Thursday, July 2, 2015

Pictorial Composition: Breadth of Treatment by Henry Poore

There is an aspect in many fine paintings, something that an artist should strive to achieve, that is called "breadth of treatment." It is a quality that allows the viewer's eye to flow easily across a picture and is quite deliberately striven after by those artists who value it. Here are some very helpful comments on it by Henry Rankin Poore, an American artist, illustrator, critic and author who studied both in America and abroad in the late 1800's, and wrote a book called Pictorial Composition and the Critical Judgment of Pictures.

Breadth Versus Detail

Subjectively the painter and the photographer stretch after the same goal. Technically they approach it from opposite directions.

The painter starts with a bare surface and creates detail; the photographer is supplied therewith.

Art lies somewhere between these starting points; for art is a reflection of an idea and ideas may or may not have to do with detail.

According to the subject then is the matter of detail to serve us. In the expression of character a certain amount of detail is indispensable; by the painter to be produced, by the photographer saved. But detail is often so beautiful in itself and is not art a presentation of the beautiful, pleads the photographer. And the reply in the Socratic method is: "Look at the whole subject: does the idea of it demand this detail?"

The untutored mind always sees detail. For this reason most education is inductive, but though the process is inductive, the goal is the eternal synthesis. It is the reporter who gathers the facts: the editor winnows therefrom the moral.

Thackery by Robert Blum

The artist must - in time - get on top and take this survey. Looking at any subject with eyes half closed enables him to see it without detail, and later, with eyes slowly opening, admitting that much only which is necessary to character.

The expression of character by masses of black and white proves this. Bishop Potter is unmistakable, his features bounded by their shadows. From such a start then it is a question of procedure cautiously to that point where the greatest charcter lies, but beyong which point detail becomes unnecessary to character.

The pen portrait of Thackeray by Robert Blum is a careful delineation of the characteristic head of the novelist set on shoulders characteristically bent forward and the body characteristically tall. What more can be told of Thackeray's personality? Would the buttons and the wrinkles of the clothing help matters! No, as facts they would not, and when art has to do only with character, the simplest statement is the most forcible.

Millet, at one time, was known as "the man who painted peasants without wrinkles in their breeches." Not because wrinkles were too hard for him, nor because they were not thought worthwhile, but because, in his effort to prune his picture of the unessentials, the wrinkles were brushed aside.

Peasants Planting Potatoes by Jean-Francois Millet

When, however, art has to do with filling an entire space with something, and the clothing occupies a considerable part of it, what shall be done? This changes the details of the question, yet of all portraits that hit hard in exhibitions are those conceived in simplicity, those in which the personality is what stops and holds us.

There are certain large organic lines of drapery which the character demands, but beyond this point opinion divides authoritatively from the complete silence of obliteration to the tumultuous noisiness of "the whole truth."

In the portraits by Carreire all detail is swept away, and the millinery artists are shocked. Simplicity should never compromise texture and quality. This side of the truth cannot prove objectionable.

"You have made my broadcloth look like two-fifty a yard and it really cost four," was a criticism offered by a young lady who posed in a riding habit. Such practical criticism is frequently necessary to bring the artist down from the top height observatory were he is absorbed with "the big things."

Breadth does not signify neglect of detail or neglect of finish; it means simplification where unity had been threatened. It is seeing the big side of small things, if the small things cannot be ignored.

The Daguerrotype by William McGregor Paxton
The lighting of a subject has much to do with its breadth. A light may be selected that will chop such a well organized unit as the body into three or four separate sections, or one that produces an equal division of light and shade - seldom good. Shadows are generally the hiding places for mystery; and mystery is ever charming. None better than Rembrandt knew the value of those vague spaces of nothingness, in backgrounds, and in the figure itself, a sudden pitch from light and positiveness into conjecture. We hear in photography much of the "Rembrandtesque effect," which when produced proves to be just blackness. There can be no shadow without light, and Rembrandt's effort was to obtain this, rather than produce darkness.

The feeling of light may also be broadly expressed by a direct illumination. Here the shadow plays a very small part, and the subject is presented in its outline. Under such an effect we lose variety but gain simplicity. This brings us close to the region of two dimensions, the realm of Japanese art and mural decoration. The portraits of Manet, the decorations of Puvis de Chavannes, and the early Italians, display the quality of breadth because of the simplicity of lighting which these subjects received.
Young Woman Reading a Letter
by William Worcester Churchill
Breadth in the treatment of the figure may be obtained by graded light. If a shadow be produced at the bottom of the picture sufficiently strong to obliterate both the light and shade of detail, and thence be made to weaken as it proceeds upward and finally give place to light, where light is most needed, great simplicity as well as the element of variety will be the result.

Thus, in the most effective treatment in mural decoration, one sees only the grand forms, the movement, the intention, those things which most befit the inner surface of the building being also those which bear the greater importance. The fact is used as an argument for the assumption that painting should, after all, be an art of two dimensions, length and breadth, reserving thickness and its representation, for sculpture. This robs painting of the quality of natural aspect, except under the single effect of absolutely direct lighting and ignores its development beyond the flatly colored representations of the ancient Egyptians, our American Indians and the Japanese, a development inaugurated by the Greeks and sinse adhered to by all occidental nations.

The student who goes to nature and sees mass only, discarding all detail, will run the chance of being a colorist as well as a painter of breadth, two of the most important qualifications; for if he refuses to be stopped by detail his intelligence will crystallize upon that other thing which attracts him. He will think the harder upon the simple relations of tones and the exact color. Slowly dexterity will add a facility to his brush and he will, while aiming at character, through breadth, unconsciously introduce characteristic detail. This is the hope of the new method which is now being introduced into the system of public school instruction.

