RLM articles concerning notable American deceased artists and links to other sites


Featured Artist: Robert Melvin Decker



The Mystery of Robert Melvin Decker: American Artist


Harry Haberman


It is the fate of the artist, with an occasional exception, not to receive recognition during his life-time. The fortunes of a few sometimes improve after they die and one or two may achieve recognition and even fame. But it is the height of irony for an artist to be successful and famous during his lifetime and then to be completely forgotten shortly after death. Robert M. Decker has suffered such a fate.

Decker was born in Troy, New York, June 8, 1847, and died of heart failure at nearby Melrose, N.Y. October 27, 1921. He was then carried back to the city of his birth to be buried with little ceremony in the Oakwood Cemetery.[1] He lies in the extensive plot of his wife's wealthy family, his grave noted only by a small footstone indistinguishable from others in a field of similar stones. The stone is engraved with nothing more than his name and the years of birth and death. [2]So is this American artist, described after his death as "Brooklyn's most distinguished artist" [3]buried, uncelebrated and unrecognized.

Barbara Decker Wood, Decker's granddaughter, in an interview, described him as highly acerbic and uncompromising in his relations with people. As she put it, "He was very sarcastic; that was, I think, the main thing I remember about him, that he was very sarcastic." But with her he was very gentle and as a little girl, she said, she loved to sit on his lap. [4] He was a handsome man, well-built, with a substantial moustache and, in his mid-fifties, a full head of greying hair.[5] Because of his great wit he was always fun to be with, despite his sarcasm. His mother died while he was still a child, and according to Barbara, when his father, a furniture manufacturer, remarried, Decker's stepmother "was a holy terror and she mistreated him as a boy, so he had a very unhappy childhood and youth . . . He had a horrible stepmother, really terrible. I think she was very jealous that he wasn't her son." He had little formal education and was not even a high school graduate. "He had a very minor education in school, but he read copiously in every subject."[6]

When asked whether it was true, as reported in certain biographical material,[7] that Robert Decker was a direct descendant of Joshua Reynolds she said it was true, but, as she laughingly put it, "I think it was the wrong side of the blanket." There were two main branches of the Decker line, one German and one English. Their forbears were English.[8]

Decker was about thirty-seven when he married Emma Haner, age twenty-eight. Emma was rich. If being rich is a virtue, that, according to Barbara Wood, was apparently Emma's main virtue. It was not a happy marriage. "They didn't get along at all. I knew that even as a child. I once asked grandmother Decker why she didn't get a divorce. `One doesn't get a divorce,' she told me, haughtily." Emma died at age 84, having survived her husband by nineteen years.[9]

Although R. M. Decker is listed only briefly in Benezit and Thieme and several other art dictionaries,[10] there was a clue to possible further research in a note in Benezit that the Brooklyn Museum owned one of his paintings. The painting, a gift from a Mary A. Brackett, titled "Old Chestnuts at Bolton, Lake George", was in storage. Regarding the painter, the Museum knew little about him except that he had been born in 1847 and died in 1921. And they had never found an occasion to exhibit the painting in the museum. They had not totally ignored it, however, for they had lent it to the Meyers Fine Art Gallery of the State University College at Plattsburgh, N.Y. in 1972 for their exhibition "Adirondack Paintings."[11] In this exhibition the Decker painting shared space with paintings by the well-known artists John Frederick Kensett, Levi W. Prentice, and James David Smillie.[12] "Old Chestnuts at Bolton Lake" was also displayed later in the office of the president of Long Island University on long-term loan from l975 to 1987.[13] That of course was better than being in storage.

In one important respect, however, The Brooklyn Museum was very helpful. They mentioned that the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, New York might have information on Decker.[14] They were right. And though the Adirondack's record was not extensive it was far more than anything available elsewhere.[15] Back then, in 1972, and still today, nobody, no other museum, not the Metropolitan, not the Albany Museum, the Brooklyn Historical Society, nor anybody else that I could find knew anything of Robert M. Decker beyond what was mentioned briefly in the several art dictionaries referred to above.[16]

