In the nineteenth century, volunteer fire companies often commissioned paintings to decorate their hand-pumped fire engines for parades, competitions, and community events. Sometimes framed with elaborate carvings, they adorned the tall air chamber located at the middle or rear of a pumper. The paintings would often feature patriotic, heroic, or allegorical images to associate the volunteer companies with these lofty ideals.
This fire engine panel painting came from the Americus Fire Engine Company No. 6 of New York, New York. The volunteer company was active from December 11, 1848 until September 18, 1865. John Archibald Woodside Sr. painted the Translation of Psyche around 1849. The painting depicts the mortal Psyche ascending to her new residence on Mount Olympus to become one of the gods. Such neoclassical themes on panel paintings linked the new nation to the ancient ideals of liberty, democracy and prosperity. The use of neoclassical images also allowed artists to paint an ideal nude female form that would make their beloved engine especially eye-catching during parades. This painting and its companion (2005.0233.0304) adorned the company’s 1842 John Agnew hand-pumped engine.
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