Alfred S. Wall (American, 1825-1896)
Untitled (Building the Railways), 1859
Oil on Canvas, 14 H x 12 W. inches.
Framed: 20 ¼ H. x 24 ½ W. inches
Signed and dated lower left: a. Wall 1859
Period Cove Frame
This 1859 painting by Alfred S. Wall, is one of the earliest known works by the artist. It is likely that when Wall painted this work, he was exploring the surrounding Pennsylvania region when he came across this moment in time, a work crew, cutting the railroad through the Alleghanie mountains.
Alfred S. Wall was born in 1825 to William and Lucy Wall, natives of England, who came to America and settled in Mount Pleasant, PA. The senior Wall made his living as a tombstone sculptor, and apparently passed on his love of art to his sons, William Coventry Wall and Alfred. For a time, the Wall brothers shared a Pittsburgh studio in the Burke’s Building on Fourth Avenue, downtown. Alfred’s career as a painter began at the age of 21, in 1846—the same year that he married Sarah Carr. The couple had two children, A. Bryan and Bessie, who also carried on the family calling as landscape painters. Despite being self-taught artist, Alfred and his family formed a prominent art dynasty in the city of Pittsburgh, shaping the artistic community not only through their actual paintings, but also through their involvement in various institutions such as the Carnegie Institute and as consultants for art collectors in the region.
In the late 1860’s, Alfred Wall joined a group of artists, led by George Hetzel, that had found the pristine wildness at Scalp Level most satisfactory for their painting endeavors. Clear-running streams, lush forests with a wide variety of trees, fields filled with wild flowers—all of these elements found their way into his work. As typical of en plein air landscape painters, Wall created a number of quick landscape studies and sketches while outdoors, and drew inspiration from them while back in his studio later creating more finished paintings. While his main interest was in landscapes, Wall financially supported his family primarily through the paintings of portraits.