But in 1972, besides biographical material, the Adirondack Museum had in their inventory five of his paintings, and most important, they still had them in 1994.[17] Their earliest acquisition, "Raquette Lake (1871)," was a gift from the Deckers' only child, Jeanne (Mrs. Irving Wood). It was exhibited publicly at the Museum in 1959. Three of the others are identified only as scenes of the Hague; the largest of these (12" x 18") was lent to the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, N.Y. for their exhibition in 1976 and this same painting was later exhibited by the Adirondack Museum in 1979 as part of their "Fair Wilderness" collection. Finally, their "Fair Wilderness" exhibition of 1990-1991 included the fifth painting, Decker's "From the Rising House, Looking South at Hague, Lake George." The painting is illustrated in the catalog, prepared by Patricia C. F. Mandel with a short commentary on Decker.[18]


The Adirondack Museum's main biographical material is a scrapbook on microfilm of poorly organized news-paper clippings most of them without dates or the publications' names.[19] There are also several articles, the most informative a clipping from the Lake George Mirror (The Adirondacks) Vol. Xll No. lO, dated August 10, 1901.[20] On the front page is a photograph of "Robert M. Decker. Artist, a Lake George Cottager." The article, illustrated with a reproduction of his painting "A June Day in the Woods" provides a number of biographic details and refers to the fact that he was a well-known exhibitor both in Brooklyn and the Adirondacks, and that by now he was best known as a painter of Adirondack scenes. It lists the names of about thirty patrons "of the highest culture as well as wealth . . ." including professors, judges, public officials, business tycoons, and art collectors. It especially mentions that Mrs. F. O. French, the mother of Mrs. Alfred Vanderbilt, purchased "one of the finest of Mr. Decker's works . . . the `Autumn' . . .;[21] while another noteworthy painting is his `June Day in the Woods' recently presented to the Brooklyn Institute . . . and now hanging in the main gallery of the great museum building." The author of the article also quotes The New York Herald which describes Decker's paintings as "notable examples of art subordinated to nature, as all true art should be. . .." The Herald critic goes on to talk of the several specific winter scenes that he viewed and delineates in highly poetic terms many of their details and the pleasure he derived from them.


Decker studied under R. Swain Gifford and in 1883 when Decker was thirty-six he received his first important recognition at the National Academy of Design with his painting "Morning Among the Rockaway Hills" which was bought by the Peabody family.[22] Sometime later when the Peabody collection was put up for sale at Silo's Gallery in New York Decker's "Morning Among the Rockaway Hills" was in the select company of such great artists as Corot, C. F. Dubigny, Bierstadt, and Courbet, to name only a few.[23]

Between 1883 and 1885 Decker worked out of a studio at 191 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, New York. [24] From 1885 he also owned a studio at Lake George,[25] the Hague, in the Adirondacks, New York, a lovely two-story building on a terrace eighty feet above the lake. Verandas surrounded the house and its windows looked out onto wonderful views of the lake, the woods, the hills and the mountains and it was this beauty that inspired most of his paintings.[26]

In 1883, in addition to the exhibition at the National Academy of Design Decker also exhibited another painting, his "November Twilight," in the annual exhibition of the Brooklyn Art Association. It was priced at $75, which for those days was a substantial price, considering that the Association at the time was renting a whole floor for its art school at 201-202 Montague Street for $240 for an entire year.[27]

From this time on Decker seems to have been considered an artist of some achievement. He worked and exhibited regularly at one studio or another for part of the year in Brooklyn Heights and the rest of the time at Lake George. He was a member of the Brooklyn Art Club and first exhibited his paintings at their exhibition in 1889. [28]This club (BAC) was organized in 1878 and incorporated in 1890, and unlike the earlier Brooklyn Art Association (BAA), was open only to professional artists.[29] He continued to exhibit at the Brooklyn Art Club through 1896, with consistent critical praise and gratifying sales. Towards the end of the century the Brooklyn Art Club began to have trouble finding exhibition space and by 1902 had become completely inactive.[30]


"A June Day in the Woods," chosen for special mention in the Lake George Mirror article quoted above, was donated by a "friend" on February 20, 1900 to the Brooklyn Institute where from then on it was "hanging in an honored position in the main gallery of the great museum building."[31] The Brooklyn Institute later became part of the Brooklyn Museum and from its former honored position the painting vanished. According to the Brooklyn Museum, "A handwritten note on the catalogue card in the Department of Painting and Sculpture is the only reference to the deaccession and it just says that the painting was sold without noting the buyer or date."[32] In 1974 someone [33] at the Museum mentioned that she thought the painting had been lent to the University of New Mexico and was never returned. The University, however, in a recent statement, says that "We have no works by Robert M. Decker, nor do we find any record of ever having had one."[34] So much for the mysterious disappearance of "A June day in the Woods," one of Decker's most noteworthy paintings.

