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American

With the lock down ending, art connoisseurs can contemplate once again, one of their favorite options, travel. In anticipation of journeys to come, let's look back at a few of the recent trips which serve to inspire.

This past January this writer visited world renowned art restorer Massoud Shiraz in Charlotte, North Carolina. When not hard at work restoring the ancient and arcane, Shiraz is a student and scholar of his local museums. These photos show what we saw that day before the Wuhan Coronavirus lockdown put such trips on pause.

01Cole DSC 0208Thomas Cole (1801–1848), American Lake Scene, 1846, oil on canvas, 18 by 24 inches

Father of the Hudson River School this marvelous late example by the artist shows an Indian at rest watching the sunrise in a landscape the artist regarded to be the American Eden.

The title says American Lake, it is safe to assume the location was somewhere near Catskill, NY where Cole's home occupied a similar escarpment overlooking the Hudson River, where the sunrise in the summer months of the year would appear at just such an angle. 

02Gifford 16x30 DSC 0210Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880), Indian Summer in the White Mountains, 1861, 16 by 30 inches, oil on canvas

sigDSC 0216Signed "Cropsey" but "Gifford" lurked below

An intriguing work if only for the fact it appeared in the Met's show 'American Paradise, World of the Hudson River School', as a painting by Jasper Francis Cropsey. To be fair it was signed Cropsey at the time but when it got to New York shrewd dealers such as Alexander Acevedo and his then young protoge Neil Morris pointed out to the scholars of the time, the error of their ways. Chagrined, and perhaps embarrased in front of the Met, the curators in the Mint took another look at the painting and found that underneath the Cropsey signature was that of Sanford Gifford, indeed it was dated too.

Pseudo scholar Ila Weiss had to hem and haw for a while, perhaps put off by the fugazy signature, but anybody with a brain on this artist would simply have referred to the Gifford Estate catalogue where the size matched up with a lost example also measuring 16 by 30 inches, number 268 in the Gifford Estate titled, "Indian Summer in the White Mountains," described as formerly owned by Robert Morrison Olyphant (1824-1918), the great great grandfather of actor Timothy Olyphant.

03Inness DSC 0213George Inness (1823-1894), Landscape with Fisherman, 1853, loaned by Hugh McColl

George Inness was the first of the so-called Hudson River School artists to embrace contemporary European landscape painting ideals. This was a tremendous exception to his fellow Americans, who saw themselves as scientific naturalists painting in a new Garden of Eden. The Americans thought they must paint truth in nature or an allegorical ideal conveying the New Eden. In either case Truth was paramount and Art was to be secondary.

Inness saw things differently.

While in Europe in the 1850's he was exposed to the latest trends in painting, and he discovered the seemingly imnocuous idea that the art could be paramount. Unlike the European intellectuals, veterans of the political upheavals of 1830 and 1848, Inness' symbols lay with religion and emotion as found in the landscape, rather than politics. Once when asked the location of an image he was painting, he responded angrily,"I do not paint guide books."

04Frerichs DSC 0217William Charles Anthony Frerichs (1829-1905), Natures Rushing Force, oil on canvas

Born in Belgium, Frerichs lived in North Carolina from 1855 to 1868. He taught in Greensboro until 1863 when his studio caught fire. Eventually he moved north where he is best known for his winter time skating scenes of Staten Island.

This work is likely a Smokey Mountain subject, near and dear to the heart of Charlotte, but also a place where major artists came to see the tallest mountains east of the Mississippi.

Other members of the Hudson River School who painted out there included Robert S. Duncanson (1821-1872), Homer Dodge Martin (1836-1897) and Federic Edwin Church (1826-1900).

05Thompson Jerome DSC 0221Jerome Thompson (1814-1889), Noonday in Summer, 38 by 49 inches, oil on canvas

Jerome Thompson was a genre artist whose best work came when he painted Hudson River subject matter.

