Robert Loftin Newman was a nineteenth-century Romantic who painted moody canvases with subjects derived from literature and children’s tales. They were often small in scale which enhanced their intimacy as well as their mystery.

Newman was born in Richmond, Virginia, and at age eleven moved to Clarksville, Tennessee. In 1850, he went to Paris and studied for five months in the studio of Thomas Couture, highly regarded for history and genre themes along with expressive brushwork. While there, Newman took advantage of the collections at the Louvre, and in particular admired the religious work of Titian and Eugene Delacroix. He returned to France four years later and visited Barbizon, the region south of Paris, known for a school of landscape painters who depicted simple rustic scenery and the daily lives of peasants. He made subsequent trips abroad in 1908 and 1909. During the Civil War, in 1861, he served as an artillery lieutenant in the Confederate Army, but after an argument with a superior he resigned, only to be conscripted in 1864 and forced to join a Virginia regiment. Afterward he returned to Tennessee, probably Nashville, where he painted portraits and attempted to establish an academy of fine art which met with little success.

In 1873 Newman moved to New York where he resided for the remainder of his life. For a while he worked as a designer of stained glass, which may account for his ability to render luminous effects and his concern for lights and darks. Since his paintings were often thematically esoteric, he never achieved much financial success; he was supported by the generosity of several artist-friends and the patronage of Thomas B. Clarke. The only public showing of Newman’s paintings took place in 1894, at M. Knoedler & Co. in New York. After viewing the exhibition, a critic commented: “What one feels first is sincerity and brilliance of his color on a poetic background of mysterious tones. He handles color not timidly, but with almost spiritual perception of its pervasiveness in nature. … he adds to nature the subtle indefinable but indispensable ideality that makes it art.”