This is not the only such disappearance. The record shows that when Decker visited the Pittsburgh Athletic Association in 1912, R. M. Wood, an executive of the Association, purchased his painting titled "A White Birch Family" which Wood then donated to the Association, where it had been "one of the most admired paintings in the Club's collection."[35] The Association, which exists today, now has no trace of the painting nor any knowledge of how or when it disappeared.[36]


Decker was praised for the quality and beauty of his work in many articles before and after his death. The Brooklyn Standard Union, the Kings County Journal, Brooklyn Life, the New York Herald, and the Brooklyn Eagle all wrote about him, as did numerous other unidentified journals. The New York Herald of March 17, 1907[38] devoted a half-page to an impressive article about Decker entitled "BROOKLYN ARTIST ACHIEVES SUCCESS WITH WINTER LANDSCAPES" illustrated with reproductions of five of his paintings: "The Road in Winter," "A December Morning," "In the Beechwood," "A Winter Sunset," and "The Morning after the Snow."

In the painting 'The Morning after the Snow" which the critic discusses in considerable detail, everything including the brook is covered with snow, "save where the wind of the night has swept a pathway, leaving here and there a glimpse of its icy surface exposed to view." Flakes of snow still cling to the branches of the trees and shrubs along the brook's banks. "In the wonderful ethereal light of early day," he continues, "it is as if a band of frolicsome elves had powdered each twig and branch with showers of frost crystals in their play. A more fairylike aspect of nature it would be impossible to imagine. The lightness of the snow and the quality of the atmosphere, which even in winter evinces at dawn a quality less of the earthy than of the spiritual, are reproduced with the touch of a master." Though he discusses the other paintings in less detail he has nothing but warm praise for them.

The Lake George Mirror article of 1901[39] quotes this same N.Y.Herald critic on an earlier exhibition of Decker's work with similarly flattering comments. He states "[There are] few whose love of nature is more intense than Mr. Decker's. . .." And the way Decker manages with his art to convey nature's movement and moods in his snow scenes leaves "the observer spellbound."


In a two-column article, probably by the same critic quoted above, headlined "WHAT THE ARTISTS ARE DOING," the author devotes the entire first column to Decker. (Date: 1902 or 1903)[40] He comments on two paintings. The first, "Sunset Among the Pines," which is illustrated in the article, is described as follows:

"Have you ever walked across a snowy field bordered by pine woods at the close of a winter's day and seen the rays of the setting sun break through the clouds and transform the sky into a canopy of golden splendor? If you have you have witnessed one of the most beautiful and impressive aspects of nature, and the scene that Mr. Decker has depicted comes as near to the real scene in semblance and feeling as it is possible to come on canvas. . .. "

The second painting is titled "Hillside Monarchs" and " [T]he interest centers in a group of splendid golden oaks in all the glory of their autumn foliage, near the brow of a low hill. The sky is that clear, cool, dappled blue and white that comes only in October. The picture is strong almost to boldness, but is so full of cheeriness and sunshine, so full of life and vitality, albeit it depicts the waning season of the year, that it fills the beholder with delight."

Another full-page spread is entitled "Canvases of Rare Merit Shown at the Exhibition Club." Although there is no identification of the newspaper or the critic, internal evidence again places the date around 1903.[41] The article reviews the annual exhibition of the Brooklyn Exhibition Club which is said to replace the exhibitions of the Brooklyn Art Club which, as noted earlier, became inactive in 1902 mainly because of difficulty in finding exhibition space. Although Decker's "The Pool in Autumn" is only one of three paintings illustrated the author devotes a large part of the text to Decker. Of "The Pool in Autumn" he says:

"For sumptuous richness of color and clearness of atmosphere, the wonderful clear blue of cool October skies, Mr. Decker's 'Autumn' is a gem. It is a small canvas and therefore all the more remarkable, as it is exceedingly difficult to reproduce in miniature the many varied tones and hues and keep them rich and sumptuous, rather than patchy."

