The Cincinnati Art Museum presents a major re-evaluation of the work of Frank Duveneck, the most influential painter in Cincinnati history, with the first comprehensive exhibition in more than 30 years. Duveneck, who worked as a painter, printmaker and teacher, was born and raised in Covington, Kentucky, before spending nearly 20 years in Europe. He lived in Munich, Germany, where he was one of the first Americans to study in the Royal Academy. His work reflected the impact both of modern German art as well as French and Italian art.
“He adopted a style that was avant-garde for its time and made it his own,” says Dr. Julie Aronson, curator of American Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings at the Cincinnati Art Museum. “There was a certain currency to it in Munich at the time — his dark and atmospheric paintings.”
Many of his works were portraits or paintings of working-class types, which were vastly different from the sentimental paintings that were popular at the time.
“He became known as someone who was quite adventurous and attracted a lot of Americans who wanted to study with him,” says Aronson. “His work has a kind of excitement to it. The way he moves paint around he can make something look very easy, which you know it wasn’t.”
Duveneck married Elizabeth Boott, an American expatriate who was living in Italy and was also a painter who had studied with him. Following her death, Duveneck returned to the U.S. in 1888 and enjoyed a distinguished career teaching at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and becoming the director of the faculty in 1905. He taught there until his death at age 70 in 1919.
“As a mentor and esteemed adviser to collectors and the Cincinnati Art Museum staff, Duveneck’s impact on the Cincinnati art world remains unparalleled,” says Aronson. “One of the reasons is that Duveneck was so important as a teacher. His work was widely admired in his own time.”
This is the first comprehensive exhibition of Duvenek’s work to be displayed at the Cincinnati Art Museum in more than 30 years, and it includes more than 120 paintings, watercolors, drawings, pastels, sculptures and etchings.
“We are including his work in other media and integrating it fully to the exhibition so that visitors will be able to see how he made studies for certain works of art and how his works compare — for example, how his etchings may or may not relate to his paintings,” says Aronson. “He had a penchant for experimentation throughout his life. That’s why he was always trying new things, trying new media.”
Aronson promises some exciting moments in this exhibition given that he created both informal portraits as well as society portraits and depictions of Italian city and country folk.
“The juxtaposition between works from our collection with things that we are borrowing from other museums and private collectors is really exciting,” says Aronson. “There are some great pairings that will provide insight to visitors and be highly engaging.”
One of those is the uniting of three of his most famous paintings — “The Whistling Boy” and two other paintings that are of working-class tough boys.
“One was painted in 1872 and the other two were done five or six years later,” says Aronson. “It’s interesting to see the progress of his style over time.”
According to Aronson, Duveneck was never an artist who was overly concerned with sales of his work.
“He wasn’t ambitious in that way,” she says. “He was more engaged with the love of painting.”
The “Frank Duveneck: American Master” exhibit will be on display until March 28.
Due to COVID-19, the museum has safety protocols in place and is also taking reservations in order to keep numbers to a reasonable level.
The Cincinnati Art Museum is located at 953 Eden Park Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45202. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 513.721.2787 or visit www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org/duveneck.