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Eugene Speicher: An Artist Reconsidered


The American Academy of Arts and Letters is pleased to announce the opening of Eugene Speicher: An Artist Reconsidered, curated By Philip Pearlstein, in the galleries of the Academy on Friday, October 31, 2003. The show, which features a selection of Speicher's paintings and drawings, will be on view through Sunday, November 20, 2003. Gallery hours are Friday through Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.


The Exhibition

President of the Academy Philip Pearlstein has sifted through the Academy's collection of nearly 400 paintings and 3,000 drawings to select the strongest and most eccentric of Speicher's works. In many of the artist's unfinished canvases which were left in Speicher's studio at his death in 1962, Mr. Pearistein found "a remarkable view of the artist's creative procedures" and a surprisingly contemporary look. Usually seen as a traditional portraitist, Speicher challenges this not only in his more unusual works, but also in his own words: "An artist is a distinguished shape maker: varied shapes in three dimensions, his main interest in color is in the coloration of the canvas as a whole. I believe that all art is built on a superstructure of abstract design, upon which and out of which the original idea flowers."

Mr. Pearlstein's reconsideration of Speicher's art will feature a number of works in progress - many removed from stretchers and some damaged - pieces to be on public view for the first and perhaps only time. The female portrait was Speicher's forte but the show includes landscapes done in Woodstock, New York, where he summered, drawings of female nudes, and still lifes that served as color exercises for the artist. Some pieces will be available for purchase.


Eugene Speicher

Eugene Speicher was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1883, and began his training as an artist at the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy. In 1907 he moved to New York to study with Frank Vincent DuMond and William Merritt Chase at The Art Students League. Perhaps his strongest influence came from evening classes taught by Robert Henri. Speicher's first successful portrait, which won The Art Students League Kelley Prize in 1908, was of fellow student Georgia O'Keeffe. After a year abroad to study in the great museums and galleries of Europe, Speicher returned to embark on his artistic career, finding quick financial success in portraiture. Among his celebrated clients were the actress Catherine Cornell (as Cordelia), socialites Mrs. C.V. Whitney and Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, artists Henry Emerson Tuttle and Paul Rohland, and the industrialist A. Conger Goodyear. Speicher, however, limited himself to less than eight portrait commissions a year, preferring to explore his own aesthetic interests.

In 1936, Esquire magazine named Speicher "America's most important living painter." He received awards from the National Academy of Design, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Carnegie Institute, Art Institute of Chicago, Corcoran Gallery, and Virginia Museum of Arts. His work is in the collections of over 50 American museums, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Dallas Art Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, and Cleveland Museum of Art. Speicher was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1930. The Academy has mounted three previous exhibitions of his work: a memorial show in 1963, an exhibition of landscape and still-life paintings in 1969, and a sale of paintings and drawings in 1984.

His work has been featured in solo museum shows at Carnegie Institute (1924), Aibright-Knox Museum (1950), and the Butler Institute (1952).


Hassam, Speicher, Betts, and Symons Purchase Fund

Upon his death in 1962, Eugene Speicher bequeathed the contents of his studio to the Academy - as Childe Hassam had done in 1946 - with the stipulation that the works be sold from time to time to raise funds to buy works by living American artists for donation to museums. Two other Academicians, Gardner Symons and Louis Betts, also donated paintings to the purchase program. Works by Reginald Marsh, Raphael Soyer, and Stuart Davis were among the earliest purchases. Some of the most recent museum placements include pieces by Emma Amos, Alice Aycock, Donald Moffet, and Susan Weil. To date, the Hassam, Speicher, Betts, and Symons funds have purchased over 1,000 works which have been donated to museums in all 50 states.


American Academy of Arts and Letters

The Academy was founded in 1898 to "foster, assist, and sustain an interest in literature, music, and the fine arts." Each year, the Academy honors over 50 artists, architects, writers, and composers (who are not members) with cash awards. The amounts of these prizes range from $2,500 to $75,000. Other activities of the Academy are exhibitions of art, architecture, and manuscripts; publications on the Academy's history and events; and readings and performances of new musicals. The American Academy of Arts and Letters is located in two landmark buildings, designed by McKim, Mead & White and by Cass Gilbert, on Audubon Terrace at 155th Street and Broadway.

The American Academy of Arts & Letters postal address is 633 West 155th Street, (at Broadway) New York, NY 10032

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

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