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Chester County Press

Barclay Rubincam’s work merged art and history for all to enjoy

04/04/2024 12:52PM ● By Gene Pisasale
Barclay Rubincam’s work merged art and history for all to enjoy [6 Images] Click Any Image To Expand

“Barclay Rubincam’s work fuses history and art… an appreciation and reverence for the past that transforms his work into a series of scenes in which significant events are played out…”

-Roland H. Woodward, President of the Chester County Historical Society in “Barclay Rubincam: A Retrospective”

Artists look at the world differently than most other people. They see things which we often do not notice—and depict these things in varying ways, with subtle brushstrokes capturing light and shadows, texture and perspective. Often a painting will bring our attention to something unique and quite interesting—preserving it on canvas for generations to come. The Brandywine Valley has a rich tradition of gifted artists who have portrayed our landscapes, famous persons and world-changing events over many decades. 

Barclay Rubincam was born on July 2, 1920 in Newlin Township, Chester County and attended Unionville High School. He was a student at the Wilmington Academy of Fine Art, where his teachers included N.C. Wyeth and Frank Schoonover, two of the most famous artists to emerge from the Brandywine School under the tutelage of Howard Pyle. Rubincam’s local roots inspired his landscapes. His “Taking the Milk Down” shows a familiar, yet very historic structure—the Barns-Brinton House (circa 1714)—in the snow. Many viewers will not notice that the scene portrays Baltimore Pike (Route 1) before it was re-routed to run along the other side of the house. In “Jenny Lind’s visit to Yellow Springs 1852,” Rubincam depicts a bucolic country scene with horses leading a carriage in front of an old stone house, which is flanked by a new home being built adjacent to it. 

In Barclay Rubincam: A Retrospective, Beverly B. Sheppard states that he worked at the Warner Theater in West Chester, once sketching the surrounding street scene from its roof. A result: his painting “Looking North on High Street.” Local resident Bonnie Musser and her parents knew the Rubincams. Bonnie’s father told her that, early on, Rubincam’s family was not too thrilled with Barclay becoming an artist—and at one point were literally throwing his artwork into a fire. Her father “rescued” one painting from the flames, a canvas portraying three ships, possibly Columbus’s Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. Today the painting, unknown to the general public, hangs in the offices of Tri-M Group in Kennett Square.

Rubincam’s love for the Battle of Brandywine, a theme he used at least 20 times, is shown in “The Trap Was Sprung,” “Revolutionary Soldier,” and the magnificent “Hessians Marching Past the Barns-Brinton House at the Battle of Brandywine,” the latter painting now featured at the Visitor Center of the Chadds Ford Historical Society. If you look very closely, you can see two Canadian geese flying by the Hessian soldiers as they head toward an uncertain fate on that late summer day in September 1777. Rubincam’s “Sentry at Birmingham” depicts a haunting shadow of a soldier on the doors of the Birmingham Meeting House, a scene bathed by eerie moonlight. The fascinating thing is, there is no soldier, just a shadow. His beautifully detailed lithograph of the Battle depicts several sites from the surrounding countryside along with mentions of Casimir Pulaski, considered the “Father of the American Cavalry.” It also features General George Washington and British General William Howe, who faced off against each other directly on the field of battle.

Lydia Willits Bartholomew, chairperson of the National Bank of Malvern, knew Rubincam and owns several of his paintings. She said, “He was living history… and he grabs… simplicity in his paintings, even though there’s a lot going on. He was the real thing...”

Rubincam was a highly gifted artist, whose talent may have been better appreciated had he not worked in the shadows of some others who garnered most of the attention in the region. He died young—at age 57—in 1978. We’ll never know what other great works he could have produced had he lived longer. Numerous local collections, including the Brandywine River Museum of Art, the National Bank of Malvern and the Chester County History Center own his works, creations of a man who passed from the scene many years ago, but whose influence can still be felt today.

Gene Pisasale is an historian, author and lecturer based in Kennett Square. His 11 books focus mostly on the history of the Chester County/mid-Atlantic region. Gene’s latest book is “Heritage of the Brandywine Valley”, a beautifully illustrated hardcover book with over 250 images showcasing the fascinating people, places and events of this region over more than 300 years. His books are available on his website at and also on Gene can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]