Lucien Whiting Powell was born at Levinworth Manor in Upperville, Virginia, the son of a distinguished Virginia family. Educated in the district schools and under private tutors, he served in the Virginia Cavalry during the Civil War, after which he studied with Thomas Moran in Philadelphia. Continuing his education abroad, Powell traveled to London in 1875. There he studied at the London School of Art, copied works by J. M. W. Turner in the National Gallery, and made sketching trips into the English countryside, often choosing the same subjects that Turner had painted. While little is known about his early career, by 1885 Powell had begun spending the winter months in Washington, D.C., and his summers in nearby Virginia, a practice he maintained for the rest of his life. In 1890, inspired by the example of Turner and Moran, he made a sketching trip to Venice. Powell also visited Rome, Paris, and Switzerland. In 1901, he emulated Moran by accompanying a geological expedition to the Grand Canyon. He journeyed to the Holy Land in 1910 and revisited many scenic spots in Europe.
Though he is best known today for his late works and dramatic landscapes, Powell’s earliest paintings dealt with life in his native Virginia. Pride of the Farmyard is one of three nocturnal scenes, likely painted between 1868 and 1878, that focus on a barnyard. Though little is known about his working methods, the pictures were probably composed from sketches made by Powell in Virginia before or soon after the Civil War. Like his later studies of Venice and the Grand Canyon, they served him again and again throughout his career.
The barnyard series testifies that even at this early date, Powell thoroughly explored a subject when it was of interest to him. He loved the effects of sunlight on landscape, especially the effects of evening light. Examples of Powell’s luminous canvases can be found in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, High Museum of Art, and Butler Institute of American Art, among others.