He continues his commentary with:

"A large canvas by Mr. Decker is one of the local achievements of the season. 'A Family of Birches' is its title, and a more secluded, charming woodland retreat than this beautiful painting pictures it would be difficult to imagine. In the center is a clear pool, while bending over the margin on the further side is a clump of slender, willowy, silvery barked birches. Enclosing all is a fringe of delicate foliage, depending from the branches of tall underbrush and slender, pliant trunks -- slender as all young forest trunks that, shut out from the direct sun, climb upward toward the light. The delicate greens, the soft browns, the silvery grays are delightfully toned and intermingled. The effect is that of a summer idyl, exquisitely, subtly expressed."

Then there are two clippings of what appears to be a regular column entitled "With the Artists in Their Studios" with no identification or date. Here internal evidence would place them in late 1905 or early 1906.[42] The first article carries a brief but vivid description of one of Decker's paintings, "Winter Vista" which he likens to "a clear frosty breath from the North."

In the second article he rhapsodizes:

"A Wintry Road" is one of the finest winter themes the artist, whose fame as a painter of snow scenes is widespread, has yet executed. One of its greatest merits and also its greatest charms, is its extreme simplicity. It has a remarkable power of concentrating the attention. A glance and all external objects fade from the consciousness and before the gazer rises a hilly road, buried in deep, soft, dry snow."

The final two extremely impressive half-page articles are devoted entirely to Decker.[43] The first article's banner headline reads: "Exhibit of Landscapes in Oil by Robert M. Decker Draws High Praise." Below the headline is a large reproduction of Decker's "A June Day"[44] occupying a good part of the article. The second article's headline, spreading across the page like the first, reads "Attractive Paintings of Robert M. Decker Are Now on View in Studio." Included in the article are reproductions of two Decker paintings, "A Woodland Scene" and "A Country Scene" as well as a photo of the painter. Again, although there is no identification or date on the articles, the date is probably 1905 or 1906.[45] Here too, the author emphasizes Decker's talent with small canvases. "The artist has the rare faculty . . . to express wide themes within small spaces. . .. So in a small eight by ten canvas entitled `In June' the depth of a forest is pictured with remarkable strength and suggestion of area."

The author continues:

"No one has succeeded in reproducing the spirit and aspect of the [Adirondack's] beauty with greater truth and sympathy than Mr. Decker. The secret of his success lies in his intense love for the scenes he paints. It shows in every line and shade of his work. There are other canvases, scarcely less notable and a half dozen or more little gems, bits of nature such as one who loves the out of doors loves to come across in odd corners. There is the satisfying quality to Mr. Decker's landscapes, as has been pointed out by the best critics, that they are painted for all time. A century from now they will be as fresh and refreshing as they are to-day because they follow no whim or school of art, but wear the truthful semblance of nature. As nature does not change, but ever reclothes the earth with the same woods and fields and flowers and bends over it the same sky, so these paintings possess a perennial freshness and truth."


We must assume that there were many buyers besides those previously listed because from 1883 on Decker exhibited his paintings constantly and extensively. In Manhattan, although the scrapbook mentions only a single exhibition at the National Academy of Design (in 1883), Decker in fact participated in five other of their exhibitions from 1885 through 1898. He also exhibited with the Macbeth Gallery.[47]

In Brooklyn, as already noted, Decker exhibited in 1893 with the Brooklyn Art Association. Also, twice a year from 1889 through 1896 he exhibited regularly with the Brooklyn Art Club. Afterwards, when the Brooklyn Art Club[48] stopped its exhibitions, he exhibited with the Brooklyn Art Society.[49] There were also exhibitions at the Sherk Galleries and the Lafayette Square Galleries, but these may have been under the auspices of one of the art groups mentioned. And, until it disappeared, his painting "A June Day in the Woods" was on display at the Brooklyn Institute. To fill in the empty spaces in between were the frequent exhibitions in his various studios in Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill,[50] and the Clinton Hill sections of Brooklyn.

Outside of New York City proper were the very important exhibitions of the Adirondack Museum and those in his own Adirondack studio at the Hague.

