Saturday, October 13, 2012

Great Cincinnati Artists: Frank Duveneck

Frank Duveneck, Portrait of Maggie Wilson (1898)

Dear George,
With lots of leisure time available, I’ve been going to our Cincinnati Art Museum more frequently.  It’s the oldest art museum west of the Alleghenies and has lots to see.  I’ve been particularly interested recently in the recently established Cincinnati Wing.  Cincinnati was home to numerous consequential artists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, e.g., Robert Duncanson, Henry Farny, John Twachtman, Elizabeth Nourse, Edward Potthast.  The most famous of all was realist painter Frank Duveneck who taught at the Cincinnati Art Academy for many years and who shaped the course of art in Cincinnati in the early 1900’s.  Here’s some of Duveneck’s story.  

Frank Duveneck was born as Frank Decker on Oct. 9, 1848, in Covington, Kentucky, across the river from Cincinnati.  He was the eldest son of working-class German-Catholic immigrants Bernard and Katherine Decker.  Bernard Decker died a year later, and his widow married Joseph Duveneck whose name Frank later adopted.  Frank began studying art as a teenager and was apprenticed to a German firm of church decorators.  Because of his German background and Catholic beliefs, he was an outsider to the Cincinnati art community.  He was encouraged by his ethnic community to go to Germany at age 21 to study at the Royal Academy of Munich where he was influenced by the works of Frans Hals, Rembrandt, and Peter Paul Rubens.  Duveneck excelled at the Royal Academy in Munich, producing expressive portraits for which he is famous (e.g., Whistling Boy; The Cobbler’s Apprentice).  

Whistling Boy (1872) 

Duveneck returned to the U.S. in 1873, settling in Cincinnati, and held a major solo exhibition in Boston two years later.  His work, reminiscent of the European masters with its dark, earthy colors and broad, slashing brushwork style, was immediately successful.  Despite his growing fame in America, Duveneck returned to Munich, and many pupils came to study with him in Germany and Italy.  Duveneck was an enthusiastic, exuberant teacher, and he guided his students (known as the “Duveneck Boys”) to the art treasures of Venice, Florence, and other European capitals.    Henry James called him “the unsuspected genius.”  

Portrait of Elizabeth Boott (1886)

In 1878 Duveneck opened schools in Munich and a Bavarian village.  In 1886 he married Elizabeth Boott, one of his students and an accomplished artist in her own right.  She gave birth to their son, Frank Boott Duveneck, in December of that year. She, however, died of pneumonia in Paris less than a year later, and Duveneck was devastated.  Returning to American, he sculpted a beautiful monument to his wife.  His productivity dropped sharply after his wife’s death. 

Horizon at Gloucester (ca. 1905)

Duveneck lived in Covington and taught at the Art Academy of Cincinnati where he became dean in 1905.  Some of his best-known students were John Henry Twachtman, John Christen Johansen, M. Jean McLane, Edward Charles Volkert, and Russel Wright.  Duveneck often summered in Gloucester, Mass.  His works are represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Taft Museum in Cincinnati, the Brooklyn Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and numerous other institutions.  Duveneck died at age 71 on Jan. 3, 1919, and is buried at the Mother of God Cemetery in Covington.  If you visit the Cincinnati Wing, you’re bound to be impressed by Frank Duveneck’s genius.  Here are some more of his works.    

Madonna and Child (1867)

The Florentine Girl (1887)

Water Carriers, Venice (1884) 

 Head of an Italian Woman (1887)

Little Girl in Red Dress (1890)

The Bridges – Florence (ca. 1880)

The Turkish Page (1876)

Italian Girl with Rake (1886)

F. B. Duveneck as a Child (1890)

Dock Sheds at Low Tide (1900)

That Summer Afternoon in My Garden (ca. 1900)

Dock Workers, Gloucester (1910) 

G-mail Comments
-Vicki L (10-15):  Thanks David.....Gorgeous paintings. I've forwarded this to Abra. V
-Linda K-C (10-13): Wow , you have whistling boy? Love it .


  1. Is that possibly 'The Whistling Boy' a Frank Duveneck painting that hangs on the wall of Isobel Crawley in the PBS series Downton Abbey? It is blurred, but looks remarkably like it.

    1. Thanks for the tip. I'll try to check it out.

  2. Hi Dave ,
    Just ran into this blog and was always a fan of Duveneck and was some of my inspiration growing up in Cincinnati as a painter. I believe that Duveneck set the tone for the academy and what was valued and even though he was not pushed when I attended the art academy, we all knew of his work. The church in mount Adams was decorated by Duveneck or his students, the details I don't remember, however I wonder if he is still talked about since the Art Academy has moved.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Tom. I think that Frank Duveneck remains prominent. He's been central to any discussion of Cincinnati art that I've run across over the years.