Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Frank Duveneck by Norbert Herrmann . Pt. 1

The First in a Series: An Introduction

Portrait of Frank Duveneck by Joseph DeCamp
[Joseph DeCamp’s portrait of Duveneck strongly indicates his physical and mental make-up and harmonizes very well with Mrs. Pennell’s description (page 85). The expression of his eyes and hands in the canvas, suggesting a quietude that to the outsider might mean almost anything, yet to those that know him conveys the feeling of latent power and re- minds one that these blue eyes of his are used to look at things firmly  and to take from them a clear-cut summary of what is there. The portrait is a double tribute of DeCamp to his teacher. It was a work of love, time having been taken from commissions to complete it for a gift  to Cincinnati, where DeCamp was born and received his early art training. It also carries the sign of the latter’s training under Duveneck. A fine piece of characterization ; the person summed it up who said, “ Cut  the hand on the left out and show it to anybody that knows Duveneck  and he will tell you whose hand it is.”]
Excerpts from Norbert Herrmann's book, Frank Duveneck:

"After all’s said, Frank Duveneck is the “greatest talent of the brush of this generation.”  These are the words which John Singer Sargent spoke at a dinner given in London in the  early nineties, in a discussion of the merits of such eminent men as Carolus Duran and others. This judgment, deliberately spoken by a man whom artists and laymen alike have come to regard as the most technically brilliant of painters, would not now, any more than it did then, arouse contradiction in a company of artists. Yet to the general public it would come with a shock of surprise. This is in part because Duveneck’s work is not accessible to the general public. Another reason lies in the fact that the greatness of Duveneck’s art is best understood by the student of painting. His style, simple and direct,  is “sans phrase,” without technical tricks for effect, without persuasive story subjects, without even so much self-consciousness as is implied in the word “sentiment.” Of literary association there is none, of doctrine or dogma there is none.

The Rialto, Venice. Etching
 Memorial to Elizabeth Boott Duveneck
This is a copy of the original and is at the Met 

The world of this painter is not history, not imagination, not psychological analysis, not ethics; those fields which our public loves to explore. His compelling interest is in the normal aspect of man and nature, the subjects he chooses are everyday types ; he conceives them in an unpretentious spirit, but transmits them as endowed with quiet power. There is in his work a certain finality of grasp with a dignity, a calm, which to the connoisseur is akin to the serenity of the Greek, while to the multitude it may appear actually commonplace.

That a man of this type should later have been almost lost sight of, except by his intimate circle of artist friends, is not altogether surprising in this country and at a time like the present [this was written in 1918], when change swiftly follows change and is greeted with a clamor that distracts attention from earlier achievement.

The Old Professor, 1871

We owe it to the Duveneck Gallery at the Panama Pacific International Exposition that the full power of this personality has been once more thrown into full relief; and the action of the jury in awarding him a special medal, the highest in its power to bestow, is a timely reminder of the truly classic standard of his work and of its importance in the development of our national school.

To appreciate the effect of his painting, when it was first exhibited over forty years ago, we must remember the lack of national character in the American art of that day. The country was flooded with foreign paintings which inspired our painters to either the sentimental story picture of Dusseldorf lineage, or the dry reflection of other lifeless works.

Only here and there the flicker of independent thought appeared.
  • Inness, the father of the naturalistic movement in American landscape, who had just returned from Italy, was beginning to feel his way towards the splendor of his later work. 
  • Homer Martin was in more or less an experimental stage, 
  • and so was Alexander H. Wyant. 
  • John La Farge’s poetic genius was getting ready to express itself with full mastery for the first time in his mural decoration in Trinity Church, Boston (1876), 
  • and George Fuller’s noble art was yet hidden from the public, his intimate friends alone knowing that he painted in the intervals of his farm work at Deerfield, Massachusetts. 
  • William Morris Hunt was actually the only widely recognized artistic personage at the time. He had opened a studio in Boston in 1862. It proved successful, and his lectures on art, notably the art of his great inspiration Millet, also of Delacroix and Daumier, prepared in that city the most open-minded audience which existed in the country."

* Published by Boston and New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, copyright 1918


No comments:

Post a Comment