It is always a great joy to be inspired by new art and artists, especially when the artist in question is Frank Duveneck. For someone who studied art and art history for years, it is baffling how Duveneck’s art has largely eluded me. A charismatic teacher, Frank Duveneck inspired generations of great students including John W. Twachtman, Robert F. Blum and Kenyon Cox and helped usher in a new movement of art, characterized by a greater freedom of paint application.
As I walked the hallways of the Cincinnati Wing at the Cincinnati Art Museum, I was struck by the bold use of brushwork by an artist, who Henry James described as “an unsuspected man of genius”. In front of me hung an austerely emotional portrait “Guard of the Harem” ca. 1880.
Gazing upon this large masterpiece, I could not help but be transported if only vicariously to some far of exotic world. The model sits proudly, exuding confidence and danger, transcended well through Duveneck’s use of bold, dark and direct style of painting. Much of Frank Duveneck’s work, inspired by his years studying the Dusseldorf style of painting, is characterized with a rick dark palette and assertive paint laden brushwork. “The good people of Boston have recently been flattering themselves that they have discovered an American Valasquez” wrote Henry James in 1875.
The “Guard of the Harem” spoke to me on so many levels, not least of which was that it was unfinished. In fact, a lot of Duveneck’s work was left unfinished; leaving us wonderful examples of artist’s working methods. Much of Frank’s painting layers were kept loose. From his underpainting, gestural drawing to final model rendering, every brush mark seems calculated. Looking at the following two portraits, an astute art mind would say that the artist communicated all with the given brush marks and as thus the paintings are complete.
One can say that they are unfinished and yet providing everything we need to know. I discuss ways to establish centers of interest and rendering it in as few strokes as possible in my “Creative Artist” series.
Frank Duveneck’s art whether in his early dark color and somber lighting years or later with brighter more direct painting application, was always characterized with virtuosic brush control. I encourage everyone to view Frank Duveneck’s full gallery of work and acquaint oneself with his painting methodology. Or better yet go a view his work in person.