Sunday, July 8, 2012

Frank Duveneck - From Student to Teacher. Pt. 4

"Toward the end of the year 1873, the year in which the cholera broke out in Munich, Duveneck returned to America. He went at once to Chicago on a commission in connection with a church decoration. Not wishing to carry too much, he traveled with little luggage and no painting material, expecting to buy what he needed there. Upon arriving in Chicago he soon found to his surprise that such things as artist materials were unobtainable goods at that time, in a town that today can boast of having at least three thousand artists and art students. So he was obliged to remain idle until the material could be sent for. Upon his return to Cincinnati he was occupied there with several portrait orders, but an exhibition of a group of his portraits from Munich attracted little or no public attention, which is perhaps not surprising in the state of connoisseurship then existing.

Then came the year 1875, in which his one-man show in Boston proved more than a success, coming near a sensation. Besides receiving excellent criticisms, the whole collection was sold. Nobody was more amazed at this success than Duveneck himself. He has always attributed his favorable reception to William Morris Hunt's lectures on art, which together with Hunt's own work had cleared the way. Leibl, whose work in Germany at that time was very similar to Duveneck's was still absolutely misunderstood there by both press and public; in fact, he had been obliged to leave Munich for the country in 1872, largely because of the lack of funds. If Duveneck had been intent on business he would have accepted the very flattering inducements offered him to remain in Boston. However the call of the artist life in Munich was too strong to be resisted, so he declined them and returned to Munich the same year, where he worked until 1877.

In company with his friend William Merritt Chase, Duveneck then went to Venice, where the two experienced alternations of hardship and prosperity, most of the time managing to exist on practically nothing and enjoying themselves doing it. One year later, 1878, Duveneck was back in Munich. Chase returned to America and connected himself with the Art Students' League which had just been formed, teaching being then the only professional work which he found profitable.

In the year 1878 Duveneck started a school in Munich, which became so very popular that soon two classes had to be formed of about 30 each, one of Americans and English, the other of different nationalities; and when the desire to again see Italy took him back to Florence at the end of the following year (1879) fully half of his students went with him. Thus his school was transplanted to the banks of the Arno, and the members soon established themselves in the social as well as the artistic circles of Florence as the 'Duveneck Boys.'" More about this famous group in our next installment.

Text from Norbert Hermann's 1918 book, "Frank Duveneck."

Elizabeth Boott Duveneck, 1888
Cincinnati Art Museum


In the later years Duveneck came under the spell of the French painters. For a time he became vitally interested in their technique, so without much ado he set himself to study their style for several years, many of his enthusiasts lamenting this change. There is a large portrait of his wife in the Cincinnati Art Museum which reveals strikingly this departure; it is a gracefully distinguished work.

Elizabeth Boott Duveneck, Francis Boott,
Frank Duveneck, and Ann Shenston, ca. 1886
from the Archives of American Art