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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. – Northern Kentucky University’s Steely Library will present an art exhibition on the work of Thomas S. Noble, a prominent 19th century artist from Lexington, Ky. Born on a plantation to a family of slave-owners, Noble was well known for creating Civil War-era historical paintings depicting the cruelty of slavery.
Classically trained in France and New York, Noble painted many subjects in the realistic style of the day, from portraiture to still life to landscapes. An influential regional artist, he was the first head of the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Curated by local expert Mary Ran, the exhibit will include a variety of his work as well as some personal effects, including beautifully written love letters to his wife.
The exhibition runs Sept. 9 through Oct. 31. An opening reception will be held on Friday, Sept. 9 from 6-8 p.m., and will feature a talk by the artist’s great-great-granddaughter, Sarah Glass, who will also speak at the library on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 2 p.m. Light refreshments will be served.
The events, which are free and open to the public, will take place in the Eva G. Farris Reading Room at NKU’s Steely Library. Select artworks on display at the exhibit will be available for purchase, with a portion of the proceeds going to benefit the Steely Library.
Thomas Noble was born in Lexington, Ky. at a time when Lexington was the center of Kentucky’s slave trade. Noble grew up on a plantation, where his father was a hemp and cotton farmer who also operated a rope and bagging factory in St. Louis, where slaves were used as hired hands through contract for hire arrangement with slave traders in Lexington. As a child, Thomas would play with the slave children that lived in small cabins at the back of the family home, and after dark listen to their elders tell ghost stories. Often he would bring biscuits in trade for an accompanied journey back to the main house after a night of scary ghost stories.
He attended Transylvania University and studied art with Oliver Frazer (1808-1864) and George P.A. Healy (1813-1894). In 1853, at the age of eighteen, he moved to New York City, and by 1856 he was studying art in Paris with the historical painter Thomas Couture from 1856-1859.
Noble returned to the United States in 1859. He was 26 at the start of the Civil War and despite his opposition to slavery, served as a captain in the Confederate Army, 1861-1865. After the Civil War, Noble returned to St. Louis in 1865 and explored the lives of freed slaves in America in a series of historical and allegorical paintings.
Noble opened a studio in New York City in 1866 and spent summers painting with George Inness in the Catskills. In 1857 he became an Associate of the National Academy and in 1868 was appointed head of the McMicken School of Art, which later became the Art Academy of Cincinnati. In 1881 he traveled to Munich, returning to Cincinnati in 1883 and later retired from the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 1904. He moved to Bensonhurst, New York and died in New York City in 1907 and is buried in Cincinnati at Spring Grove Cemetery.