Animated Landscape Winter Edition

For this season’s Animated Landscape, we are featuring Alfred S. Wall’s Old Saw Mill, 1851.

Enjoy the sights and sounds of a wintry landscape, covered in snow, from your very own home in this immersive virtual experience of Alfred S. Wall’s Old Saw Mill! Wall’s painting depicts the mill in winter with all the lively activity of a small community – boys sled riding, men stopping along the path to talk, and the warm domesticity offered by the tidy little mill with its chimney showing the smoke of a warm hearth. The tree trunk in the foreground and those peppered throughout the forest floor show the encroachment of civilization and industry upon the great wilderness looming in the background.

Alfred S. Wall, the younger brother of William Coventry Wall, was born in Mount Pleasant, a borough of Westmoreland County 45 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, in 1825, which was a few years after his family had moved there from England. Following in his brother’s footsteps, Wall was a self-taught artist who moved to Pittsburgh and became a well-respected and influential painter, critic and restorer.

During the 1860s, Wall joined the Scalp Level school, a group of artists led by painter George Hetzel. Along with Hetzel, Joseph R. Woodwell, his brother W.C. Wall, and other Pittsburgh painters, he made yearly excursions to Scalp Level, near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where he painted en plein air. His attention to minute details reveals the influence of his brother as well as to the Barbizon School of artists in France who painted wooded interiors and celebrated nature at a time when it was threatened by industrialism. Although Wall was primarily known for his landscapes, he also painted portraits.

Wall and his family helped shaped Pittsburgh’s artistic community not only through their work, but also through their involvement in various institutions. In 1859 and 1860, Alfred exhibited at the Pittsburgh Art Association shows and in 1867 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1873, Alfred helped found the Art Society of Pittsburgh and served on its first board of directors upon its incorporation in 1891. During the 1970s, he was a partner in the J.J. Gillespie Gallery, the oldest and most respected art establishment in the city, which served as a location for artists of the Scalp Level School to congregate. Later on in 1895, Wall became a member of the first Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Art Fund.

Alfred S. Wall (1825-1896), Old Saw Mill, 1851, Oil on Canvas, 38 in. x 57 in., Gift of the Woods-Marchand Foundation, 1986.262.

While Old Saw Mill is technically representative of Wall’s realistic, accurately detailed and highly finished style, the featured winter scene is a rather unusual subject in that the Scalp Level artists tended to depict spring, summer and autumn since they painted out-doors.

Interestingly, the location of the Old Saw Mill in Wall’s painting was handwritten on the back of the canvas: “Old Saw Mill near Jct. 4, Portage RR, Pa.” However, because there was no Jct. 4, research has determined that the mill was located near the intersection of Portage and Washington Street in Lilly, PA.

Chew, Paul A. “Alfred S. Wall” George Hetzel and the Scalp Level Tradition, Westmoreland Museum of American Art, 1994, p. 90-91.