Herter Brothers

A PAIR OF GERMAN-BORN CRAFTSMEN BEGAN BY MAKING EXUBERANT FURNITURE AND WENT ON TO SHOW A NEWLY RICH GENERATION HOW TO LIVE

America. the industrial age. Machines, steam, and iron. The picture of progress. But also a nation in mourning. Mourning its Civil War dead, mourning its loss of innocence, and deeply ambivalent about the forces of change. Onto this stage stepped two dapper German cosmopolites—Gustave and Christian Herter—impresarios of interior design and cabinetmakers to the stars.Read more »

Webster’s Unalloyed

H. T. Webster’s cartoons offer a warm, canny, and utterly accurate view of an era of everyday middle-class life

H. T. Webster was not a great artist. Once he had established a style, it hardly changed in more than forty years of drawing. Indeed, in mid-career he lost the use of his right hand due to acute arthritis, but in a few months he was drawing with his left, and his later work is quite indistinguishable from his earlier. Moreover, Webster’s style was highly reminiscent of Clare Briggs, the cartoonist a generation older who invented the comic strip. Read more »

A Black American In The Paris Salon

In an age when the best black artists were lucky to exhibit their work at state fairs, Henry Ossawa Tanner was accepted by the most selective jury in France

Dr. Philip Bellefleur had been headmaster of the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf for about three years when he found the painting in 1970. He and a housekeeper had opened the door to a large storage closet, one that hadn’t been opened in five years, perhaps more. Inside they saw scores of dusty boxes and a half-dozen paintings stacked against the wall. After a quick look Bellefleur concluded that maybe two of the six pictures were valuable—one because it was so large, nine by twelve feet, and the other because it gave him goose bumps. Read more »

Prescott’s War

A civilian adventurer gave us the best artist’s record of America in Vietnam.

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Lincoln From Life

Last year two scholars working separately uncovered a pair of previously unknown portraits of Abraham Lincoln. One of them—which seems to put us in the very presence of the man—turned out to be the first ever painted.

Until recently historians believed that Abraham Lincoln was not painted before 1860, the year artists hurried to Springfield to produce likenesses of the presidential candidate. But in the summer of 1988 a lost portrait of Abraham Lincoln turned up on a farm in his home state of Illinois. Painted in 1856 by the itinerant artist Philip O. Jenkins, the newly discovered canvas captures the face of Lincoln the lawyer, political leader, and prominent citizen.Read more »

The Force Behind The Whitney

American art was hardly more than a cultural curiosity in the early years of this century. Now it is among the world’s most influential, and much of the credit belongs to a self-made woman named Juliana Force.

Today, when a painting by a living American artist fetches seventeen million dollars at auction, as a picture by Jasper Johns did last year, or when hundreds of people stand in line to get into a museum, as they did for the retrospectives of Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning, and Georgia O’Keeffe, it is almost impossible to imagine the hostility and suspicion long encountered by American artists. In the early years of this century, a painter of independent or nonconformist leanings was a pariah.Read more »

The Shocking Blue Hair Of Elie Nadelman

He ignored the conventions of his day and became one of the greatest American sculptors of this century

I find myself sketching a top hat on a snapshot I’ve taken of a former pasha’s obituary photograph. I marvel at the resemblance between Abbas Hilmi II, the last Turkish ruler of Egypt, who died in exile in Geneva in 1944, according to the encyclopedia, and my grandfather Elie Nadelman’s painted bright-bronze sculpture Man in a Top Hat.Read more »

Luks

He claimed his critics didn’t like his work because it was “too noisy,” but he didn’t care what any of them said. George Luks’s determination to paint only what interested him was his greatest strength—and his greatest weakness.

Probing westward along the streets of Manhattan, the first light of Sunday, October 29,1933, revealed, stretched out in a doorway on Sixth Avenue, near Fifty-second Street, under the el, a well-dressed elderly man, solidly built and balding, with a little patch of fine white hair, an inverted triangle, at the center of his forehead. He was dead. Letters in an inside jacket pocket identified him as George B. Luks, the artist, of 140 East Twenty-eighth Street, and an examination of his corpse established that he had been felled by a heart attack.Read more »

‘Let Them All Be Damned-I’ll Do As I Please’

In a career that made her one of the greatest American artist of the century, Georgia O’Keeffe claimed to have done it all by herself—without influence from family, friends, or fellow artists. The real story is less romantic though just as extraordinary.

Remembering her Wisconsin years, O’Keeffe once said defiantly, “I was not a favorite child, but I didn’t mind at all.”

Georgia O’Keeffe wrote in a cryptic autobiography of no more than a thousand words, published in 1976: “Where I was born and where and how I lived is unimportant.Read more »

A Sargent Portrait

It took half a century for his critics to see his subjects as clearly as he did; but today he stands as America’s preeminent portraitist

John Singer Sargent, in common with Holbein and Van Dyck, was an international painter of portraits who did his major work in England. It was in his studio in London’s Tite Street, during the 1880s and 1890s and in this century up to 1907, when he abandoned what he derisively called “paughtraits,” that he re-created on canvas the world of the AngloAmerican upper classes. His success was as great as that of his two predecessors, but his posthumous reputation has had a bumpier time. Read more »