The scheme as developed by Mr. Dow is decorative rather than naturalistic, the aesthetic side with "Beauty," as the watchword being in greatest point. The filling of spaces in agreeable and harmonious arrangement does not demand strict acknowledgment of natural aspect.  Indeed this is denied in most cases where the limitations of decoration are enjoined. With the first principle, truth, upon which all education rests, as the basis of such study, the nature part of this system will fall into its logical channels. If nature's largeness and simplicity contributes to its value, then nature should be consulted when she is large and simple. Studies of trees in gray silhouette, should be made at twilight, either of evening or early morning, when the detail, which is useless to the decorative scheme, is not seen. Under such conditions so slight or sacrifice is necessitated. Nature then contributes her quantity directly and the student has no warrant in assuming to change her. There are times also when the face of nature is so varied that the most fantastic schemes of Notan are observed; a harbor filled with sails and seagulls, a crowd of people speckling the shore, the houses of a village dotted over a hillside. Under a direct light these become legitimate subjects offered by nature herself to the scheme which, however, she only now and then honors.

The system therefore accompanies the student but part way and leaves him still knocking at the door of the complete naturalistic presentation of pictorial art, a development which stretches into limitless possibilities by the use of the third dimension.

Work in two dimensions by season of its greater simplicity should naturally precede the complications involved in producing the completely modelled forms of nature, and therein the argument for its use in the early stages of the student's development is a strong one.

* from "Pictorial Composition and the Critical Judgment of Pictures" by H.R. Poore, 1903

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Significance of Frank Duveneck

At the time of Frank Duveneck's birth in 1848, American art had not yet developed a successful voice of its own. Only a handful of her painters had managed to achieve recognition on the worldwide stage and fewer still were significantly esteemed on America's own shores. There were common itinerant portraitists, sign painters, building decorators, and those who drew and painted the flora, fauna and scenery being discovered as the country moved west, but it wasn't until 1850, two years after Frank Duveneck's birth, that America's first art movement came into existence: the Hudson River School. It was distinguished by its idealized, tightly-rendered, large and luminous landscapes and seascapes. 
Frederick Edwin Church, Valley of the Santa Ysabel
At that time, for those who wished to study art seriously, there were very few art schools. The National Academy of Design in New York City and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia were the most notable, but their curricula were limited. American students who were intent on learning their craft had to travel to Europe for training – to Germany and France in particular. Among those who studied art abroad was Frank Duveneck. He was the first-born son of German immigrant parents who had settled in Covington, Kentucky - just across the Ohio River from the far larger town of Cincinnati. As a boy he had a reputation for being artistic, and local merchants paid him to create signs for their shops. As he grew older “his priest recommended him to Johann Schmitt and Wilhelm Lamprecht, German lay brothers, who had been invited to immigrate and decorate Roman Catholic churches. He was apprenticed to help them beginning with the local mission church. They instructed him in wood carving, modeling figures, designing friezes, gilding, leading glass panes and painting frescoes.” Their work beautified churches locally, in different states and even in Canada - and is still treasured and preserved by a number of those churches. 
Eglise Saint Roumuald, Montreal, Canada

He continued to attract the attention of those who recognized his potential, and when he was 21, his parents were persuaded to send him to Munich, Germany for art studies. Duveneck arrived there at a pivotal time. 

Realism, an art movement birthed in France, had just been embraced by the director and leading teachers of Munich's Royal Academy of Fine Arts  (in which Frank had enrolled), and also by the city's leading artist, Wilhelm Leibl. The founder of Realism, French artist Gustave Courbet, had come to Munich to demonstrate his style of art and had left not only Leibl but many other artists in the city completely inspired. Breaking from the approved subject matter of that time - mythological and great historical events populated by noble, idealized people - Courbet instead wished to paint “everyday subjects and situations in contemporary settings, depicting individuals of all social classes in a similar manner.” In his “Realist Manifesto” he wrote: “To know in order to be able to create, that was my idea. To be in a position to translate the customs, the ideas, the appearance of my epoch, according to my own estimation; to be not only a painter, but a man as well; in short, to create living art - this is my goal.” His work provoked the art establishment. His large depictions of a common man’s funeral in “Burial at Ornans” and that of simple laborers in “Stone-Breakers” were considered scandalous – and rejected by the jury of the Universal Exposition of 1844.
Courbet: “Burial At Ornans,” 10.3' x 21.7'

As we consider Realism as Courbet defined it, we also must not think that it referred to a precise and careful depiction of visual appearances – which was instead at that time a characteristic of academic painting. While things were depicted realistically, the style of brushwork and tightness of depiction were not defining traits of the movement. This was especially true in Munich, where the artists gave it their own very distinctive twist, one that had evolved quickly after two exhibitions in the city. One exhibition had exposed the artists to works from the old masters – such as Rubens, Rembrandt, Velazquez and Hals; the other to paintings of current, cutting-edge artists like Courbet. (In fact his previously rejected “Stone Cutters” was the hit of the latter exhibit.) The leading artists in Munich started depicting common people and things with loose brushwork (like Hals) on backgrounds of dark brown (as in the masters' works), the style which is recognized today as the Munich School of painting. 
Wilhelm Leibl, Peasant Boy
They also began to train the academy’s students along these new paths - including an enthusiastic Frank Duveneck. His family had sent him to Munich to become a skillful church decorator, but he quickly lost interest in that profession once he found this style which suited his talent and temperament. He excelled, completing courses rapidly while winning top medals, a place in the best classes, studio space and expenses for models, and even an offer from Germany’s eminent portraitist, Franz von Lenbach, to become his assistant.

