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Elliott Daingerfield: Victorian Visionary

February 14 - June 2, 2002


Elliott Daingerfield (1859-1932) was one of the best known and most respected artists a century ago and certainly at the height of his career one of the most recognized Southern American painters. Unfortunately, over the intervening century, his fame has lapsed, a mistake which the Asheville Art Museum intends to correct in this exhibition of some 130 drawings and paintings dating from the late 1880s through to the 1920s. Carefully rendered and alive with color, these post-Impressionist paintings contain a mystic sense of the American landscape. (left: Sunset Glory, c. 1915, oil on canvas, 27.5 x 33.75 inches, Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA)

Daingerfield's vivid, beautifully painted, symbolic landscapes are evocative, drawing the viewer into a world of monumental forms and smoky, turbulent light. A long time resident of North Carolina, Daingerfield's work includes vistas which will be familiar to many local people, particularly the stunning, rugged terrain around Blowing Rock and Grandfather Mountain.

Elliott Daingerfield was born in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, the son of a Confederate officer and friend of Robert E. Lee. The family moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina when Daingerfield was still a small child, and his father was the commander in charge of the armory there during the Civil War. He and his family remained in Fayetteville through his childhood and adolescence, and Daingerfield studied art as best he could in postwar Fayetteville, working, among others, with an itinerant sign painter and with a china painter. (left: Grandfather Mountain, NC, 1910, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12.25 inches, Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA)

Seeking further knowledge and exposure to the art world, Daingerfield moved to New York in 1880 at the age of 21 and studied at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League. Within a year or so he was teaching life study classes, and had discovered the work of the French Barbizon painters, who would influence his work for the rest of his career. He also became friendly with such notable painters as George Inness, Kenyon Cox and Walter Satterlee. In 1886, he married and bought a summer house at Blowing Rock, where he would keep a residence for the rest of his life. Daingerfield's last house at Blowing Rock, Westglow, is now a spa.

Through the 1880s and 1890s, Daingerfield's work, which had always had a mystical bent, became more overtly symbolic as he discovered the philosophies and art of the Symbolists. Symbolism was an international movement which encompassed art, poetry and philosophy, attempting to capture individual and personal feelings and moods, particularly as they concerned mysticism and the spiritual. Daingerfield, who claimed to have had a mystic vision of Jesus as an adolescent, felt that art was primarily a spiritual rather than an aesthetic medium. He tried, with his painting, to capture and convey the good which he felt was inherent in all mankind. To this end, he was drawn to religious imagery, and in fact created two monumental church murals for the chapel at St. Mary the Virgin in New York City. Some of the studies for these murals are included in the exhibition. (left: Song of the Madonna, 1900, oil on canvas, 18.12 x 14. 12 inches, Asheville Art Museum, Asheville, NC)

In 1910, Daingerfield was one of five American artists commissioned by the Santa Fe Railroad to paint the Grand Canyon. It was his first trip west, and he was deeply affected by the grandeur of the scenery. Many of his most fully realized paintings date from this trip and the subsequent visits he made over the next five years, including the Genius of the Canyon, probably Daingerfield's best-known work. As was often his habit, he wrote a poem to accompany the painting, which reads, in part, "The While the Genius of the Canyon Broods, Nor Counts the Ages of Mankind, A Thought Amid the Everlasting Calm." After his travels in the west and a subsequent trip to Europe, Daingerfield spent more and more time in North Carolina, painting both from life and from memory. He died in 1932 after a long illness at his home in Blowing Rock.

Daingerfield's work explores most of all a sense of place. Whether he was painting the sunset from the verge of Grandfather Mountain or imagined ramparts on the rim of the Grand Canyon, he created indeed a "thought amid the everlasting calm." True to his Symbolist roots, his work is a deeply personal meditation on the landscape around him, an enhanced rather than a specific depiction of places he visited. They grip the viewer in his deeply felt, carefully captured vision of a corner of the world that, somehow, encompasses the whole.

In conjunction with this exhibition and with the annual Arts and Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn, the Asheville Art Museum is pleased to present Elliott Daingerfield and His Times, a lecture by Louise Keith Claussen, Director, Morris Museum of Art, on Saturday, February 23, 2002 from 5:00 - 7:00.

This exhibition was organized by the Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA. Work from the collection of the Asheville Art Museum will also be on view.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Asheville Art Museum in Resource Library Magazine.

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2002 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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