06Dangerfield Elliot NC tonal DSC 0242Elliot Dangerfield (1859-1932), Moonlight, circa 1915, oil on canvas

Dangerfield was a member of that unique American branch of Barbizon painting called Tonalism. Unlike the French whose Barbizon painters celebrated their ideological fervor regarding themselves as the heirs of 1789, 1830 and 1848, the American artists who painted like so were a bit more realistic towards market forces. When the Hudson River School died out from a lack of sales in the 1880's, it was replaced by the Barbizon landscapes whose subtle work could only be appreciated by those with the new found electirc lights. Consequently, it was a badge of honor for the Gilded Age rich to use bright lights to show off dark paintings.

Only they could afford such an aesthetic luxury.

07LaFarge 1960 gift mint DSC 0225John LaFarge (1835-1910), In the Glen Portsmouth RI, 1859, oil on canvas

Perhaps better known for his stained glass, LaFarge painted in Newport, RI and eventually found his way to Tahiti in 1891 mere months before Paul Gauguin came to search for paradise.

09Frieseke DSC 0236Frederick Frieseke (1874-1939), Dressing, oil on canvas, loaned by Charles Murray

Midwestern bred and raised, Frieseke spent the majority of his career in Giverney France, where he lived next to Claude Monet and practised his figurative vision of Impressonism.

10Breck John Leslie DSC 0227John Leslie Breck (1860-1899), Suzanne Hoschede-Monet Sewing, 1888, oil on canvas

One of the great ironies is that Claude Monet generally loathed French critics, and as a result, those closest to him were Americans. Indeed Theodore Butler married Monet's step daughter. A close friend of Butler was Massachusetts native John Leslie Breck who painted in Giverney for five years from 1887 to 1892. In his use of brushwork and bright colors he was among the purest of Impressionists.

11Chase DSC 0229William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), Beach at Shinnecock, 1891, oil on panel

William Merritt Chase was born in Indiana, the oldest child of a successful merchant. In 1861, the Chase family moved to Indianapolis, where Chase received his first artistic training under a local still-life painter, Barton S. Hays.  Hays’ advised Chase to go to New York for further training at the National Academy of Design. By 1871, Chase moved to Saint Louis, where his family moved, but had little success. Chase’s luck changed when two local businessmen financed his study at the Munich Royal Academy under Alexander von Wagner and Karl von Piloty. In return he paid them back for their generosity by purchasing or painting copies of Old masters while in Europe. Piloty stressed a form which can be best described as a bravura style, derived largely from the Spanish and Dutch masters of the 17th century, with the Spanish artist Diego Velasquez (1599-1660) being a good example. In Munich, Chase also met the "Duveneck Boys," a lively group of expatriate American artists gathered around the charismatic leadership of Frank Duveneck. Chase continued to study in Europe until 1878, making his total time as a student almost sixteen years devoted to painting.

Chase’s reputation as a painter preceded his return to New York in 1878. A teaching position also awaited him, the first in a long career at the newly established Art Students League. Chase, with his lengthy training in Indianapolis, New York, St. Louis and Dusseldorf, was the ideal candidate to become the leading teacher of American art in his day. Eventually he would instruct such luminaries as George Bellows, Robert Henri, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent and Georgia O’Keefe to name but a few. However, to focus on his teaching career would neglect his own career as a painter.

Chase emerged out of the Dusseldorf genre phase into a modified follower of Whistler, and then after admiring the work of Belgian artist Alfred Stevens, began to paint in a more sunny plein air fashion often depicting in a borderline Impressionist manner his female students and family members in various poses in New York City parks, the dunes of Southampton, and exotic places such as Holland, Venice and even Carmel, California.

By the time of his passing in 1916 he had been a member of many artistic organizations such as the Ten American Impressionist Painters, in addition to many other honors and awards.

12Hassam 1903 DSC 0233Frederick Childe Hassam (1859-1935), The Stone Cottage, Old Lyme, 1903, oil on canvas

Boston born and French taught, it was in New York where Hassam made a living. His best known paintings are flag scenes along Fifth Avenue as he documented the drum up of America's entry nto the First World War. A decade erlier he helped establish the sleepy Connecticut town of Old LLyme as America's first Impressionist Art Colony. A frequent guest of Florence Griswold, Hassam wandered this convenient sample of New England capturing colonial homes on sun dappled days.

