A Legacy of Beauty: Paintings & Prints from the Edwin C. Shaw Bequest
By Wendy Kendall-Hess
Other artists represented in the Shaw Bequest include such masters as William Merritt Chase, Frank Duveneck and Elihu Vedder. Chase's Girl in White is regarded as one of the artist's finest portraits. This painting displays gestural brushwork similar to that of the great seventeenth century Spanish painter Diego Velazquez, whose work Chase had copied while in Madrid in 1896. Although this work was a commissioned portrait, Chase seems to have treated it more as an expression of his own conception of beauty than as a likeness of Irene Dimock, the subject. Dressed up in flamboyant studio props, Irene presents a picture of opulence and flash that by all accounts did not suit her personality, but which still dazzles. Because Shaw felt this painting was too large, from 1923 onward a full eighteen inches of the canvas were rolled beneath the stretchers at the top and bottom; only after restoration in 1980 was it restored to its full size and grandeur.
The portrait of Miss Molly Duveneck depicts the artist's younger sister. Duveneck was quite close with Molly and his straightforward, sensitive portrait captured the spirit of this unconventional woman who never married, but who had an affair with an older married man in conservative 1890s Cincinnati. Although Duveneck's best known works are noted for their strong, slashing brushwork, this portrait is detailed and smoothly finished, as is much of his later work.
Elihu Vedder's portrait The Sleeping Girl reflects a very different feeling. It depicts the head and torso of Vedder's Italian maid (the artist lived in Italy in the late 1850s and from 1869 through 1879) at rest, but characteristically, displays an ambiguity of meaning that goes beyond simple portraiture. The overall image's moody feeling and the subject's exotic costume give this work a sultry, even mysterious quality. Further, in the artist's mind, sleep was closely linked to death, which Vedder regarded not as a cessation of life, but as a higher state in which the soul was truly awakened. Although the artist did not graphically emphasize this connection in this work, he did manage to imbue the image with a sense of spirituality that is so characteristic of his art.
Such paintings are just a sampling of the holdings in the Shaw bequest. Although Edwin C. Shaw's complete collection did not survive intact, the remaining works still provide a very good look at the taste and collecting strategy of this singular individual. Furthermore, Shaw offers a good case study of a breed of American collector eager to shape the art scene where he lived. Even diminished, this collection of paintings and prints attest that Shaw did in fact do so; these works are an important part of his legacy to Akron.
-- This article has been adapted from the catalogue, The Edwin C. Shaw Collection of American Impressionist and Tonalist Painting, edited by William Robinson, with essays by Margot Jackson and Carolyn Kinder Carr, by Wendy Kendall-Hess, Assistant Curator of the Akron Art Museum.
1. Shaw's obituary in the Akron Beacon Journal, 11 November 1941, reprinted in Robinson, ed., The Edwin C. Shaw Collection. New Haven, Connecticut: Eastern Press, 1986, p. 15.
2. Letter from Vose to Shaw, 25 October 1922; see Robinson, op. cit., p. 22.
3. Letter from Shaw to Robert McIntyre; see Robinson, op. cit., pp. 24, 25.
4. Letter from Tryon to Thomas Dunbar, 16 July 1922; see Robinson, op. cit., p. 88.
About the authors:
At the time of writing of this article, Wendy Kendall-Hess was Assistant Curator at the Akron Art Museum.
Resource Library editor's note:
Editor's note: The following article was reprinted in Resource Library on April 20, 2005 with the permission of the Akron Art Museum If you have questions or comments regarding the article, please contact the Akron Art Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:
The exhibition A Legacy of Beauty: Paintings & Prints from the Edwin C. Shaw Bequest was held at Akron Art Museum from June 17 through August 27, 1995. This article was adapted from the catalogue for the exhibition and was previously published in American Art Review, Volume VII, Number 3, June-July 1995, pp. 110-117, 160.
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Ms. Elizabeth Sheeler, Public Relations Officer of the Akron Art Museum and Dr. Barbara Tannenbaum, Chief Curator of the Akron Art Museum, for their help concerning the above text.
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