By the time Frank returned to the States, he had changed. Although he did go to work for a church decorating company - as his parents had planned, his first love now was fine art. He found ways to continue it. He associated with other fine artists in the area. He shared a studio with a young sculptor, Frank Dengler, who had studied with him in Munich. He became good friends with Dusseldorf-trained depicter of Native Americans, Henry Farny. He also volunteered to teach a night class in life drawing at the Mechanics Institute of Cincinnati. His students there were a fine group of young men who became esteemed artists in their own right, among whom were John Twachtman, Kenyan Cox, and Frederic Blum. He painted portrait commissions too until 1875 when he was invited by esteemed Boston artist William Morris Hunt to show five of his paintings at the Boston Art Club. 
Frank Duveneck, Whistling Boy
His work created a sensation, and he was acclaimed by critics and public alike. One art critic, Henry James, wrote:

"The discovery of an unsuspected man of genius is always an interesting event and nowhere perhaps could such an event excite a higher relish than in the aesthetic city of Boston. Many people just now in the New England capital are talking of Mr. Frank Duveneck and incidentally of Velazquez. Mr. Duveneck is a painter of the rigidly natural school. Unadorned reality is as yet his exclusive theme...the handling is of the broadest and freest, the color ranges through only two or three variations of black or gray, but the relief, the vigor, the frankness, the comprehensive simplicity are most striking...Mr. Duveneck on the exhibition of these works was, we believe, invited to come to Boston where a dozen immediate orders for portraits were assured him. We learn, with pleasure, that it is proposed to bring these portraits to New York and place them temporarily on exhibition. We hope for the sake of every one concerned, that they will encounter perfect, adequate appreciation, but that it will be remembered that Mr. Duveneck is very young, and that if we praise him too lavishly now, we shall have nothing left to say about him twenty years hence."

The people loved his style which was radically different from that of the Hudson River School and also different from the style that Dusseldorf-trained American artist Emanuel Leutze used as in “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” Frank's paintings, which included his famous (even to this day) depiction of a young rascal smoking a cigar, “Whistling Boy,” were bold, loosely painted portraits with dark backgrounds a la Munich School Realism. All of his work at the exhibit sold at prices beyond his expectations, and his reputation soared.

Frank Duveneck, The Turkish Page
At that point he could easily have stayed in the States and had a successful career, but he returned to Europe to continue his artistic journey. He and fellow Royal Academy student William Merritt Chase shared a studio – and subject matter on occasion - for some time in Germany and in Italy. Again there were outstanding reviews when several years later they showed their work in the prestigious 1878 National Academy of Design's exhibit in New York. Duveneck’s painting “The Turkish Page” was a sensation. People admired “his mastery of all technical difficulties, the justness of his tonal values and wet-into-wet straightforward painting.” The work now hangs in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. “Some critics announced that the artist's offhand painterly methods heralded a rejuvenation of American art. Another observed that 'these brilliant paintings and the new attitudes these works implied profoundly shook the traditional aesthetic assumptions of our native school. The more far-sighted critics hailed the exhibition as the dawning of a new era for American art.”

Duveneck continued his explorations mastering new art forms and techniques. While he continued to paint portraits in the Realist vein, he also ventured outdoors to paint - and he didn't go alone. He now had his own group of students, called the Duveneck Boys. They called him “The Professor,” and he taught these thirty young men as they sketched and painted the countryside around Polling, Germany. Both he and they learned to see new colors and light in ways that working in a studio could never teach them. It was no coincidence that some of the greatest artists in America at that time came from his students: John White Alexander, Louis Ritter, Joseph DeCamp, Otto Bacher, Theodore Wendel, Harper Pennington, Julian Story and Julius Rolshoven. The dark brown “soup” of Munich disappeared from Frank's outdoor work. 

Frank Duveneck Landscape Study

His plein air paintings, such as “Beechwood at Polling, 1878,” were full of light as well as his typically expressive application of pigment. He continued plein air work throughout his life - in Germany, Italy, and after his permanent move back to the States, in Gloucester, Massachusetts in particular. “He crowned his late career with an achievement that has not received enough critical attention. His series of Gloucester, Massachusetts seascapes must be counted among his most personal and revealing works...about one hundred in all. The best of these seacoast scenes revealed that his unerring eye and daring hand remained intact, even though weakened. They show deep discernment of physical nature and tight composition. The best are mysteriously evocative, appealing as much to the mind as to the eye."

Duveneck was an extraordinarily gifted man – someone who enjoyed exploring different facets of art with the ability to master them very quickly. In the 1880s he put his hand to etching. He produced a remarkable series of 37 plates in Venice so beautifully done that James McNeill Whistler’s own gallery in London thought that Whistler had done them under a pseudonym. In his book Etchers and Etching, Joseph Pennell comments on Duveneck's mastery of the medium: “No one has approached him in beauty and meaning of line...every line is vital, the point of view is personal and the arrangement individual...they are masterpieces.” This author, who was Chairman of the International Jury of Awards for Engraving at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition in 1915, proposed a special gold medal for Duveneck for these etchings which was enthusiastically agreed upon and presented by an international jury comprised of about 30 outstanding painters and sculptors from both the States and Europe. 

Ponte Rialto by Frank Duveneck, 1883
Frank Duveneck was also acclaimed for his sculpture – particularly his wife's funereal effigy - which is remarkable since it was the first that he had done. Elizabeth Boott Duveneck had been one of his admirers ever since she saw his work in the 1875 Boston Art Club show. She and her father had purchased one of Frank's paintings, and she pursued studies with him both in Munich and then in Florence, Italy. They were eventually married after a rocky six-year courtship and shared a studio and models for a time until their son was born. A year later in 1888, while they were both in Paris studying art and preparing for the annual Salon, Lizzie contracted pneumonia and died. Their son went to live with Lizzie's relatives in Boston, an arrangement that regularly brought Frank there for lengthy visits, while he himself returned to Covington to his family’s home. There he collaborated with Cincinnati sculptor Clement Barnhorn to create a bronze memorial effigy for his wife’s grave in Italy. He received multiple commissions from American museums for its replication: one in Carrera marble to place in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (which also received honorable mention in the 1895 Paris Salon); four others for Chicago, Indianapolis, Lincoln and San Francisco; and in 1917, at the urging from none other than Daniel French, the famous American sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial, one for a bronze version gilded with gold leaf for the Metro­politan Museum of Art. The original plaster cast is still on display in Cincinnati, along with the marble and gilt versions in Boston and New York. 

