Michele Felice Cornè


(c. 1752–1845)
was a Neapolitan painter and teacher who immigrated to Salem, Massachusetts in 1800. Italian coastal cities were ports of call for American merchant and navalvessels beginning in the late eighteenth century, and numerous portraits of American vessels were commissioned by their masters or owners and were painted by Italianartists. Cornè may have received firsthand knowledge of America in this way, prompting him to immigrate. It is believed that he sailed for America aboard the
Mount Vernon,
owned by the prominent Derby family of Salem. Cornè later established a professional relationship with the Derbys, painting a view of the
Mount Vernon,
commanded by Elias Hasket Derby, outrunning the French fleet, and a topographical view of the home of Derby’s brother, Ezekiel Hersey Derby. The paintingincludes a vignette showing Cornè making a drawing of the house while seated next to a figure probably representing the architect and carver Samuel McIntire, whomade architectural ornaments for the house.An artist of considerable as well as diverse skills, Cornè painted portraits in oils and watercolor, landscapes, historical scenes, ornamental paintings, and madedrawings of genre scenes, in addition to marine paintings. Like many other artists in America at the time, Cornè could not sustain a livelihood from portraiture alone, so he appealed to a broader clientele by painting signs, fireboards, overmantel paintings, anddecorative murals on the walls of rooms (a less expensive substitute for imported scenic wallpaper). One such painted fireboard representing a distant view of Chatsworth, Derbyshire, England is framed by a young man in red and a young girl in blue who are depicted drawing a curtain back as if to reveal the pastoral scene in
trompe l’oeil
fashion.Although his portraits depict Americans, Cornè brought with him a European aesthetic that he continued to practice in America, rather than adapt his style to the plainer American taste. He favored vivid colors, and often used strong reds and blues in contrast. His portraits and landscapes share fluid contours and close attentionto detail in costume and foliage. Children’s likenesses are stylized, with broad heads tapering down to small chins, large eyes, and fullcheeks. Some of Cornè’s landscapes were topographical views, while others were imaginary or werebased upon European prints.Cornè moved to Boston around 1807, where he contributed the illustrations for Abel Bowen’s
The Naval Monument
(1816), an account of America’s navalengagements during the Revolutionary War. In 1822 he relocated to Newport, Rhode Island, where he lived for the remainder of his life. Remembered as anentertaining raconteur, Cornè also championed the tomato, which he is credited with having introduced to Newport.
See also
Maritime Folk Art; Painting, American Folk; Painting, Landscape
Little, Nina Fletcher.
Little By Little: Six Decades of Collecting American Decorative Arts.
New York, 1984.