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James Daugherty (1887-1974) - American Modernist Painter

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James Daugherty - Truth, Mind, Life, LoveAmong the early American modernists, James Daugherty was one of the first exponents of abstract color painting. Throughout his career, whether he was working in an abstract or a representational mode, Daugherty felt pure color to be the most effective means of creating powerful and evocative works of art.

James Daugherty was born in Asheville, North Carolina, near the Great Smoky Mountains. He received his formal training at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia during the early years of the last century. Although he was in Europe from 1905 until 1907, he remained unaffected by avant-garde art until the groundbreaking Armory Show of 1913.

James Daugherty worked in a futurist manner until late 1914 or early 1915, when he came into contact with Arthur B. Frost, Jr., who had recently returned from Paris, where he had worked closely with Robert and Sonia Delaunay, the inventors of Orphic Cubism. Inspired by Frost's example, Daugherty began to explore the use of pure color in conjunction with abstract design. He soon developed a style consisting of highly complex arrangements of strips, segments, and circles of color. Daugherty quickly became one of the foremost proponents of color painting and in turn, influenced other young American painters, including Jay Van Everen. During these years, Daugherty exhibited his work at the Society of Independent Artists in New York and later with the Société Anonyme, Inc.

In the 1920s, James Daugherty responded to the call for indigenous subject matter by adopting a more figurative style while retaining his former emphasis on vibrant color. He subsequently produced numerous easel paintings and murals, most notably his Spirit of Cinema America (1920; Loew's State Theatre, Cleveland). He continued his mural work in to the 1930s, but eventually devoted much of his time to illustrating children's books.

James Daugherty - In 1953 James Daugherty once again began to create abstract paintings. The first of these works, small images with relatively stable compositions and subdued palettes, suggest the influence of the work of Piet Mondrian. By the end to the decade, Daugherty had expanded to larger formats and had broken from the grid to create increasingly complex designs. In the years that followed, he alternated modes, often joining his old rectilinear format of vertical and horizontal with circles and frequently using a lighter, more refined painterly touch and layered, almost transparent color planes that recall the color veils of Mark Rothko's art.

By the mid-1960s James Daugherty's work reached a peak of size, complexity, and color intensity. The explosive energies of these paintings put into physical form what Daugherty called the "out rushing forces of the cosmos" in an "ever expanding infinitude." Fusing the old and the contemporary, Daughterty referred both to early modernism and to the abstract illusionism developed by younger artists in the 1960s such as Frank Stella, Al Held, and Ron Davis. Daugherty continued to paint until the end of his life, never ceasing to experiment and find ways that abstraction could "restore meaning to life and announce its beauty and capacity."

Examples of James Daugherty's paintings can be found in many important public collections, including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; Asheville Art Museum, North Carolina; The Columbus Museum, Georgia; The Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan; Flint Institute of Arts, Michigan; Heckscher Museum, Huntington, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire; Hoover Institution, Stanford University, California; The Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas; The Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; New Britain Museum of American Art, Connecticut; Portland Museum of Art, Maine; Sheldon Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute, Indiana; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Société Anonyme Collection, Yale University Art Museum, New Haven, Connecticut; The Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library, New York; Stanford University, California; Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, Savannah, Georgia; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.


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