Frederick James, A Colonial Wedding

Frederick James: A Colonial Wedding (c. 1888) Oil on canvas
A Colonial Wedding
c. 1888
Oil on canvas
Credit Line
Bequest of Charles Knox Smith
30 1/4 x 45 1/4 in.

Noted for his depictions of 18th century America, James portrays an image of a newly married couple in a carriage departing a gathering of well-wishers who stand outside Christ Church's on 2nd Street in Philadelphia. Founded in 1695 as a condition of William Penn’s Charter, the church was known as "The Nation's Church," and hosted members of the Continental Congress during the American Revolution.

A crowd of onlookers dressed in elegant fabrics and masterpieces of embroidery, are engaged in the old world custom of throwing shoes at the bride and groom. Amidst the crowd, is a distinguished, white haired man with spectacles who resembles Benjamin Franklin. Nearby, a woman in an elegant yellow dress exchanges glances with a British soldier dressed in the red coat uniform of men who served during the American Revolution. A young girl facing forward, appears ready to leave the crowd of adults.

James included African American servants standing on the periphery of the action. An African American woman and child watch the scene from behind the metal fence of the church. A young, barefoot, African American young man (in a white apron and carrying a pitcher on his shoulder), gazes at the carriage pulling away. Pennsylvania would pass the Gradual Abolition Act in 1780, the first legislative enactment in America that permitted freedom to children born to enslaved mothers after that date. However, African Americans would need to serve periods of indentured servitude and not become fully free until they reached the age of 28 years. It was not until 1850 that there we no enslaved people in Pennsylvania.

James attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before travelling to Paris to study with Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904). He returned to the United States and died in Quebec in 1907. During his life time, his work was frequently included in exhibitions at the National Academy of Design in New York, PAFA, and the Brooklyn Art Association.


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  • The model in the pink dress is indubidably the artist's wife, Lucy. My parents have on their wall a James painting of Lucy in the same dress. I'd be happy to send a picture of it. Fred James was my great-great-great uncle. His sister, Carrie James Shellenberger, was my geat-great grandmother.

    Brennan Kane
  • James died suddently on July, 17, 1907, at his summerhouse in Percé, Québec, where he used to go every summer for over 20 years, enjoying a tremendous panorama on the Percé Rock from the top of the hill and welcoming fellow artists occasionnally. His dead was mourned by many, according the newspapers of the time, for he was highly appreciated by the locals. Today his house is known as Villa Frederick-James and preserved as Quebec's Built Heritage.

    Pierrette Lafond, Québec, Qc.