Historic Selection: Jewish Captives at Babylon

Edward Harrison May (1824-1887)
Jewish Captives at Babylon  

May, 1861
Oil on canvas
51.5 x 78 inches
73 x 98 inches framed

Frame cartouche (see below image) is Latin,
containing a selection from Psalm 136, 
Flevimus cum recordaremur Sion 
(We wept, as we remembered Zion).

The Century Club, New York, 1863
Temple Emanu-El, New York, 1949
Private Collection, New York

Exhibition History:
Salon de 1863, Paris

Publication history:
Samuel Isham, The History of American Painting,
New York, 1905, p. 308.

Edward Harrison May Jr. (1824-1887) was an English-American painter who spent much of his career in Paris.

The son of Edward Harrison May Sr., a Dutch Reformed clergyman, May was born in Croyden, England, and brought to America in 1834 when his father accepted a post in New York. After early training in civil engineering, May turned to art, studying for a time with Daniel Huntington. May first exhibited at the National Academy in 1844. With Joseph Kyle and others he produced a panorama representing Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress which was first exhibited in 1848, to great financial success. In 1851 May was able to move permanently to Paris.

In Paris he soon entered the atelier of Thomas Couture for further study. May produced historical and genre paintings as well as profitable portraits of the well-to-do. He exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1855 to 1885; he won an award in 1855, one of the first Americans to do so. In 1878 he was elected to the National Academy of Design in New York (although he never completed the process of becoming a member). He was regarded as one of the leaders of the American expatriate art community in Paris.

During the Franco-Prussian War May served as a captain in the “American Ambulance” – a temporary military hospital staffed by volunteers from the American colony in Paris. He received a medal for his services during the war.

His works are found in many public collections, including at Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC; American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York; National Academy of Design, New York; Yale University Art Museum; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; the Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia

About this piece: The work was acquired by subscription of 22 members of the Century Association in New York, 1863. The subscription committee included: George Bancroft, Sheppard Gandy, W.W. Parkin, Robert M. Olyphant, James Lirmer Graham Jr., Henry G. Marquand, C.S. Seyton, Henry L. Pierson, L.M. Rutherford, James Augustus Suydam, E.M. Young, Ezra Goodridge, Josiah Lane, Smith Clift, F.A. Lang, W.S. Haseltine, J.F. Kensett, “rainsford” and Michel Knoedler.

In 1949 the painting was given to Temple Emanu-El in New York. It was later sold by the temple, though the date and location of the sale are unknown. The painting eventually entered a New York-Area private collecction and was offered at auction at the Potomack Company, Alexandria Virginia (2 October 2010;  lot no. 415).