Elizabeth Boott Duveneck Effigy (detail)
white Carrera marble at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Duveneck also painted notable murals for the prayer chapel at St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky (on the National Registry). It was a five-year project, resulting in three large panels, each ten by twenty-four feet, dedicated to his mother who had hoped for him to have a career as a church decorator. They involved many studies and trips to Europe that not only resulted in the fine finished pieces but several additional paintings.

Aside from introducing Realism to the American art scene and being extremely talented, Duveneck had another outstanding gift that would help advance art in America – that of teaching. At this time our country desperately needed well-trained teachers to help develop the abilities of students right here in the States. This was a crucial role in our country's artistic development, and these years saw European-trained American artists beginning art schools that helped change the need to go abroad for a good education. Duveneck turned down offers to teach in New York at the Art Students' League and in Chicago at the Art Institute (where they had told him to name his salary) to reach out in his own area of the country.

Josephine Duveneck writes:
 "Many critics and art historians...have failed to take into account the outstanding qualities of Duveneck as a teacher, and the difficulty he had in extricating himself from the demands made by the growing number of art students in the United States. From the early days in Munich, when the “Boys” left the Academy to study with him, up to the very last year of his life, he was sought by hundreds of students. Because of his great liking for young people, he responded with warmth and enthusiasm, sharing his skill and experience with complete generosity. In the successes of the young men and women who worked under him, he seems to have found as much, perhaps even more, satisfaction as in his own triumphs...In Cincinnati, Nicholas Longworth gave a substantial sum for the establishment of an art academy. In 1890 Duveneck joined the faculty of Cincinnati's Art Academy and continued to teach there for almost twenty years until his death."
His outstanding contribution as a teacher was recognized in 1917 when he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Cincinnati. The finest tribute, however, was at a memorial meeting after his death held at the Art Museum by his students. The following resolution was adopted: 
"Frank Duveneck, master in sculpture, in etching, and supremely master with the brush, has left in his words a legacy of unlimited value. We the students of the Duveneck Class, who worked under him in the early days in Europe, in Boston, or here in Cincinnati, are possessed of a treasure even richer, the inspiration of his character, of his vigorous and tender personality, of the high ideals of art and of life he implanted.
Great teacher, most kindly and just of critics, dear friend, he has been to us like a father to his children. Each of us has felt his protecting encouragement, his tender anxiety that we attain to the best within our powers. His careful instruction, his kindly interest were freely given to his students whether they clung far down on the ladder of the struggle to learn or had reached the upper rounds. He gave his best without stint. No appeal for help was unanswered or misunderstood. No effort was too great for him to make on our behalf. All he demanded of us was honesty of endeavor and sincerity of purpose. His criticism, whether sought or unsought, was just. Invariably constructive, it was a spur to greater effort. Frank Duveneck stood for the highest ideals. He gave to those who were near him sympathy and loyalty.
Be It Therefore Resolved: That we, his students, are united by the privilege of association with the master, the great teacher of his day. That we shall cherish the nobility of his ideals, striving not only to live up to the best in ourselves as he would have us do, but to keep alive and pass on to those with whom we may be associated, the teachings and ideals of one who has been an inspiration not only in art, but in life itself."
Duveneck was not only respected and loved by his students, but had influence in a number of art organizations. From the time of his return to the States in 1888, he received invitations to positions of honor. He became the first president of the Society of Western Artists (1896), and president of the Cincinnati Art Club (1896-98). He also sat on the juries of prestigious art competitions, both nationally and internationally such as that for the Paris Exhibition (1899), which placed him alongside of first-rate American artists Winslow Homer, Edwin Blashfield, Hugh Bolton Jones, John LaFarge, H. Siddons Mowbray, Robert Vonnoh, J. Alden Weir, Cecilia Beaux and William Merritt Chase. When he went to spend time with his son in Massachusetts on long holidays and during the summers he became “a pivotal figure of the Cape Ann art community.” Students and artist friends, such as Theodore Wendel, Joseph DeCamp, John W. Alexander, John Twachtman, and Herman and Bessie Wessel from Boston and Cincinnati came with him to paint at Gloucester en plein air, and he has work hanging in the Cape Ann Museum.

Duveneck also had a significant influence on the Cincinnati Art Museum. His association with its director, Thomas Joseph Gest, was quite directive in the museum's development. Thomas esteemed Duveneck highly and often consulted with him about the purchase of works of art for the institution. Elizabeth Cary, writing in The New York Times, asserted, “The spirit of Duveneck for many years has informed the Museum and made it that vital stimulating extraordinarily moving place that it is.” In a time when Americans were prone to favor European artists, the Cincinnati Art Museum was the first American art museum to patronize American art, a practice that Frank encouraged. He also donated his personal collection of approximately 150 paintings to the museum.

When one asks where he was pegged in the national and international world of art in his time, the answer comes in the form of a special recognition awarded him at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. A special gold medal was decided upon by a jury of 30 artists not only from the States but from abroad. A letter from the foreign members of the jury (from Holland, Japan, Cuba, Italy, Portugal, China, Argentina, Sweden and Norway) said: “'Whereas the comprehensive retrospective collection of Mr. Frank Duveneck's work in oils, etching and sculpture brought together here has unquestionably proven to be the real surprise of the whole American Section in the Palace of Fine Arts, and, whereas, these works have astonished and delighted all those hitherto unacquainted with his life work, while confirming the opinion of those few who have long held him in the highest esteem both as an artist and as a man, we the foreign jurors on the International Jury of Award, feel that some special recognition of his distinguished contribution to American art should be awarded Mr. Duveneck, and we herewith recommend a Special Medal of Honor be struck in his honor and awarded him.” Norbert Hermann’s book on Duveneck, written 3 years after the Panama-Pacific Exposition, continued that praise, comparing his skills to those of the old masters.

