Joseph R. Meeker, View of the Meramec near Glencoe
Joseph Rusling Meeker (1827 – 1887)  View of the Meramec River near Glencoe, ca.1872, oil on canvas
Joseph Rusling Meeker (1827 – 1887)
View of the Meramec River near Glencoe, ca.1872, oil on canvas
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri - St. Louis
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 art patrons.

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.