To complete the record, we list the following exhibitions, several of which have previously been mentioned:[51]


Shortly after his death, his wife organized two exhibitions. The first was at their home at 44 Downing Street in the prestigious Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn.[52] The house, their last Brooklyn residence, an attractive two-story brownstone with an angled-bay front, still stands and is now in a section of Downing Street included in the Clinton Hill Historic District established by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1981.[53]

Soon after the Downing Street exhibition another was held in the parish house of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection at nearby 84 Quincy St.[54] which drew some critical attention. However the church is of more interest than just as the site of an exhibition. Before Mrs. Decker moved from Brooklyn to live with her daughter's family in Schaghticoke, N.Y. she stored her husband's unsold paintings with a church. According to Barbara Wood the pastor of the church, a Dr. Garrington, who loved Decker's work, generously offered to store the paintings in the parish house to save storage charges. Mrs. Decker accepted the offer.[55] The archives of the Episcopal diocese in 1994 confirm that Dr. Garrington was the pastor in 1922 of the Church of the Resurrection which establishes that this was the church where the paintings were stored. After Mrs. Decker's death in 1940, the family could not find the church or the paintings. And no wonder; in 1940 the Church of the Reincarnation had already ceased to exist. In 1933 it had merged with another church called the Church of the Messiah not very far away on Greene Ave. The merged church was renamed the Church of the Messiah-Incarnation, and the combined activities of both churches were transferred to the Greene Avenue location. It seems likely that the Decker paintings went along to Greene Avenue with other church property and except for an unfortunate accident might still be stored somewhere in the church, unrecognized, to this day. The accident was that the church burned down in 1951.[56]


There is no known record of the number of paintings Decker produced in his lifetime. But in a career that covered more than forty years he must have painted a large number of canvases. One article states that "for rapidity of execution few men can equal Mr. Decker,"[57] and his granddaughter also called him a prolific worker.[58] Where are these paintings now? We know of the present existence of approximately twenty-five paintings.[59] Leonard's Index of Auctions[60] lists twenty sales from 1980 to 1988, and since these are relatively recent and can probably be tracked down, the total verifiable number should possibly be increased to around fifty. Of the balance of his work, some are probably hidden away in local museums and others, no doubt, were destroyed, either inadvertently or through fire. The rest have to be hanging on anonymous walls somewhere or gathering dust in attics, or even worse, moldering in damp garages.

Sales records prior to 1980 are meager and the prices listed in Leonard's Index are hardly complimentary, with a low price of $75 in 1985 and a high of $4400.[61] For a proper perspective on the low esteem accorded Decker in the modern auction market, we have to remember that a whole hundred years ago the lowest tag on a Decker painting was also $75. And compare his highest price of $4400 in 1988 with the $308,000 paid in 1989 for a Kensett[62] with whom Decker exhibited, presumably as an equal, at the Meyers Fine Art Gallery in 1972.


Barbara Wood sold the Schaghticoke house in 1965, two years after her father died. She took with her to her new smaller home a few of the pictures that had been framed and hanging and with faith undiminished, she too stored the others with a church, this time the local family church. Afterwards the minister died and and again they could not find the pictures.[63]


When asked whether there might have been unframed paintings among the stuff cleared out to the antique dealer after the sale of the house, Barbara's answer was "It was very sad for me. I could see my parents sitting around and I couldn't take it any more, so I sold the house, and I had to clear it out. There could have been paintings there. I didn't care what happened."[64] And that perhaps solves another mystery, the mystery of how several paintings of the once-famous Robert M. Decker appeared on the counter of an obscure antique dealer near where the forgotten Decker was born and died and which were bought by a local resident and a visiting friend.[65]

The final and most perplexing mystery of all is Decker's fall from grace. There are signs that Decker, because of his realism, probably suffered more and more at the hands of the increasingly popular Impressionists. In the article cited earlier titled "Exhibit of Landscapes in Oil by Robert M. Decker Draws High Praise" the author has this to say:[66]

"In his leaning from the impressionistic so greatly in vogue there is no suggestion of hardness or coldness. Every detail is so softened as to lose the obtuseness of detail, every line and shade so blended and harmonized as to produce the most sensitive impression. In no point is this quality so strongly emphasized as in his painting of tree trunks. Where the few washlike strokes of the idealist and impressionist are put to shame by the myriads of strokes and touches of countless tones and shades so softly and deftly worked and blended that the massive trunk with its seams and gnarls is built up stroke by stroke as Nature itself fashions the bark and shapes the limbs until it stands out from the picture a living semblance of the real. As Mr. Decker has frequently stated, all thought of art is lost when he takes up his brush. `I simply cannot put more of what the world calls art in my work and be true to myself and my convictions. To me there is nothing more inspiring than untrammelled nature, and no experimenting, idealizing or attempted improvement can approach the expression of the truth.'"