The art world and his city were and still are grateful:
Statue of Frank Duveneck holding a plaque with his wife's
picture on it in Covington, Kentucky
  • In 1929, ten years after his death, a commemorative bronze plaque was affixed to his house on Greenup Street in Covington (and is still there) by the Covington Art Club, the Tuesday Club and the Women’s Club which read, “Here lived Frank Duveneck, a great artist, 1848-1919. 
  • In 2003 the entry room of the Cincinnati Wing at the Cincinnati Art Museum was dedicated to showing his work and life story. 
  • In 2006 the exterior of Duveneck’s home was renovated through a grant from the Kentucky Heritage Coun­cil, and applications for grants for an interior renovation have been made to bring it back to its appearance during Duve­neck’s residence. 
  • His work and his teaching are still used to instruct art students. 
  • In 2006 a life-size statue of Frank Duveneck holding a picture of his wife, Elizabeth Boott, was erected in his honor in Covington, Kentucky. 
  • The members of the Cincinnati Art Club, an organization that included Duveneck as a founding member and president, make an annual visit to his nearby grave in the Mother of God Cemetery. 
  • This year 2015 is the hundredth anniversary of the Panama-Pacific Exhibition. In recognition of Duveneck's gold medal, the Cincinnati Art Museum is loaning his “Whistling Boy” to the year-long celebration. 
  • In 2019 on the 100th anniversary of his death, the Cincinnati Art Museum has plans to celebrate his work and life.

Hermann, Norbert, Frank Duveneck 
Cary, Elisabeth Luther, Dec. 24, 1922 “A Glimpse of Art in Cincinnati” New York Times
Whistler, James Abbott McNeill, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies
Pennell, Joseph, Etchers and Etching
Duveneck, Josephine, Frank Duveneck: Painter, Teacher
Neuhaus, Robert, Unsuspected Genius: The Art and Life of Frank Duveneck
Boime, Albert, Art in an Age of Civil Struggle, 1848-1871

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Elizabeth Nourse: Cincinnati's Most Famous Woman Artist (Pt. IV)

by Mary Alice Heekin Burke

Nourse was at the peak of her career in the years just before World War I, but in July 1914, when the Germans invaded Belgium, it marked the end of the art world as she knew it. The Salon lost its importance as dealers in London, Paris, and New York attracted the public by showing a rapid succession of modern styles. When the war broke out almost all of the American expatriates in France went home, but the Nourses felt an obligation to their adopted country.

In December 1914 Elizabeth described the siege of Paris in a letter to a Cincinnati friend and said: "We shall stick it out and retire to the cellar" and Louise wrote to their niece: "All the Americans are going but we will stay right here. I should feel an ungrateful wretch to run away—as though I fled from some hospitable roof when small pox breaks out."

Elizabeth Nourse
The sisters worked tirelessly for the refugees who flooded into Paris and Elizabeth raised money for clothing, coal, and food by appealing to her American women friends. She was especially concerned with aid to artists whose careers had been disrupted by the war, and, in 1919, the board of the New Salon presented her with a silver plaque in grateful recognition for this work.

In 1916 Elizabeth and Louise worked so hard that their doctor ordered them to the country for a rest, and they went to Penmarch in Brittany. There, they found that more than sixty village women had been widowed by the war and all the remaining able-bodied men had been conscripted, leaving the women with all the farm work as well as the care of their homes and children. The Nourses proceeded to help out. Elizabeth wrote to a friend: "It is quite a sight to see us bringing in the cows and tossing the hay, besides feeding ducks, chickens and picking beet and cabbage leaves for the cattle."

Elizabeth Nourse . Dans l'Elise a Volendam
Elizabeth had been unwell for some time, and in March 1920 she underwent surgery for breast cancer. She was unable to paint at her easel for a long time and in the 1921 Salon she exhibited works that had been painted some years earlier. By 1924 she had ceased to exhibit at all and painted thereafter only for her own pleasure. She was then sixty-five years old and her professional career had spanned forty-four years.

Elizabeth Nourse
In 1921 Nourse received one last public honor that must have gratified her. The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana awarded her the Laetare Medal, given annually to a Catholic layperson for distinguished service to humanity. The Paris edition of the New York Herald described the ceremony, presided over by the Papal Nuncio in Paris, and called Nourse "the dean of American women painters in France and one of the most eminent contemporary artists of her sex." The Chicago Tribune simply referred to her as "the first woman painter of America."
Article on Elizabeth's Selection for the Laetare Medal
for Distinguished Service to Humanity

Elizabeth was probably not completely happy with such tributes because she once told her friend, Anna Schmidt, that she wanted to be judged as an artist, not as a woman. Still, she became accustomed to seeing reviews of her work in which critics complimented her for painting like a man. Louise died in 19 3 7 at the age of eighty-four and Elizabeth, who apparently could not imagine living without her, immediately became ill. She lingered on for a year and a half and died in October 1938. She was buried beside Louise in Saint Leger and the contents of her studio were returned to Cincinnati.

Elizabeth Nourse . A Mother and Child
Elizabeth Nourse was born with great natural ability and received excellent training at the School of Design, but more than this was needed for her to achieve international prominence at a time when few women artists were taken seriously. She brought to her work a spiritual dimension that enabled her to express deep personal convictions about beauty and about the importance of the daily life and work of ordinary women whom she portrayed with sympathy and respect. In spite of the fact that she was a Victorian lady, not the bohemian artist of legend, she proved to be independent and courageous. Her life attests to the fact that her dedication to a unique vision was an inspiration to the many women who supported her, and admired and purchased her work.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Elizabeth Nourse: Cincinnati's Most Famous Woman Artist (Part III)

by Mary Alice Heekin Burke

Elizabeth Nourse . Cleaning Clothes, 1900

"Paris provided an art community second to none and the Nourses [Elizabeth and her sister, Louise] also found that they could live with greater freedom as single women there. As foreigners they were not expected to conform to French customs, and they could also maintain a higher standard of living. By selling her paintings to Americans Nourse benefited from the exchange rate of five francs to the dollar, and the sisters reported in 1900 that they could live simply on $1,000 a year, and, if they had any more, they considered themselves rich.

