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Francis S. Chanfrau

Francis S. Chanfrau
Usage Conditions Apply
Unidentified Artist
Francis S. Chanfrau, 22 Feb 1824 - 2 Oct 1884
c. 1848
Pencil, ink and watercolor on paper
Sheet: 32.3 x 24.6 cm (12 11/16 x 9 11/16")
Mat: 55.9 x 40.6 cm (22 x 16")
Frame: 59 × 44 × 3 cm (23 1/4 × 17 5/16 × 1 3/16")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Object number
Exhibition Label
Frank Chanfrau, one of the most popular actors of the mid-nineteenth century, capitalized on the emergence of vernacular characters in the American theater. Developing the role of Mose based on his experience as a volunteer fireman in the Bowery, Chanfrau starred in 1848 in a sketch, Glance at New York, which soon became a highly successful play, New York As It Is. Chanfrau was a sensation, inspiring more "Mose" plays. This watercolor-with its specific references to the Arch St. Theatre-was probably an advertisement for the actor's appearance in Philadelphia. The enormous success of Chanfrau's plays caused one observer to complain that "the character of the audience was entirely changed, and Mose, instead of appearing on the stage, was in the pit, the boxes, and the gallery. It was all Mose, and the respectability of the house mosed too."
Comic actor Francis S. Chanfrau (1824–1884) took on the role of a “Bowery b’hoy” named Mose in 1848 when he was cast in Benjamin Baker’s A Glance at New York. It was the first of many plays about a folkloric character based on the real-life Moses Humphrey, a newspaper printer and volunteer fireman who lived in Manhattan’s working-class Bowery neighborhood. In this watercolor, Chanfrau appears as “Mose” at the Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia. His elaborate hairstyle and flamboyant clothing recall the street gangs that were then running New York City’s rudimentary fire brigades. Having been a Bowery b’hoy himself, Chanfrau’s performance was celebrated for its authenticity. Many members of the working-class audience saw themselves in his gestures, poses, and expressions, and viewed Chanfrau’s acting as a convincing reflection of their own labor.
El comediante Francis S. Chanfrau (1824–1884) asumió en 1848 el papel de un “chico del Bowery” llamado Mose en la obra teatral A Glance at New York de Benjamin Baker. Esta fue la primera de muchas obras sobre el personaje folclórico basado en el verdadero Moses Humphrey, impresor de periódicos y bombero voluntario que vivió en el Bowery, un barrio de clase trabajadora ubicado en Manhattan. En esta acuarela, Chanfrau encarna a “Mose” en el Teatro de Arch Street en Filadelfia. Su elaborado peinado y llamativo vestuario recuerdan a las pandillas callejeras que para entonces estaban a cargo de las rudimentarias brigadas de bomberos de Nueva York. Chanfrau mismo había sido un chico del Bowery, y su actuación fue celebrada por su autenticidad. El público de clase trabajadora se veía retratado en sus gestos, poses y expresiones, pensando que el personaje era un reflejo convincente de sus trabajos.
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
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National Portrait Gallery Collection
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