital. He loved dogs and was an enthusiast for the newly invented automobile. His main interest, however, was art collecting.

During the period in which Alfred Deshong was forming his collections, Japanese art and design had begun to have an enormous impact upon Western artists like Whistler, Degas, and Manet. Deshong was exhibiting a discerning and up-to-date taste when he acquired such items as the beautiful and intricate Oriental bronzes and carved ivories, which form the bulk of his collection and include a monumental bronze vase exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1876. Among the many other objects in the collection are Chinese carved hardstone, including jade; Chinese cinnabar lacquer boxes; and extremely detailed Japanese cloisonne enameled vases.

His taste in paintings was more conventional. He preferred landscapes and genre scenes and the artists he favored were mostly Europeans, trained in the academies of Germany and Italy, their education often completed in Paris. Essentially conservative, the academies emphasized technical proficiency, skill in drawing, and the story-telling aspects of painting. With the rise of Impressionism and of 20th century abstract art, the often sentimental artists collected by Mr. Deshong slipped into near obscurity. Although critics have overlooked such anecdotal paintings for much of the present century, they have recently begun to return to favor with collectors for the technical skill and meticulous attention to detail that also appealed to 19th century art lovers who, like Deshong, bought paintings they could understand.

Alfred O. Deshong was a lavish host, entertaining artists, musicians, and political figures in the family home, which he had filled with art objects. He never married, however, and toward the end of his life, for reasons which remain a mystery, he became reclusive, with his beloved dogs as his principal companions. His last art purchase was a pair of large Foo dogs cast in bronze. Once the guardians of a temple, the dogs were placed flanking the door of the Deshong mansion.

 

Sorrow c.1910

Sorrow, c. 1910
Samuel Murray (American 1869-1941)
Roman Bronze Works, New York

This sculpture is a "sketch" for the life-size figure for
the Alfred O. Deshong Memorial is Chester Rural
Cemetery.