Before their departure, however, the assistant director of the Cincinnati Museum, Joseph H. Gest, invited Nourse to exhibit her work. She showed 102 works that she had painted in Europe and sold eighteen of them and then had a somewhat smaller exhibition, sixty-one of the same works, in Washington, D.C. where another twenty-one were sold. The Nourses had a gay social life in the capitol that included tea at the White House with Mrs. Grover Cleveland, an invitation that was probably extended through their niece who had married the son of John Carlisle, Secretary of the Treasury.

They spent a week in New York and then returned to France after a brief stay in England. That summer Elizabeth worked in Brittany for the first time, at Saint Gildas de Rhuys. They had first visited the famous art colony of Pont Aven, but it was characteristic of Nourse that she preferred to work alone in an isolated village. It became their custom during many trips to Brittany to board in a local convent both because it was inexpensive and because it afforded them the opportunity to become a part of village life. They reported that they could vacation in this way and have three excellent meals a day at a cost of only five francs ($ 1.00) each for board and room. Nourse's Cincinnati friend, Maria Longworth Storer, founder of the Rookwood Pottery, came to visit them in Saint Gildas with her second husband, Bellamy Storer, then ambassador to Belgium. During their visit Mrs. Storer purchased a painting Nourse had just finished, a light-filled scene of one of the nuns teaching two of the orphan girls in her care how to sew.

Elizabeth Nourse . En Dimanche, Brittany, 1908

On their return to Paris in the fall of 1894 the Nourses found the studio where they were to live the rest of their lives, at 80 rue d'Assas facing the Luxembourg Gardens. This quartier contained numerous artists' studios and was a particular favorite of the American expatriates. Just around the corner, on the rue de Chevreuse, was the clubhouse of the American Women Artists Association of Paris. Elizabeth served as its president in 18 99-1900 and it was probably then that Mary Cassatt gave her a pastel inscribed: "To my friend Elizabeth Nourse." Nourse was also the founder and first president of a group named the Lodge Art League in Paris which held annual exhibitions of French and European exhibition groups for women only. The fact that these groups were considered necessary speaks for itself. The women artists found that their work was not given adequate exposure in the exhibitions as available to them so they organized independent shows.

In 1897 the Nourses spent three months in Tunis visiting the Wachman sisters who were teaching there and, in 1901, they were the guests of Helen and Mary Rawson, another pair of Cincinnati friends who became expatriates, at their villa in Menton. The three pairs of Cincinnati sisters remained fast friends over the years and frequently visited each other. During these years the Nourses also enjoyed their favorite country retreat near Paris, Saint Leger-en-Yvelines, a village in the forest of Rambouillet some forty five miles southwest of Paris. Over the years Saint Leger became a second home to them and they eventually chose to be buried in the cemetery adjacent to the village church
Elizabeth Nourse . Head of an Algerian (Moorish Prince), 1898
at the New Britain Museum of American Art

They were always happiest in the countryside and living close to nature seemed to stimulate Elizabeth's creativity. They lived there in a simple cottage rented from the Lethias family and their friendship with this family continued throughout their lives to include their children and grandchildren. One son, Daniel, still remembers fondly and recalls with gratitude one example of the personal charity they practiced. When he was ten years old they brought him to Paris to have some much needed dental work done, paid for it out of their limited resources, and then took him sightseeing for ten days in the city.

From 1894 to 1903 Nourse concentrated on rural themes, becoming almost exclusively a painter of peasant women. She rarely emphasized their picturesque qualities despite the different countries and circumstances in which she found her subjects. Instead, her figure paintings show aspects of her subjects' lives common to all cultures—women tending their children, working, or resting after their chores were done.

Nourse's straightforward approach to her subjects is evident in Normandy Peasant Woman and Child. This painting, now in the Cincinnati Museum collection, was bought by a Cincinnati woman, Mrs. James W. Bullock, who also commissioned Nourse to paint a double portrait of herself and her daughter in 1906 in Paris. In the peasant painting Nourse made the child the focus of attention as she usually did and she contrasted the woman's rough, redden hands with the child's soft skin, something she liked to emphasize. Anna Schmidt reported that several dealers objected to subjects like this as ugly and urged the artist to paint something pretty that would sell more readily. Nourse simply replied: "How can I paint what does not appeal to me?"

Elizabeth Nourse . Normandy Woman and Her Child
Nourse frequently exhibited drawings, watercolors, and pastels in the Salon as well as oils and it was her works on paper that first brought her recognition there. In 1901 she was elected societaire in that category and in 1904 a societaire in oil painting as well. This meant that her work was no longer juried and that she herself could serve as a juror. As a result of this official approval her reputation spread and she received an increasing number of invitations to exhibit her work.

By 1904 Nourse began to paint fewer peasant subjects, but she continued to concentrate on female imagery. A fine example of her drawing technique can be seen in the pastel Mother Feeding Her Baby which was acquired by the Smith College Museum of Art in 1911. This work has never been located since it was sold at auction in New York in 1949 with a new signature on it, that of Mary Cassatt.

Through the years Nourse was preoccupied with capturing light and she experimented with the depiction of the light of every day and season, such as lamplight, firelight, and twilight. Closed Shutters, a work that features bright sunlight streaming through shutters into a dim interior where a woman stands before a mirror, is a remarkable rendering of both exterior and interior light. It became the most famous work of her career when it was purchased at the Queen City Heritage
1910 Salon by the French Ministry of Fine Arts for the state's contemporary collection. It is currently on view at the Palais de Tokio in Paris and will be shown in a new museum devoted to nineteenth century art, the Musee d'Orsay, when renovation on the Gare d'Orsay is completed.

