Gift of Nancy L. Corson, 2003
Born in poverty in Ireland, Thomas Hovenden went on to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and met Helen Corson, an artist from Philadelphia, while working as a young artist in France. The couple married and returned to Philadelphia, where Hovenden replaced Thomas Eakins as a professor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine arts.
Painted a year before Hovenden and Corson were married, Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady depicts a young courtier (a self-portrait of Hovenden) presenting a ring to his beloved (Corson). The Corson family were well-known abolitionists, and their home in Plymouth Meeting, known as Abolition Hall, was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The family’s barn, later used as Hovenden’s studio, was often used for anti-slavery meetings.
Hovenden is well known for portraying subjects of African American life in the post-Civil War era. One of his most famous paintings, The Last Moments of John Brown (1884), is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. His remarkable Breaking Home Ties (1890) hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Sadly, Hovenden’s life ended in 1895 in a failed attempt to rescue a child from an oncoming train.