While slated to become a lawyer like his father and two brothers in the family firm of Weeks & de Forest, Lockwood de Forest as a young adult aspired to a career in painting. He was related by marriage to the celebrated and very successful landscape painter Frederic E. Church and the de Forest family socialized with the Churches in New York and abroad. In 1868, the two families traveled separately to Europe. After spending time together in Rome, where Frederic Church introduced the eighteen-year-old de Forest to antiques shopping, Church and Lockwood de Forest met again in Athens, the following April. While Frederic Church was preparing a visual record of the Parthenon and its surroundings in preparation for a large painting on the subject, he introduced de Forest to the field of landscape painting. He had de Forest set up his painting equipment beside him as he sketched the Parthenon and the ruins around the Temple.
They painted the same motifs so de Forest could observe how Church composed the scene, his method of blocking out the composition in graphite, as well as his painting technique, sketching in order to learn painting by observation and comparison. When he and his parents returned to New York, the young de Forest had already decided not to enter Yale University and to become a professional painter. He naturally turned to Frederic Church for training. During 1871 and 1872 de Forest studied with Church while Church was building Olana, his country home in Hudson, New York. Even though de Forest ultimately chose interior design as a profession, he delighted in making landscape oil sketches throughout his life.
These drawings will be on view in the exhibition Passion for the Exotic: Lockwood de Forest, Frederick Church beginning December 12, 2014.
Gail S. Davidson is the Head of Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and co-curator of the Passion for the Exotic exhibition.