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Frank Duveneck: The American Realist Painter of European Naturalism

By Zeitgenössischer Fotograf - Webseite über deutsch-amerikanische Maler, Public Domain, Link

Depicting realistic portraits and figures through bold, vital brush strokes and strong contrasts of light and dark, expressed in a melding of contemporary German practice with old master techniques, the American figure and portrait painter, Frank Duveneck, is celebrated as one of the young American painters who helped awaken American interest in European Naturalism in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Widely known as an art teacher, the artist was born Frank Decker on October 9, 1848, in Covington, Kentucky, to German immigrant parents. A year after his birth, his father died and the following year his mother married a businessman named Joseph Duveneck. Later, the artist legally adopted his stepfather’s name. At the age of 15, he began painting and was employed as an assistant to Wilhelm Lamprecht, a successful German-born decorator.

In 1869, the 21-year old Duveneck went to Germany and in 1870 enrolled in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he studied under Wilhelm von Dietz and Alexander Strähuber and was greatly influenced by the works of Frans Hals, Rembrandt, and Peter Paul Rubens.  His success was immediate, and in 1871 he won a medal from Bavarian Royal Academy. Some of his best works, including the well-known “Whistling Boy” (1872), date from this period.

Duveneck used distinctively vigorous brushwork inspired by Wilhelm Leibl and Old Master techniques; he was also known for using strong contrasts of light and dark, though his color palette would eventually lighten. Fellow artists and critics responded to his unique style, which encouraged him to arrange his first solo exhibition Munich, further establishing his international reputation.

After returning to United States in 1873 and settling in Cincinnati, Ohio, Duveneck burst upon the American scene with an exhibition in Boston in 1875. His work was characterized by dark, earthy colors and broad painterly clearly reminiscent of the European masters Duveneck admired. Both the writer Henry James and artist William Morris Hunt supported and championed Duveneck's art. Emboldened by this response, he returned to Munich and sent works to exhibitions in the United States.

Duveneck became widely influential, partly through his teaching. Many young American artists, including William Merritt Chase and J. Frank Currier, studied under Duveneck in Munich and in Florence between 1878 and 1888 and in Cincinnati, where he was chairman of the art academy from 1903 until his death.

Duveneck's work can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Richmond Art Museum, and the Kenton County Library in Covington, Kentucky. A portrait, “Young Man with Tousled Hair”, is now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

At the age of 70, Duveneck died on January 2, 1919, in Cincinnati, Kentucky, and was buried at the Mother of God Cemetery, in Covington, Kenton County. Before his death, Duveneck donated a large and important group of his works to the Cincinnati Art Museum, which remains the center for Duveneck studies.



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