13lawson harlem river DSC 0251Ernest Lawson (1873-1939), Harlem River in Winter, oil on canvas, 25 by 30 inches

Canadian born, Lawson trained under John Twachtmann from whom he learned his impressionist technique. Unlike the darker palette employed by his peers in the Eight, Lawson applied traditional Impressonist painting techniques at various times of the day and the day, capturing the contrast of raw nature as it collided with the growing city.

14Glackens Good Harbor Beach 1919 DSC 0254William James Glackens (187-1938), Good Harbor Beach 1919, oil on canvas

Born in 1870 in Philadelphia, William Glackens began his art career as a talented illustrator. In his early twenties, Glackens was hired by various Philadelphia newspapers including the Record, the Press, and the Ledger. He began easel painting in the mid-1890's and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where he developed a bond with fellow artists Robert Henri, George Luks, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan. In 1895, Glackens moved to Paris for a year and when he returned, became an illustrator and reporter for the Herald in New York. While still a young man, Glackens' painting style developed into a "New York Realist," focusing on the vitality of urban life. He was a member of "The Eight," or the Ashcan School, a group of American artists who rebelled against conventional style and soft, conservative imagery of Impressionism. They were interested in urban realism and expressing the changes of modern life. It was during this time Glackens drew much of his inspiration from nearby Washington Square Park in New York. He was also intrigued by city beaches, and is remembered for his beach scenes depicted as public places, associated with recreation and leisure. He was not interested in merely portraying the peaceful landscape of the sea, but also the goings-on of the people and activities.

Initially, his artistic style was very much influenced by Edouard Manet, whose paintings he saw in Paris, in conjunction with his own illustrative approach. Later, after a second trip to France, Glackens' greatest influence became August Renoir. Glackens was able to take the brilliant color and feathery brushwork technique of Renoir and apply it to images of modern city life, thus often referred to as the "American Renoir."

15Luks carnival 1918 DSC 0243George Luks (1867-1933), Carnival Scene, 1918, oil on canvas,

A member of The Eight, George Luks created works in vivid bravura manner that captured the spirited energy of the tenement districts of New York and their occupants. He was a swashbuckler in paint. This was not, of course, the cultured tradition of American life; it was an expression of a cruder side of America, an echo of the frontier. Born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1867, Luks was the son of a doctor. In 1884 he began to study art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he was a student of Thomas Anshutz. Luks continued his training in Dusseldorf, Paris, and London. Returning to America in 1894, he began a career as a newspaper artist, working for the Philadelphia Press and the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. In addition to illustration, he created comics and caricatures such as the Yellow Kid.

In the early twentieth century, Luks joined with Glackens, Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, and John Sloan to form the Eight. Reacting against the genteel subject matter painted by academic and Impressionist gilded age artists, this group sought an art more directly related to everyday experience, and they turned to depicting the vitality and rougher aspects of modern life. Most members of the Eight worked in a realist manner and adopted rich, dark tonalities inspired by the art and techniques of Franz Hals, Rembrandt, and Edouard Manet, with their dark palettes and preference for coarse subjects, the Eight became popularly known as the Ashcan School.

During the early years of the Eight, Luks continued to work as a newspaper artist, but he gradually developed his painting skills. He specialized in portraits of street urchins, wrestlers, peddlers, and shopkeepers, although he also painted occasional urban scenes of docks and streets. These subjects expressed to him the romance, freedom, joyfulness that he felt epitomized America. Luks exhibited with other members of the Eight for the first time at New York's Macbeth Gallery in 1908. This show challenged the artistic status quo and created a sensation among conservative and official art circles in America. Luks also exhibited at the Armory Show in 1913, where the works of the early twentieth-century realists, which had so recently seemed radical, were overshadowed by the modernism of abstract movements.Luks taught at the Art Students League in the 1910s, and later founded his own school.

