Frank Duveneck (1848-1919)

Frank Duveneck (1848-1919)

John Singer Sargent rightly deemed Frank Duveneck the “…greatest talent of the brush of this generation.”[1] He is one of few artists to have achieved popularity, prestige and success during his career, even reaching his fame while only a young man. By the age of thirty, he was already an accomplished painter and teacher and was followed by a coterie of youthful artists who held him in the highest esteem. These “Duveneck Boys” had left the National Academy of Design to pursue the artistic freedom which Duveneck offered in his teachings. Among them were accomplished artists Theodore Wendel (1859-1932) and John Twachtman (1853-1902).

[1] Chapellier Gallery exhibition catalog foreword.

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Duveneck was raised in Kentucky after his family fled war-ravished Westphalia, Germany.  He completed his first known work, a genre scene entitled Little Match Girl, at the young age of twelve and already displayed his interest in sympathetically portraying the human form. While in his teens, Duveneck began assisting a church decorator in mixing paints and plaster, and then received his formal academic training in Munich beginning in 1870. Within just one year of his enrollment at the Academy, Duveneck began the series of portraits for which he is so well known. While Duveneck’s early work exhibited the somber tones of seventeenth-century Dutch artist Franz Hals, he learned to build up his canvas in broad brushstrokes of color, never relying on a tightly-drawn underpainting. His work became quickly admired by his peers, and from 1870 through 1873 he was extraordinarily prolific.  

A cholera outbreak in 1873 forced Duveneck to return to the United States, where he was warmly received at a Boston Art Club exhibition. In 1877 he departed again for Munich, this time traveling with John Twachtman and joining a studio with William Merritt Chase. Duveneck opened his popular school in Munich that same year, bringing his students into the Bavarian countryside to capture the native peasants. 

By 1880, Duveneck had brought his students to Florence and Venice, brightening his palette in paintings of the landscape and experimenting with Whistler-inspired etchings. He soon began a love-affair with his student Ms. Elizabeth Boott, but did not marry the young Boston debutante until 1886. Tragically, Elizabeth contracted pneumonia and died just two years later, leaving Duveneck in a great depression that stopped his work and brought him back to the United States. He returned to his home in Kentucky, declining positions with the Art Students League and the Art Institute of Chicago, and drawing back from society. Finally, in 1892 he took up the brush again and exhibited with vigor. Duveneck spent his summers in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and joined the faculty of the Art Academy of Cincinnati. In 1905 he was made an Associate National Academician, and he remained an influential educator and diligent exhibitor until the end of his career.

References: Frank Duveneck, Chapellier Gallery, 1972; Frank Duveneck, Painter-Teacher, Josephine Duveneck, 1970.

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