Elizabeth Nourse . La Reverie
Nourse was encouraged to try an even bolder experiment with light for the next Salon in La Reverie. In it, the figure, posed for by Louise in front of their studio window, is almost dissolved by the light as in an Impressionist painting. Interior and exterior spaces merge and divide while at the center of the composition the woman is reflected in the glass behind her as she contemplates yet another illusion, goldfish swimming through the translucent water of a crystal bowl. Painted in vivid strokes of blue, green, and violet, this painting demonstrates the skill Nourse brought to the illustration of the complex reflecting elements of glass and water.

Nourse was at the peak of her career in these years just before World War I, but in July 1914, when the Germans invaded Belgium, it marked the end of the art world as she knew it. The Salon lost its importance as dealers in London, Paris, and New York attracted the public by showing a rapid succession of modern style."

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Elizabeth Nourse: Her Training (Part II)

from "Elizabeth Nourse: Cincinnati's Most Famous Woman Artist" by Mary Alice Heekin Burke in the Queen City Heritage magazine, Winter 1931

Elizabeth Nourse . Etude, 1891
Oil on canvas
"The life and work of Elizabeth Nourse was indeed fascinating. In 1859 she and her twin, Adelaide, were the last of ten children...The three youngest children, the twins and Louise, who was six years older than they, always knew that they must prepare to earn a living. Louise became a teacher, one of the few occupations open to educated women, and the twins studied at the School of Design at the University of Cincinnati which was open to all qualified residents tuition free. (It became part of the present Art Academy in 1887). Elizabeth undertook the full curriculum taking five years of drawing and painting and four years of training in sculpture.

Her painting teacher was Thomas S. Noble, the director of the school, who had studied under Thomas Couture in Paris for three years. One can see in Nourse's work the application of Couture's precepts that Noble passed on to his students—rapid sketching to capture the first fresh idea of a subject, firm drawing, and strong contrasts of light and shadow. She also studied wood carving, china painting, and engraving, and, after her graduation in 1881, returned to study for two years in the first life class offered to women only. During her school years a nude model was available solely for the male students.

Of the many women who supported Nourse, however, the two most important were her sister, Louise,
and her Cincinnati friend, Anna Seaton Schmidt. Louise was indispensable as her companion, housekeeper, secretary, and business manager and Anna served as her chief publicist. The latter was a successful writer and lecturer on art and wrote enthusiastic articles about Nourse for international art periodicals and for her newspapers in Cincinnati, Boston, and Washington, D.C. She frequently visited the Nourse sisters in Paris and joined them on painting trips to Picardy, Brittany, Italy, and Switzerland.

In 1880 both of Nourse's parents died, then Adelaide married, and the two sisters, Elizabeth and Louise, lived together and saved their money to finance further study for the artist in Paris. Elizabeth was offered a position as teacher of drawing at the School of Design when she graduated, but she refused because she was determined to be a professional artist. Her self-portrait demonstrates that she thought of herself primarily as a serious painter.

To reject the security of a teaching position was a courageous decision because she had to support herself and Louise so she earned money in a variety of ways—illustrating magazine articles, painting portraits and flower paintings, and executing murals for private homes.

Elizabeth Nourse . Mums in a Teapot, 1889

Nourse was unaware that her technique was sound enough that she would be able to compete successfully with other young artists in Paris. Her early Cincinnati works prove that she could already represent the weight and mass of a figure, place it realistically in space and light, and capture a convincing pose and facial expression. They also demonstrate the realism that seems to have been her natural form of expression from the beginning and the type of subject matter that appealed to her most - ordinary, hard-working women...

In August 1887 the Nourse sisters arrived in Paris where Elizabeth enrolled at the Academie Julian, one of three schools M. Julian organized where artists practiced drawing under the tutelage of Parisian masters. All three had separate studios for men and women because propriety forbade their sharing a class with a nude model and the women were charged exactly double what the men paid for half the instruction time. The justification for this was that the women were considered amateurs.

Elizabeth Nourse . "Woman with a Harp,"1887
Oil on canvas at the Cincinnati Art Museum
 After three months' study Nourse was advised that she needed no further instruction and she set to work preparing "La Mère" for the spring Salon.

Elizabeth Nourse . La Mère, 1888
Oil on canvas, 45 1/2 x 32 in.
at the Cincinnati Art Museum

This is a beautiful painting, but done in a more finished technique than any Nourse had painted previously, a style designed to appeal to the academic Salon jury. With small brushstrokes she carefully blended the tones and used rich, dark colors. The jury not only accepted it, but hung it "on the line," that is, at eye level, a special honor for an unknown artist.

Nourse was always able to express sincere emotion in such subjects and avoid sentimentality. Characteristically, she omitted any anecdotal details that would relate it to a specific mother and child and thereby infused it with a universal feeling, that of any mother's tenderness for her baby.

Elizabeth Nourse . Emerson, 8 Months
Black, white and red chalk, 10 1/8 x 13 1/8 in.

This was an auspicious beginning for the young artist in Paris, but the next important step was to sell her work. It is interesting to trace the history of "La Mère" to see how difficult this could be. It took seven years and exposure at five exhibitions to do so, presumably for $300. It was bought by Parker Mann, a local artist, at an exhibition in Washington, D.C. in 1894 and by 1914 hung in the Princeton
study of Woodrow Wilson, then governor of New Jersey, along with Mrs. Wilson's own paintings. Mann was the first of a number of artists who purchased Nourse's work evidence of the high regard she enjoyed among her fellow professionals.

The artist signed this work E. Nourse, as she did all her early paintings. She apparently felt it would be received more favorably by the Salon jury and the public if they did not know she was a woman. By 1891 she felt secure enough in her reputation to sign her full name on her Salon entries, and by 1904, this became her standard signature.

The Nourses made their headquarters in Paris for the next four years but they traveled widely. Elizabeth took her only trip without Louise in 1889 when she spent six weeks with a friend in the Russian Ukraine. In 1889 and 1890 the two sisters spent a year and a half in Italy and it was in Rome that Elizabeth received an invitation to join the New Salon.