A few days after Decker's death, when Hamilton Easter Field (1878-1922) the well-known art connoisseur, art editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and former president of the Brooklyn Art Society [67] offered his view that Decker was "Brooklyn's most distinguished artist," he completed his commentary with the following:

"Nothing is more incomprehensible to me than the fact that fashion has so much to do with taste in art. Here was a man who knew his technique as none of the younger men do, whose work was drawn with the skill and knowledge which none but the masters have. Not one out of ten of the younger artists was able to see it. Here is the tragedy of a life devoted to art. The ideals of art change. Cezanne succeeds to Corot. The man who no longer cares for Corot when he has come to admire Cezanne does not understand Cezanne. It is a relief to me to know that during Mr. Decker's lifetime I expressed the thought which I express today: that he was our most dstinguished Brooklyn artist. He was more. As he had learned to paint so he had learned to live. He was one of nature's noblemen."


There is no denying that Decker was a Realist. But Realism has never lost its appeal, and probably never will. So there must be more of an answer to this final mystery than the elitist denigration of Realism. Possibly the cognoscenti may have an answer. In attempting such an answer they may discover that the art world has consigned Robert Decker to an undeserved fate.


(Adirondack Museum is at Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y. 12812)

1. Certificate Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, N.Y. giving his age, date of death, buried in Section N, Lot #59. Grave visited by author Oct. 25, 1993.

2. See note 1.

3. Adirondack MF5.5 Fol. 34V. (Microfilm)

4. Taped interview with Barbara Decker Wood, Troy, N.Y. Oct. 25, 1992. Also, see photo Adirondack MF5.5 Fol. 30.

5. Photos Adirondack MF5.5 Folios 1, 2, 42.(Microfilm)

6. Taped interview with Barbara Decker Wood, Troy, N.Y. Oct. 25, 1993.

7. Adirondack Microfilm MF5.5 - Fol. 33V Winged Head.

8. Taped interview with Barbara Decker Wood, Troy, N.Y. Oct. 25, 1993.

9. Taped interview with Barbara Decker Wood, Troy, N.Y. Oct. 25, 1993.

10. E. Benezit, Dictionnaire des Peintres Sculptures Dessinateurs et Gravures, Librairie Grund, 1976, V.3 P.420. Ulrich Thieme, Algemeines Lexikon Der Bildenen Kunstler, E.A.Seaman 1913, V. 8 P.526. Ralph Clifton Smith, A Biographical Index of American Artists, Olana Gallery, New York, P.28. Mallett's Index of Artists, Peter Smith, 1948. Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art, Sound View Press, 1985. P. 155. Susan Theran Fine Art Identification and Price Guide, Avon Books, Second edition P. 217. American Art Annual, V. 1(1898) V. 3(1900-01).

11. Meyers Fine Art Gallery of the State University College at Plattsburgh, New York. Exhibition of "Adirondack Paintings" Jan. 9-30-72, Cat. #39. See note #12.

12. Brooklyn Museum supplied photocopy reading as follows: Xeroxed from Exhibition Catalogue: Adirondack Paintings Meyers Fine Art Gallery of the State University College at Plattsburgh, N.Y., Cat. 39 not illustrated.

13. Undated memo from Brooklyn Museum re "Old Chestnuts at Bolton, Lake George" Acc. No. 28.73

14. Phone conversation Feb. 8, 1974 with Mrs. Lenore Sundberg, 6th floor, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, N.Y.

15. In addition to their microfilm MF5.5 of a Decker scrapbookloaned them in 1959, the Adirondack Museum's files include several brief biographical articles apparently derived from that microfilm. Also a photocopy of Lake George Mirror, dated August 10, 1901.

