Often I'll think about how a fair number of talented visual artists have called Cincinnati home over the last 225 years, and I'm so grateful to be within the same space the luminaries who made a name for our city within the art world shared throughout our history. Henry Mosler (1841-1920) is a shining example of such an artist; originally from Silesia (the part of which is now in modern-day Poland), he came to Cincinnati at the age of ten with his parents and honed his craft within the area. He taught himself how to draw and did illustrations for various publications related to Civil War coverage. He studied under several different artists and learned how to paint. And in 1893, at the age of forty eight, Mosler painted The Chimney Corner, an incredible piece that now hangs in the Cincinnati Art Museum today.
There's a lot to say about The Chimney Corner. Upon first glance, it's immediately obvious this painting is masterfully rendered. The color palette is a pleasant mix of warm brown tones surrounding a core of vibrant green, blue and red hues. The chimney and two figures, along with their props, are all precisely measured and realistically depicted. Not an ounce of doubt betrays the shape and size of everything in this scene; it's a testament to Mosler's expertise when it comes to his art. But, skillful execution aside, it's the subject that's most striking about this particular piece. This painting embodies the timeless spirit of young love. The period dress and scenery do not date this painting in the least; the dress may be different, but the feelings are familiar. You can feel it as you study it. The girl just finished or is about to fan the flames embedded in the wall, a metaphor for the budding romance situated and burning between them as they flirt with each other alone in their corner. The grinning boy is holding up a pipe and gesturing to her to try something she possibly hasn't before. She measures him in a kind, decisive stare as she smiles brightly against the ruby glow of the flames beside her. Their lips would touch the pipe separately but represent the precursor to their first kiss. The pipe represents the physical bond they're about to forge over the literal and metaphorical fire between them while little floating embers dangle like fireflies and split the direct line of the eye contact they're making. The boy's umbrella, that which keeps him safe from the hazards of the world, is not needed here with her and rests folded in his lap, symbolic of his comfort and lowered guard. Both are bathed in the light of the fire in such a beautiful way that you have to wonder if Mosler truly knew beforehand how incredibly romantic the scene would turn out to be or if it organically worked out that way as he painted.
We don't know the fate of these two people, unfortunately. Did they discover love on their own or was their relationship arranged? Did they grow old together? Or was this merely just a scene where a young apprentice passing through some town on a dreary October night sat down with the daughter of an innkeeper in the corner of the room to give her a moment of attention before his master called to him to get a move on? The possibilities for setting the scene are many, but the central idea of the painting is constant: even if just for a few seconds, and regardless of the statuses of their lives or how they got there, they were together and they loved sharing that moment with each other in the chimney corner.