Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Artist's home to become arts center

By John Nolan
The Associated Press

Michael Hammons, president of Forward Quest, stands outside Frank Duveneck's home.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        COVINGTON — Devotional murals in a Roman Catholic cathedral and collections of paintings were the legacy that internationally known artist Frank Duveneck left his hometown. But this city has found a less sacred way to remember his life and achievements.

        A community arts center — perhaps including a working tavern — is being established at the house where Mr. Duveneck grew up and where he returned late in life.

        In between, he made a splash as an American painter in Europe and taught a generation of artists. Although trained in the German tradition of creating art for churches, Mr. Duveneck had a Bohemian streak, and frequented nightspots with his students in Munich, Florence and Venice.

        Forward Quest, a nonprofit, regional development organization in Northern Kentucky, bought Mr. Duveneck's two-story house and a former hardware store next door in April for $135,000. Some of the space is already being used for art classes and to decorate concrete benches intended for a park Covington plans at the foot of the Suspension Bridge.

        Backers of the restoration project hope it will serve as a catalyst for revitalizing the surrounding blocks of dilapidated housing.

        A board has been formed to run the property and decide its long-term use, said Jean St. John, a community arts adviser from the Covington Community Center, a development organization.

        One idea is to provide studio and teaching space for an artist-in-residence.

        “That's a good use of his home, because he was an important teacher,” said a scholar not involved in the project, Anne Timpano, curator of the University of Cincinnati's fine arts collection.

        The property may be used in part as a museum, and some of the first floor may be turned into a tavern, said Michael Hammons, president of Forward Quest. The artist's stepfather, German immigrant Joseph Duveneck, brewed beer in the home.

        The tavern also may be reminiscent of the nightlife Mr. Duveneck enjoyed in German and Italian spots with the American students — dubbed “Duveneck's boys” — who followed him to Europe.

        “I think the real Duveneck was the one who loved life and exuded vitality,” Mr. Hammons said. “Duveneck's boys would paint all day and then go out and carry on in the taverns all night.”

        One of Mr. Duveneck's students, Elizabeth Boott, married him in 1886. She bore a son before her 1888 death from pneumonia. The heartbroken Mr. Duveneck assuaged his grief by collaborating with sculptor friend Clement Barnhorn to make an elaborate bronze likeness of his wife that adorns her grave in Florence.

        Francis Boott, father of Elizabeth, commissioned a Duveneck copy of the work that is still at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The prototype is in the Cincinnati Art Museum, which has the nation's largest collection of

        Duveneck art with 118 oil paintings on canvas plus drawings, etchings, pastels and water color paintings.

        Mr. Duveneck's bold, impressionistic style brought him attention and respect from colleagues and critics.

        “It gives you this incredible sense of freshness and wildness that didn't exist much at the time,” said Julie Aronson, curator of American painting and sculpture at the Cincinnati Art Museum. “He did make a major splash.”

        “The Whistling Boy,” an 1872 painting that is one of Mr. Duveneck's best known, shows a working-class boy in an apron and smoking a cigar. The painting was included in an 1875 Duveneck exhibition in Boston that brought him acclaim, along with the attention of Elizabeth Boott, herself a painter.

        “The Cobbler's Apprentice,” “He Lives By His Wits,” “The Guard of the Harem,” “Washer woman, Venice” and various Italian street scenes were among the many works that followed. Mr. Duveneck also portrayed Ms. Boott, friends and siblings.

        “His portraits are good likenesses,” Ms. Aronson said.

        He had his detractors. Elizabeth Boott's father was opposed to his daughter marrying Mr. Duveneck. Her Victorian, socially conscious family regarded him as a rough-mannered, working-class German.

        Henry James, a rival for Elizabeth Boott's interests, also derided Mr. Duveneck.

        In Josephine W. Duveneck's book about her father-in-law, Frank Duveneck: Painter-Teacher, she quoted this criticism from a James letter: “He is illiterate, ignorant and not a gentleman (though kindly and simple). His talent is great, though without delicacy.”

        With his mother encouraging his interest in art, Mr. Duveneck was apprenticed to Johann Schmidt, a painter of murals at Mother of God Roman Catholic Church in Covington. His family sent him to Munich at age 21 in 1870 to study with other church artists. Instead, he enrolled himself at the Royal Academy, which nurtured a career that had begun modestly as a sign painter.

        Mr. Duveneck strayed from the church in later years, painting nudes and street people. Knowing that he had disappointed his mother, he memorialized her with four murals placed in 1910 in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption. The artist died in 1919 at 71.

        Mr. Duveneck's best work was done in the 1870s and 1880s, and styles had changed by the time of his death, Ms. Aronson said.

        Mr. Duveneck received recognition from fellow painters, but often disdained chances for publicity. That characteristic and the facts that he didn't exhibit his works in later years and returned to a quiet Midwestern existence contributed to his fading from the limelight, Ms. Aronson said.


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