16. Telephone calls were made to each of the three institutions mentioned plus The National Academy of Design, Frick Museum, NYC Museum, Art Dept. City of New York, etc. I also wrote in September 1993 for information to the thirteen auction houses who sold Decker paintings in the 1980's according to Leonard's Annual Index of Auction Sales. Answers were received from Christie's East, Weschlers, Doyle, Phillips Son & Neale, and Skinner. None had information beyond date of birth and death.

17. Telephone conversaation with Jerrold Pepper, Librarian, Adirondack Museum, 12/1/93.

18. Telephone conversation with Jerrold Pepper, Librarian, Adirondack Museum, 12/1/93, letter from him dated 12/9/93, photocopy of pertinent section of their Fair Wilderness catalogue of 1990, carbon copy of letter from Museum dated 10 January 1967 signed by William K. Verner, addressed to Mrs. Agatha DeBradis, The Pointed Window, Petersburg, New York and listing the five Decker paintings owned by the Adirondack Museum at that time. Still owned by them in May 1994 as confirmed in conversation with Jerrold Pepper.

19. When first examined in 1972, much of the material was indecipherable. Fortunately, today with more advanced equipment, this problem has largely disappeared.

20. Adirondack Microfilm MF5.5 and photocopy of Lake George Mirror article furnished by the Museum.

21. In addition to the patrons mentioned here another twenty are listed in Adirondack MF5.5 Fol. 12.

22. Adirondack MF5.5 Fol. 32.

23. Adirondack Microfilm MF5.5 - Fol. 10.

24. Addresses given by Decker for exhibits at the National Academy of Design. See Vol. 1 publication of National Academy of Design Exhibition of the National Academy of Design 186l-1900 available in room 313 New York Public Library.

25. Adirondack Microfilm MF5.5 - Fol. 13V.

26. Adirondack Microfilm MF5.5 - Fol. 3.

27. Annual Report of the Brooklyn Art Association April 14, 1884. Brooklyn Public Library R706.2 B87B

28. Catalogues of Annual Exhibitions of the Brooklyn Art Club. New York Public Library (Room 315) MAW (Brooklyn)

29. Clark S. Marlor, Ed. A History of the Brooklyn Art Association, Jas. F. Carr, New York. Pp 56 and 166.

30. Ibid, P.56.

31. Photocopy of Lake George Mirror article dated Aug. 1O, 1901 furnished by the Adirondack Museum.

32. Letter dated 7/30/93 from the Brooklyn Museum signed by Terri O'Hara, Associate Registrar.

33. Phone conversation 2/8/74 with Mrs. Lenore Sundberg, 6th floor Brooklyn Museum.

34. Note dated 8/30/93 Signed Kittu Longstreth-Brown, Registrar, University of New Mexico Art Museum.

35. Adirondack Microfilm MF5.5 - Fol. 35, 27.

36. Phone conversation 9/21/93 with <EM>Irving Anderson, General Manager, Pittsburgh Athletic Association.

37. Adirondack Microfilm MF5.5 - Numerous clippings with no date or identification in addition to those that are identified in the text of this article.

38. Adirondack Microfilm MF5.5 - Fol. 26V.

39. Same as note #20.

40. Adirondack Microfilm MF5.5 - Fol.21V. Date established by fact that studio at 79 Lefferts Place was used 19O2-1903.

41. Adirondack Microfilm MF5.5 - Fol. 18. Towards end of article reference to Fredk Baker's "canvas of 19O3" establishes a rough date for the article.

42. Adirondack Microfilm MF5.5 - Fol. 18v-19. Reference towards the bottom of article on Fol. 19 is made to exhibition of Guarino's painting "The Cock Fight" at the National Academy of Design. Their archivist, (Derringer) in phone conversation on 3/30/94 gives dates of exhibition as 12/23/1905-1/20/1906.

43. Adirondack Microfilm MF5.5 - Fol. 28V-29-29V-30.

44. Not the same as a June Day in the Woods.

45. None of the records I looked at had his studio addresses between 79 Lefferts Place (occupied in 1903) and 32 Putnam Ave. (1907), which might mean that the studios at 344 Washington Ave. (27V) and 18 Hart St. (28V) were occupied between 1903 and 1907.

46. Exhibition of the National Academy of Design 186l-1900 Vol. l (NYP Library at desk of Art Room 313}. Also National Academy of Design, Catalogue of the Autumn Exhibitions Cat. l and 9. NYP Library. 47. Photocopy of letter from Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. reel no. N Mc6, frames 819-20. This letter is referred to by Ms. Mandel in Wilderness Catalogue of the Adirondack Museum; in it Decker speaks of two paintings he was sending to Macbeth Galleries.

