Paintings and Drawings by the Late Walter Shirlaw and a Group of His Pupils
- Dates: December 2, 1929 through January 2, 1930
- Collections: American Art
November 13, 1929: The New York public will be offered an unusual and stimulating exhibition in December at the Brooklyn Museum in the collection of the work of Walter Shirlaw and his pupils. Shirlaw was one of the prominent artists of his time, which falls in the period between 1838, the date of his birth, and 1909 when he died. Changes in art have been rushing upon the world so fast that this master of his day has been overlooked for some time but he is now being brought forward in a comprehensive way by Miss Katherine Dreier, President of the Sociéte Anonyme, who has at great labor made a large collection of his works and those of his pupils for this exhibition. The public will undoubtedly be surprised when they learn of the calibre of this artist and his excellent reputation during his life-time as borne out by his great activity as an artist and the important commissions which he fulfilled, - One of them being the decoration of the central dome of the Building of Manufactures and Libral Arts at the Chicago World's Fair. Much of his work is preserved to all the public in the bank notes which he engraved for the American Bank Note Co. at a time when he was considered one of the country's leading engravers.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1916 - 1930. 10-12/1929, 084. View Original
November 22, 1929: [Handwritten note: Sent to Art Critics]
To the Art Editor:
As there will be an opening of three different exhibitions at the Museum on December 2nd, we are writing to say that they can be seen by you any time on or after Monday, November 25th. This is to make it possible for you to have your review on the week-end of November 30th and December 1st.
The most comprehensive exhibition and a permanent installation will be nineteen American rooms on the second floor. The first painting exhibition is the work of Walter Shirlaw and some of his pupils in the large gallery of the third floor. The other painting exhibition of the work of John R. Koopman and his pupils will be in the east gallery on the third floor. The usual material giving the information which you will need and the photographs will be on hand as usual in the publicity office on the fourth floor.
Very truly yours,
ARTHUR H. TORREY
for the Brooklyn Museum
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1916 - 1930. 10-12/1929, 087. View Original
November 23, 1929: The entire force of carpenters, painters and workman of the Brooklyn Museum are working to full capacity to finish the extensive work which is going into the preparation of three exhibitions which will open at the Museum on December 2nd with a private view. The work which involves the greatest detail is the finishing of the installation of the nineteen early American rooms which has been promised for several months. This exhibition bids fair to be one of the most popular showings which the Museum has had in several years. The new section will be divided into four parts showing the architectural characteristics of this country before 1810 in the South, New Jersey, Long Island and New England. All the rooms will be completely furnished with fittings typical of their periods to give the feeling of actual houses instead of Museum exhibits. The special provisions for lighting will contribute greatly to this effect. An ingenious method has been worked out with midden lights reflected on a yellow background so as to give the effect of sunlight streaming into the rooms which are not near daylight.
The next most comprehensive exhibition of the three is the large collection of the paintings of Walter Shirlaw, one of the first great mural decorators of the United States. His work is being brought forward as that of one of our remarkable artists at the end of the last century. He is expected to have a large contemporary appeal as he was definitely an experimenter who did not allow himself to fall into one style and stay there. This quality of his mind will be thoroughly demonstrated by the exhibition. He did a great deal of figure work, especially allegories; landscapes, particularly the green Vermont hillsides: industrial subjects and portraits. Long before the vogue for painting subjects from our great industries became popular Shirlaw had already discovered this field. One large gallery of this exhibition will be devoted to the work of some of his pupils, namely, Anne Goldthwaite, Robert Reid, Dorothea A. Dreier and Katherine S. Dreier.
The third exhibition will be that of the work of John R. Koopman and his pupils. This is particularly appropriate at the Museum as Mr. Koopman gives art courses in the Educational Department of the Brooklyn Institute, of which both the Museum and the educational section are departments. Mr. Koopman is instructor in life drawing and antique at the Grand Central School of Art and was a student of Robert Henri, William M. Chase, Kenneth Hayes Miller and Irving R. Wiles. He has exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy, the Carnegie Institute, the New York water color exhibitions, the Corcoran Art Gallery, the Chicago Art Institute and the Brooklyn Museum.
Date unknown, approximately 1929: Walter Shirlaw, an exhibition of whose work is on view at the Brooklyn Museum from December 2nd to December 31st, was a famous name in the American art world from 1861 until his death in 1909. His parents were Scotch and lived in the village of Paisley, where his father was occupied as an inventor and maker of hand looms used in weaving Paisley shawls. He was a man of means and stood well in the community. It was from the rich hues of hanks of wool that went into the shawls that Shirlaw is believed to have acquired his early love of color, as well as from his mother's strong sense of color which he undoubtedly inherited.