This new group was organized by the modern French artists, such as Rodin and Puvis de Chavannes, in reaction to the conservative standards of the established artists who made up the jury of the Old Salon. Nourse promptly joined the rebels although she took the risk that the new group might fail to gain acceptance and she would lose the opportunity to become a Salon painter.

The Nourses spent six weeks in Assisi where Elizabeth worked on two of her rare religious paintings.
Assisi had special significance for them since both were members of the Third Order of St. Francis, a lay group that observes a modified version of the Franciscan rule. The primary requirement is that members perform acts of personal charity, a pledge that the two sisters took very seriously and incorporated into their daily lives.

The result was that they became deeply involved in the lives of Elizabeth's models, feeding their children, helping the sick and elderly in their homes, assisting them whenever they were needed. This affected the way the artist saw her models. Because she shared their lives, she was able to portray the urban and peasant poor with a depth of understanding that eluded artists who knew them only as picturesque subjects.

Elizabeth Nourse . Peasant Women of Borst, 1891
Oil on Canvas, 38 5/8 x 21 5/8" Cincinnati Art Museum

Peasant Women Of BorŠt
Peasant Women Of BorŠt

After this Italian sojourn the sisters spent six weeks in Borst, a mountain village in southern Austria so remote that they arrived there in an ox cart. One canvas painted there, "Peasant Women of Bont," was bought the following year by seventeen prominent Cincinnati women and donated to the Cincinnati Art Museum. Most of the donors were members of the WAMA that had previously given the new museum a collection of pottery because this specialty promised "to open an abundant field of work for women."

The sisters returned to Paris for the winter, but, in July 1892 they were off again to work in Holland for three months. They shared a cottage and studio in Volendamwith the Wachman sisters, expatriate friends from Cincinnati who lived in Paris, Tunis, and eventually settled in Rome. Henriette Wachman and Elizabeth had been classmates at the School of Design and the four sisters remained
good friends over the years.

In April 1893 the Nourses returned to Cincinnati because Adelaide was ill with consumption. She died on September 12 and this left Elizabeth and Louise as the only surviving members of their immediate family since all their brothers and sisters had died earlier. It was a tragic lossfor the artist who had been especially close to her twin and it affected what we know about her today. She had always written detailed letters to Adelaide and she never again wrote so intimately to anyone.

From this time on she decided to make Paris her home."

Next: France, Elizabeth's Home

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Elizabeth Nourse: Cincinnati's Most Famous Woman Artist (Part I)

written by Mary Alice Heekin Burke*

Elizabeth Nourse graduated from the School of Design of the University of Cincinnati in 1880, went to Paris in 1887 when she was twenty-eight years old, and lived there until her death in 1938. During her career she achieved all the honors to which an expatriate artist could aspire.

Elizabeth Nourse, Self-Portrait, 1892
She was the second American woman elected a member of the Societe Nationale des Beaux Arts (hereafter the New Salon) one of two important Salons at the time. (The Salons were annual exhibitions of contemporary art held each spring in Paris, the international center of art during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They derived their popular name, Salon, from having been held in the Salon Carree at the Louvre when they were originated in the seventeenth century by the French government. After 1881 they were organized by French artists, the first of these being the
Societe Nationale des Artistes Francais (hereafter the Old Salon). Nourse showed her work in the Old Salon for two years until the New Salon was formed. The concept of the  commercial gallery was very new then so exposure at the Salon provided thousands of artists from all over the world their best opportunity to be noticed by important people—art critics, dealers, collectors—and gave them the experience of being compared with the leading contemporary artists. The exhibition was juried by famous artists and their acceptance of an art work gave it the guarantee of quality that collectors
and museum curators required to make their purchases.
Elizabeth Nourse . Head of a Girl, 1882
Nourse also won many awards in the international expositions: Chicago, Nashville, Paris, Saint Louis, and San Francisco. She was consistently invited to enter the annual juried exhibitions that were a prominent feature of the American art scene, at the Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts, the Carnegie Institute, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cincinnati Art Museum, and the Corcoran Gallery.

Elizabeth Nourse . Les Volets Clos
As a final accolade the French government bought her painting, Les Volets Clos for its permanent collection of contemporary art to hang in the Musee du Luxembourg with the work of such artists as Whistler, Winslow Homer, and Sargent.

Nourse's career parallels that of other expatriate artists of the pre-World War I period, but certain aspects of it are unique. With Mary Cassatt and Cecilia Beaux, she was one of the few women painters to achieve international recognition for her work and, like them, faced certain obstacles that male artists did not encounter. She first had to prove that she was a serious professional since most women painters eventually marry or become teachers and fail to produce a significant body of work.

To acquire professional status she had to be recognized by the all male juries of the Salons and
international exhibitions and to be favorably reviewed by the art critics, who also were mostly men. As a Victorian lady she could not easily advance her career by forming friendships in these groups, as a male artist could. The social interchange of the cafe, so much a part of the artistic life of Paris in her day, was denied her.

Elizabeth Nourse . The Little Sister, 1902
To compensate for these disadvantages, she always had the total support of her family and of a large network of women friends who admired her work, publicized it, and bought it. Unlike Cassatt, Nourse did not have an independent income nor did she teach, as Beaux did. Yet from 1883 until her death, a period of fifty-five years, she earned her living as a professional artist and supported her older sister, Louise, as well. She was also unusual among both men and women expatriates in being almost entirely American trained. Except for a few months' study in New York and later in Paris at the Academie Julian, her style was formed at the School of Design in Cincinnati.

Another problem women artists share is that their work has never commanded the market as has that of male artists since it is thought that they are not serious professionals. This means that their paintings tend to be found one to a collector making them difficult to evaluate, and that they have rarely been the subject of one-person exhibitions and catalogs that would bring their work to public notice.

Next: Elizabeth's Training

* in the Queen City Heritage magazine, Winter 1931 edition