48. Catalogues of the Annual Exhibitions of the Brooklyn Art Club. NYP Library (MAW Brooklyn)

49. Adirondack MF5.5 Folios 13, 16, 33V.

50. By personal visit on April 10 and April 11, 1994, author confirmed that most of the buildings where Decker's studios were located still exist and are now located in the Cobble Hill and Brooklyn Heights Historic Districts, per New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. (Phone conversation with Ms. Jessica Sloop, 212 487-6800, April ll, 1994.)

51. Adirondack Microfilm MF5.5. Clippings scattered throughout the microfilm. In addition refer to information from the Brooklyn Museum and conversations with Mr. Jerrold Pepper of the Adirondack Museum.

52. Adirondack Microfilm MF5.5 - Fol. 33V.

53. Clinton Hill Historic District, publication of Landmarks Preservation Commission, City of New York, 1981, Pp. 89-9O.

54. Adirondack Microfilm MF5.5 - Fol. 34.

55. Taped interview with Barbara Decker Wood. Troy, N.Y.10/25/1993.

56. Letter dated 4/22/1994 from the Episcopal Church in Brooklyn-Queens-Nassau-Suffolk; The Diocese of Long Island, signed by Elaine Bailey, followed by phone conversation with Ms. Bailey 5/2/1994.

57. Adirondack Microfilm MF5.5 - Fol. 8.

58. Taped interview with Barbara Decker Wood, Troy,N.Y.10/25/1993. Adirondack MF5.5 Fol. 8.

59. Barbara Wood as of 10/25/93 owned 7 or 8; Adirondack Museum 5, Brooklyn Museum 1, Author and friends 10.

60. Susan Theran. Leonard's Annual Price Index of Auction Sales. Auction Index Inc., Newton, Mass. Vols. 1 through 12.

61. Ibid.

62. Ibid.

63. Taped interview with Barbara Decker Wood, Troy, N.Y.10/25/1993.

64. Ibid.

65. In the late 60's the author and friends who lived near Scaghticoke, N.Y. were antiquing and in a barn on route 40 discovered a batch of paintings by the unknown R.M.Decker.

66. Adirondack MF5.5 Folios 27V-28

67. Peter Hastings Falk, Ed. Who Was Who in American Art, Sound View Press, 1985. P201. Field listed as: Painter, etcher, writer, teacher, B. Ogunquit Me. 4/21/73 d. 4/10/22. Art editor:Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Assoc. Editor: The Touchstone, The Arts, Arts & Decoration. Director: Thurnscoe School of Art, Ogunquit, Me., Ardsley School of Art, Brooklyn.Also in Adirondack Museum microfilm MF5.5 Fol. 33 Field is described as a former president of Brooklyn Art Society.

(above left to right: Exhibitions and Sales; Exhibitions and Sales (continued), Location of Decker's Studios, Family Data)

About the author

Harry Haberman is a retired businessman living in Manhattan. During World War II he served as an electronics instructor in the Navy. Retirement has given him the time to indulge in several long-term interests which include writing and the collection of art and antiques. As an offshoot of the interest in antiques, for many years he collected and repaired clocks and watches. Quite a while back when on an antique foray with a friend who lived near Schaghticoke, NY they came on several unframed oil paintings in a junk shop signed by Robt M Decker, and impressed by the obvious professionalism of the work, they bought the canvases. Curious about the artist, Haberman expected to find him to be an amateur, completely unknown. But to his surprise he discovered Decker was listed in Benezit as well as in several of the other well-known art dictionaries. Searching further he discovered a few intimations that Decker had once been a highly esteemed painter, but to his amazement there was no central or organized body of information on the man.

Intrigued by what he deemed a mystery, he launched an investigation hoping to correct art history's failure in this regard. The research took a couple of years and much time spent in travel and libraries, particularly the New York Public Library. The result is the biography of Robert Melvin Decker presented here.

Mr. Haberman continues to pursue his main interest, writing.

Mr. Haberman may be reached at h.haberman@rcn.com © 2000 Harry Haberman. All Rights Reserved.


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