Young Shirlaw did not have a chance to know much of Scotland as his parents moved to New York City in 1841, three years after his birth. His father though of buying a farm in the country at a spot which is now on 42nd Street but finally preferred Hoboken which at that time was even more open country. At five years of age, the boy Walter began to draw and spent all his spare money for pencils and paper. This tendency was encouraged by his father but was opposed by his mother who did not want her son to grow up to be a poor artist. However, his instincts along this line were not to be downed. One day in 1850, when passing a jeweller's window in Wall Street, he became fascinated with the engraving on watches which he saw there. He went in and talked to the jeweller and asked if he could learn the art of engraving from him. The jeweller was much interested and communicated the boy's wishes to his father. It took some discussion in the family to allow the boy to take up this work but he was finally permitted to do it when he promised that he would join a night school so as to get an education. He soon found that the engraving was not giving him the training he wanted, so he practically taught himself painting. This was at the time when story-telling by means of pictures was the vogue, especially in England, so that he learned to paint in that vein.
He became a skillful engraver and in 1852 entered the American Bank Note Company as one of the country's most expert men in his line. In this way some of his earliest work was passed around anonymously among the American public of that day. By 1858 he had opened a studio as engraver and painter and began sending pictures to the National Academy. His first picture was hung there in 1861. It became evident to him that to accomplish the things which he desired he would have to go to Europe for further training so that he took an opportunity to go to Chicago as head engraver in the Western Bank Note Company where he saved enough in three years to go to Europe. His impression on the art circles in Chicago was very definitely felt and still lives as he initiated the movement to found the Art Institute.
By 1870 he had saved enough to go abroad. Paris was his aim but by the time he had arrived there he found it besieged by the Prussians so proceeded on to Munich, the other great art teaching centre of that day. He studied under Wagner, Rumberg, Kaulbach, Rabb and Lindenschmidt. He became so proficient that his ability was recognized by the German Government which supplied him with a studio and every necessary facility to work. He was even asked to become a Government artist but, as that meant becoming a German subject, he refused. In the summers he spent his time among the Bavarian peasants, as well as travelling through other parts of Europe.
By 1876 his reputation had become established in the United States, which was signalized by his winning a medal at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia for his painting "The Toning of the Bell" which is now owned in Chicago.
In 1878 he returned to New York which was his home for the rest of his life. His painting "Sheepshearing in the Bavarian Highlands" became the picture of the hour. Not content with the methods and ideals of the Academy, he resigned and founded the Society of American Artists and was elected its first president. About this time he became one of the first instructors at the Art Students League.
In 1880 a young woman named Florence Manchester applied to him as a private student. His decision to teach her turned out to be momentous one for them both as they were soon married. A portrait entitled "In Church", signalizing this period in his life, now hangs in the Brooklyn Museum. The figure is that his young wife and the work is done in the Munich manner, low in key and serious and sure in handling.
An indication of his popularity is that in 1888 the Academicians, who admired him greatly, come to him and asked him to join their body again. The result was his re-election.
The next outstanding occurrence in his life was his appointment by the United States to study, the American Indians on the Crowe and Cheyenne reservations and in 1900 he won Honorable Mention with his "Sheepshearing in the Bavarian Highlands" at the Paris Exposition.
While on a trip to Spain in 1909, where he did many exquisite sketches of Algecires, Granada, Seville and Madrid, he was taken ill in the latter city and died on December 26th.
Shirlaw is now considered one of our first great decorators. His three principal works are "Peace and Plenty", a dining-room frieze which he did for the house of D. Ogden Mills; the big dome in the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building at the Chicago World's Fair; and the "The Sciences", allegorical figures in the entrance hall of the Congressional Library in Washington, which were done directly on the plaster. He also made designs for stained glass windows for the home of William T. Evans, representing "The Rainbow" and "The Lost Chord".
He won medals in Munich, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Buffalo, Atlanta and Paris. He was a member of the National Academy, the Water Color Society, the Society of Mural Painters, the Society of American Artists and the Century Club. As a teacher he had classes at the Art Students League, the Brooklyn Institute and the Brooklyn Guild. He was also an illustrator and decorated Longfellow's "Michel Angelo and the Death of the Miser", Hawthorne's "Marble Faun" and Shakespeare's "Seven Ages of Man". His work appears in the City Art Museum of St. Louis, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Albright Art Gallery of Buffalo, the Indianapolis Art Society, the Brooklyn Museum, the Northhampton Museum, the Hartford Museum and the Houston Museum.
