Gideon Jacques Denny

Born in Delaware in 1830, Denny spent his youth sailing small craft on the Chesapeake Bay. The sea and maritime subjects became his lifelong passion as an artist. He first came to San Francisco with the Gold Rush in 1849 finding employment on the docks as a teamster and volunteering with the early Vigilance Committee. He left after two years to study back East in Milwaukee with still life artist Samuel Marsden Brookes. After studying six years, Denny returned to San Francisco where he set up a studio on Bush Street, later shared with his teacher and friend Samuel Brookes. When the San Francisco Art Association was founded in 1871, Denny became the first director of the Association.

While Denny painted an occasional portrait or landscape, he is best known for his seascapes and maritime subjects which brought him fame and success. He was San Francisco’s first famous maritime painter known for his close observation of nature and accurate detail of vessels. Unlike his friend and fellow maritime artist William Coulter, who chose not to paint ships in distress, Denny was known for his paintings of shipwrecks. Denny never married and spent the rest of his life in San Francisco except for trips to Hawaii, Canada and South America. He died of Malaria while participating in a surveying trip to Cambria, California in 1886 at age 56.

Denny was active in social clubs and organizations including the Bohemian Club, Pacific Union Club, and Society of California Pioneers. The Society of California Pioneers held a memorial art show at the time of his death and has in its current collection four paintings, two of seascapes and two of ships. The painting “War Hawk Taking Pilot” in the Society of California Pioneers collection is an excellent example Denny’s mature work (Harrison, 1989).


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Harrison, Alfred C. Jr. June/July, 1989. Collections. Magazine Art of California.

Hughes, Edan Milton. 2002. Artists in California 1786-1940. Third Edition. Sacramento: Crocker Art Museum.

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