He died most appropriately on the streets of New York in 1933 of internal bleeding after taking part in yet another bar fight.

17Bellows rocks and gorge 1911 DSC 0248George Bellows (1882-1925), Rocks and Gorge, 1911 oil on canvas

 A contemporary of the Eight, Bellows was considered to be the prize pupil of Robert Henri, ahead of others such as Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent. His easy success aroused jealosy in artists like John Sloan who likely blackballed Bellows from taking part in that first show of "The Eight." No problem, Bellows traveled the eastern seaboard seeking out rugged locations like Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine where this work was likely done. He died of a burst appendix in 1925 at the age of forty three. The Metropolitan Museum immediately held a memorial show dedicated to the mist gifted of the Ashcan School.

18Dunton Buck lonely vigil 1913 DSC 0264W. Herbert Dunton (1878-1936), The Lonely Vigil, 1913, oil on canvas

W. Herbert Dunton, better known as Buck, was born in Maine and achieved fame as a western artists with the Taos Society of Painters. It was through Ernest Blumenshein that Dunton discovered Taos where he settled permanently in 1914. Unlike his contemporaries who painted the Indians in their native garb, Buck prefered to depict the lives of trappers and cowbows. He was rare in his depiction of including ladies in his western subject matter. Indeed this work almost appears as if the Gibson girl stumbled into a Frederic Remington. In this striking nocturne the lady sits atop her horse looking out over a snowy landscape awaiting the return of her husband.

20Gropper William incumbent DSC 0285William Gropper (1897-1977), The Incumbent, 1938, oil on canvas

 A social realist of far left sympathies in the 1930's, Gropper went from unknown to a force to be reckoned with when Vanity Fair assigned him to do illustrations of United Stattes Senators. Working fast to meet the deadlines Gropper's images capture impassion politicians in almost gargoyle type of poses. When not being an agitator, Gropper lived amongst like minded folk in Croton on Hudson, NY, a place well known to this writer when he was Gropper's neighbor. The artists neighborhood of Mount AIry was long known to be called Red Hill.

21Hartley movement number 4 provincetown 1916 DSC 0262Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), Movement Number 4, Provincetown 1916, oil on board

Marsden Hartley has been described as an American Modernist, a catch all term for a painter who started out as an Impressionist, then a Pointalist, a Cubist, then a German Expressionist. His German phase was superbly ill-timed by the American arrival into World War One on the the side against the Germans, bad luck doesn't begin to describe his career as he was beset by tragedies too numerous to list here. As a result of his then outside gay lifestyle and constant misfortune he was a talented loner who ultimately found solace and redemption in the wilderness of his home state Maine, where he had been born in 1877, and where he would later die in Ellsworth, Maine on September 2, 1943.

His later work has a brutal almost primitive manner as he dialed back the brushwork to a bare mimimum. Like the cold Maine weather, it is raw, forceful, reduced to its simplest form. A realist, his powerful work gained commercial and critical acceptance in the twilight of his career, with some stating he paved the way for the Abstract Expressionists. What he would have thought of that, we will never know.

This work is from 1916 when the artist is transitioning from his German abstract works, to life on Fiiney Farm at Croton on Hudson then a brief interlude to Provincetown, Massachusetts.

22Johnson raymond eclipse 1935 DSC 0272Raymond Johnson (1891-1982), Eclipse 1935, oil on canvas

A painter from Chicago, Illinois, it was seeing the avante guarde at the 1913 Armory Show that gave the young man a purpose for the rest of his life. After struggling in the staid climate of Chicago for a decade it was his arrival in Sante Fe, NM that gave him an opportunity to be noticed. Insired by the community and the landscape, he became a year round resident by 1924. In 1960 a writer for Artnews described Johnson as a "one man task force for modern art in the region.'

