THE GRAVEYARDS of oblivion are still being successfully ransacked to satisfy the voracious appetites of the 19th-century American art market -- or so it seems after viewing several revivals now in area galleries. Bill Lewis of The Art Fund Gallery at 1338 Wisconsin Ave. NW combed southern France last spring (ah, the rigors of the trade) in search of art by 19th-century American expatriates. He returned with no less than 15 oils by Ohio-born impressionist Frank Myers Boggs (1855-1926), one of two artists whose reputations are currently undergoing reevaluation at his gallery.
Boggs headed for Paris at age 21, after a brief stint as a wood engraver for Harper's Weekly, and after studies with Jean Leon Gerome and subsequent success in the Salon (the French Government bought one of his paintings when he was only 27), spent the rest of his life in Europe. Upon his death, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor, reaffirming a suspicion aroused by several of his more stylish and too-swiftly-rendered Paris scenes: that he had a rather large commercial success during his lifetime.
Gerome suggested that Boggs skip figure painting and concentrate on marine views, which he did and occasionally did extremely well. There are several smoky, impressionistic scenes of tugboats on the Seine that recall Whistler's dark, moody images of the Thames, also a favorite Boggs subject. (In fact, a Boggs painting of the Thames is owned by the Metropolitan Museum.) There are coastal scenes of Rouen, Dieppe and Amsterdam, along with the more appealing city views of Paris and London, but all painted in the same dreary, grayed palette that seems, in the end, to muffle the vitality of the often juicy and expressive brushstrokes.
Winckworth Allan Gay (1821-1910) of Hingham, Mass., the other artist on view at The Art Fund, headed for Dusseldorf and then to Paris three decades before Boggs -- a time when Corot and Gay's teacher, Constant Troyon, was preaching the gospel of painting nature out-of-doors, rather than back in the studio -- a view advanced by the Barbizon painters Rousseau and Millet.
It is said that Gay was among the first Americans to bring the teachings of the Barbizon painters back to America. Whatever his stylistic contribution, his simple, contemplative landscape studies of the trees and fields and rocky streams of his native Massachusetts are filled with light and quiet reverence for nature which were also characteristic of the American Hudson River School. Like Boggs, Gay had his ups and downs, but he is, similarly, always intriguing for the interplay of American and European stylistic currents that ebb and flow through his art. Both shows will continue through Feb. 15, and are open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 to 5. Paintings at Dent
The Dent Collection, a relatively new gallery at 5232 44th St. NW, is showing a mixed bag of works, ranging from paintings by contemporary French pseudo-Impressionist Andre Gisson and Utrillo-worshipper Louis Dali to far more worthy examples by lesser-known 19th-century Americans. Proprietors Harry and Joyce Farr have collected 19th-century American paintings for years, and it is in the remaining woks from their collection that the gallery's strength lies: a sparkling little landscape by Willard Metcalf, a view of the Maine coast by Jervis McEntee and -- the best buy in town -- a portrait of a baby in a high chair by "Ashcan School" painter Ruth Anderson (1884-1931), an "unknown" who deserves to have her reputation permanently elevated by a museum retrospective.
Several midwestern landscapes by artist-illustrator Glen Allison Ranney (1896-1959) show him to have been an awkward and only occasionally interesting painter. Dent is open Tuesday though Saturday, 1 to 5.