Barking Up the Wrong TreeOn Display

Known for his humorous scenes of American life, Francis William Edmonds worked for three years as a New York banker before enrolling in night classes at the National Academy of Design in 1826. After taking up painting, Edmonds continued to work in finance and exhibited his genre paintings under the pseudonym E. F. Williams. After receiving favorable reviews of his work, Edmonds exhibited under his own name. He became increasingly involved in New York’s artistic circles: he served as treasurer of the Apollo Association (later the American Art-Union), and in 1840, was elected to the National Academy.

Here, Edmonds returns to the courtship scenes he had painted earlier in his career but adds an element of humor by depicting an older beau trying unsuccessfully to woo a young girl. The theme may derive from the Scottish poet Robert Burns’s song “To Daunton Me,” in which the speaker, a young girl, vows that an old man should never daunt her with his “false heart,” “flattering tongue,” and promises of a comfortable life. This Scottish source is suggested not only by the tartan plaid kerchief hanging on the wall and the presence of a Scottish terrier, but also by the suitor’s red hair, sideburns, and ruddy complexion, which identify him as a Scot. With its distinct characters and stage-like setting, it is perhaps no coincidence this highly theatrical painting was once owned by the famous Shakespearean actor Edwin Forrest, a friend of Edmonds.

  • About 1850-1855
  • 16 x 20 1/4 in. (40.6 x 51.4 cm) frame: 24 1/2 x 29 1/2 in. (62.2 x 74.9 cm)
  • 1989.124
  • Museum purchase with funds provided by Mrs. Allen A. Johnson, Coleman Cooper, Jeanne Adler Scharff, Norine S. Bodeker, and Dr. and Mrs. M. Bruce Sullivan, by exchange
  • The artist; auctioned at the Third Annual Exhibition of the Artists' Fund Society, New York, 1862; [probably purchased by the actor Edwin Forrest, whom Edmonds knew]; The Edwin Forrest Home for Retired Actors, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1873-1986); purchased by the Birmingham Museum of Art from Altman/Burke Fine Art, Inc., New York, NY (1989).