23Guy James camophlage man landscape 1938 DSC 0287James Guy (1908-1983), Camouflage Man in a Landscape, 1938, oil on canvas

James Guy was from Hartford, CT who studied at the Art Students League in New York before working with the Mexican muralist Jose Clemente Orozco in Mexico. During the 1930's he embraced surrealism. Unlike his contemporaries who worked in a manner we call regionalism, Guy opted for the subconscious world of Salvador Dali and Georgio deChirico.

24Sage Kay ring of iron ring of wool 1947 DSC 0276Kay Sage (1898-1963), Ring of Iron , Ring of Wool, 1947, oil on canvas

A major American surrealist who literally married into the movement when she tooks her vows with French artist Yves Tanguy, the two artists were hugely important in setting up lifelines for escaping artists leaving Europe and the horrors of War, to the safety of the United States, where Sage and her husband settled in Woodbury, CT where they were able to get colleges such as Yale University and the Museum of Modern Art to sponsor these immigrants. Guests of the United States included Fernand Leger, Salvador Dali, Man Ray and Marcel Duchamps. Those efforts and the safe harbor given altered the art world forever as New York City became the epicenter, while Paris lay in ruins and under Nazi occupation.

25 Nevelson Louise Dark Star 1959 DSC 0295Louise Nevelson (1899-1988), Dark Star 1959, painted wood assemblage

Louise Nevelson began working in the 1950's the heyday of abstract expressionism. Others used metal, while Louise used wood, creating both large scale and smale scale works like Dark Star. She salvaged scraps of wood and unified them with one color, black. About the pigment she stated, "black contained all color, it wasn't a negation of color. It was an acceptance. Because black encompasses all colors, black is the msot aristoratic of all."

26Pennington Barbara Selma 1965 DSC 0280Barbara Pennington (1932-2013), Selma, 1965, oil on canvas

A remarkable painting created in response to the events of 1965, where on March 7, 1965, some 500 people attempted to walk from Selma to Mongomery, Alabama to raise awareness for voting rights and to protest the death at the hands of the police of Jimmy Lee Jackson. The first march was stopped forcefully at a bridge, the second march led by Martin Luther King and other clergy were turned around this time peacefully. A photographer this writer knows named Dan Budnik remarked that Martin Luther King liked having Budnik around with his camera because it made previously violently inclined state troopers act less so once they realized a photgrapher from New York was taking pictures.

The artist was  a native of Alabama working in New York when these scenes took place. A powerful canvas by any measure.

27DeKooning Elaine DSC 0289Elaine DeKooning (1918-1989), Farol, 1958, oil on canvas

Overshadowed by her more famous husband WIllem DeKooning, both Elaine and WIllem were highly influenced by their time in North Carolina where in 1949 and 1950 they painted at Black Mountain College in Asheville. Both artists chaffed under the linear strictures of German transplant Josef Albers, but both came away of the Bauhaus idea of some colors resonate better together than others. This painting dates from a trip to New Mexico where the artist saw a bullfight. A farol is a move by the bullfighter using his colorful cape in a flourish, enticing the beast to charge.

28Jenkins Paul Phemonena turn of the tides 1978 DSC 0298Paul Jenkins (1923-2012), Phemonena Turn of the Tides, 1978,

Like his friend Jackson Pollock, Jenkins worked with poured liquid pigments directly onto canvas. Beginning in the late 1950's Jenkins used the name Phenomena to signify changing events in perceptible forms, "We do not see what there is to see but rather what we can perceive." 

29Warhol Marilyn 1967 07DSC 0989Andy Warhol Marilyn 1967, 36 by 36 inches, silk screen on ragboard

Warhol had an obsession with the macrabre and the tragic. In former Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe, he had both. This silkscreen is one of ten in the edition in various colors and shades. Printed in 1967 it is one of the artist's most famous subjects. even a neophyte can recognize a Warhol from across the room, hence the giant market for his art.

 

About the Author

Robert Alexander Boyle

Robert Alexander Boyle

 Alexander Boyle is a graduate of Trinity College, Hartford, CT where he majored in History. Prior to graduation he co-authored the seminal book Acid Rain in 1983. Alex has worked for the Metropo...