December 5, 1929: According to the report of Dr. Fox, Director of the Museum, a great deal of the energy of the staff of the Museum was put into preparing for the exhibitions which opened on December 2nd. These exhibitions were the remarkable installation of nineteen early American rooms, one of the most important additions that has been made to the Museum's exhibits, and the exhibition of paintings by the late Walter Shirlaw and a group of his pupila, as well as an exhibition of Paintings by John R. Koopman and members of his Brooklyn Institute class of painting and drawing. This took up the energies of both the Departments of Fine Arts and Decorative Arts for the last few weeks.
It was somehow found possible by the Decorative Arts Department to take time to prepare an exhibition of Italian textiles which was shown at the Carroll Park Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library and at which there was an attendance of 3500 persons.
Another event of major importance was the opening of the exhibition of modern Norwegian Prints in the Print Gallery with a first view and tea. This was the first showing of an Exhibition that is to go on tour throughout the museums of the country.
The Department of Ethnology announces two new exhibitions in the course of preparation, that of the rugs of the Near East from the collection of Mr. Ernest G. Metcalfe, which opens on December 16th, and an exhibition of drawings by American Indians, mostly from the collection of Miss A. E. White. This latter exhibition is to be opened about January 15th.
The attendance of 34,705 at the Central Museum for the month covered by the report is accounted for in great part by the 35 separate events such as lectures and special gallery talks which were given by the Department of Natural Science and the Department of Education.
Plans announced by the latter department are those for a Christmas Play to be given for the entertainment of the crippled children on the afternoons of December 18th and December 21st in the place of the story hour. The actors will consist of the children who regularly attend the Saturday story hour and the play will be entitled "Why the Chimes Rang" and will be accompanied by music on the new organ.
An interesting part of the report was the discussion of the meetings of the Brooklyn Entomological Society which was founded in 1876 and is the oldest society of its kind in America. It has held its monthly meetings at the Brooklyn Museum since 1912 and has received considerable prestige from this affiliation. It has prospered under this association and its publications have quadrupled in scope and value during that time. Some time ago the society dispensed with its own library in order to strengthen that of the Museum which now has one of the best all-around working libraries in entomology in the country.
Under the heading of accessions some of the most important were an oil painting, "Pont du Carrousel, Paris" by Frank M. Armington, the gift of Mr. Alfred W. Jenkins and an oil painting "Study" by Charles Conder, the gift of Mrs. John W. Alexander.
The report includes a long list of loans made by people interested in early Americana for the purpose of furnishing the new American rooms.
The print Department announces a gift of two etchings by Caroline Armington, presented by Mr. Alfred W. Jenkins and the loan by Mr. William A. Putnam of forty-one prints important for the inclusion of works by such famous names as Cameron, Dürer, Haden, Legros, Claude Lorraine, Meryon, J.F. Millet, Rembrandt, Whistler and Zorn.
An unusual accession in the Department of Ethnology was a Turkish costume from the vicinity of Constantinople dated about 1800, which was purchased.
The Department of Natural Science received from Mr. Manuel Gufstein a short-eared owl in the flesh.
Winter approximately 1929: To mark the closing of the exhibition of the work of Walter Shirlaw which has been on view at the Brooklyn Museum for the last month, there will be a lecture on Sunday afternoon at 3:30 given by Mr. Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, who was well acquainted with Shirlaw during his lifetime. Mr. Dellenbaugh, who is not over 70 years old, was active at the same time that Shirlaw wasone of the big names in American art. His lecture will be given in two parts, one about Shirlaw the Artist and the other on an expedition on which he went when he was an 18-year-old boy. He is the only surviving member of the Powell Expedition which explored the Grand Canyon in 1871. This expedition was called one of the greatest feats of exploration ever executed on this continent and during its perilous journey, it named practically all of the canyons and gorges for nearly 1000 miles on the Colorado River. Mr. Dellenbaugh was accepted for the expedition because he presented himself as a young artist. Such work had not been provided for and Major Powell willingly accepted him. After the expedition he enrolled in the Academy Julian in Paris. He has applied his ability as a painter to depicting the Indian. One of his best-known paintings is that of the Navajo Hunter that hangs in the Museum of the American Indian in New York. He also did some work as a result of accompanying the Harriman Expedition to Alaska and Siberia in 1899 when he made 65 studies in oil. He has also done several canvases of the Colorado River.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1916 - 1930. 10-12/1929, 102. View Original