|J. R. Meeker was a native of New Jersey who grew up in Auburn, New York.
He received a scholarship to the National Academy of Design where he studied
with the noted Hudson River School artist Asher B. Durand and with the portrait
painter Charles Loring Elliott. Meeker worked in New York and in Kentucky
before arriving in St. Louis in 1859. During the Civil War, Meeker served
as a paymaster for the Union Navy, and his travels on the Mississippi River
introduced him to the river scenery from Missouri to Louisiana. These river
scenes, whether of expansive fields or mysterious swamps, became the staple
of Meeker’s career. After the war he became an active figure in St.
Louis’s cultural scene and his works were heavily collected by area
In the 1870s a group of Mercantile Library members, many of whom had
or were serving on the Board of Direction and also owned works by Meeker,
commissioned the artist to create a painting for the Library. The resulting
artwork, View of the Meramec River near Glencoe, is a glowing
autumnal landscape that reveals both the artist’s stylistic debt
to his early training and his keen understanding of the politics of his
patrons. Stylistically, the work provides a highly detailed foreground,
brightly-lit midground where the majority of the action takes place and
a hazy distant horizon – all characteristic of the Hudson River
School style he learned from Durand.
Although by this time the major trends in American landscape painting
had moved past this style, Meeker’s use of it for this work is appropriate
since the style was associated with a strong sense of patriotism and this
work was commissioned by a group of businessmen who were proud of the
economic and cultural accomplishments of their region. Meeker’s
composition is visually pleasing but rife with the symbolism of Manifest
Destiny; the human figures in the foreground float peacefully down the
river and the train entering the midground shows no ill-effects on the
landscape it invades. Thus, any evidence of man’s intrusion on the
landscape is minimal and the overriding message is that westward expansion,
a primary source of the economic growth being commemorated in this work,
has been a positive, successful venture.