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Richard Florsheim:  An Art Legacy

April 30 - June 25, 2006


Chicago-born artist Richard Florsheim (1916-1979) was a noted American painter and printmaker whose career spanned nearly four decades.  Richard Florsheim:  An Art Legacy is a retrospective exhibition covering the time period beginning with the first national recognition of the artist's somber prints depicting the devastation he witnessed during World War II to his late prints of refracted light seen in industrial and city landscapes.  In between are expressionist paintings of Mexico and the American Southwest desert, surrealist visions and lyrical works reflecting summer stays in Provincetown, Massachusetts. (right: Richard Florsheim (American, 1916 - 1979), Genesis, 1951, oil on canvas, 70 x 48 inches)

The exhibition was organized by the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art from the extensive collection donated by the Richard Florsheim Art Fund to the Museum in 2005.  The Art Fund was financed by monies designated in Florsheim's will along with instructions to establish a trust fund to provide older American artists with grant support to recognize their careers through exhibitions, publishing catalogs and encouraging the acquisition of their works by museums.  The Richard Florsheim Art Fund operated from 1989 until 2003 and provided nearly 500 grants for meritorious recognition.  Currently, the Art Fund is merging its resources with other foundations, establishing an archive of Florsheim's work, and donating his work to museums that collect and exhibit American art.      

Wall text and the gallery guide essay for the Richard Florsheim:  An Art Legacy were written by Dr. August Freundlich, President of the Florsheim Art Fund Board of Trustees.  Dr. Freundlich is a retired Dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of South Florida and formerly was the founding Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University where he initially became acquainted with Richard Florsheim.  

Following is the essay by Dr. August Freundlich from the gallery guide for the exhibition, reprinted with permission of the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art.



Richard Florsheim (1916 - 1979) was born in Chicago and raised in a well-to-do family that was distantly related to the founders of the Florsheim Shoe Company. His immediate family's wealth was amassed by his father Leonard, a civil engineering graduate of MIT.

Florsheim, a good student, attended private schools and was interested in poetry and painting. He attended the University of Chicago as a freshman but he was unhappy to learn that he could not pursue his desire to become a painter as art education was not offered. He avoided attending one of the best art schools of the time, the Art Institute of Chicago, preferring not to be affiliated with any group or art movement. His father was adamant that he pursue a university education but with the assistance of one of Richard's professors, his father was persuaded to allow his son a much desired year in Europe. By that time, Florsheim had had several small exhibitions of his work in Chicago.

While in Paris and other European cities, Florsheim studied the work of the masters including José Clemente Orozco, Honoré Daumier and Käthe Kollwitz, claiming in later years that they were his only teachers. Upon his return from abroad Florsheim served as an assistant to the American painter Aaron Bohrod for a while.

During World War II, Florsheim was commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Navy and served in a map-making detail. Following his time of service, he gained national attention for his somber interpretations of the devastation he had witnessed during the war.

As Florsheim established himself in New York and his paintings became widely recognized. ACA, his major gallery, considered him to be their star. In the 1950s and 1960s, as a printmaker, he sold more graphics than any other artist represented by the AAA (Associated American Artists) Gallery. His bright expressionist paintings, images of Mexican villages and the desert, were largely influenced by a stay in Mexico and the American southwest.

As a mature artist, Florsheim's paintings and graphics were concerned with refracted light in landscapes, scenes of industry and night-time cities. Among his best known images are views of the Chicago skyline at night and the bright yellow and orange flames from steel mills seen against dark backgrounds. The lyrical works reflecting his summer stays in Provincetown were also concerned with the refraction and distortion of light. Those works showed sailboats, marshes and surf set against elegant clouds and reflections on the sea.

Florsheim wanted to be known as someone who did not live on his family's money. His Chicago and Provincetown studios were supported by sales of his work. His life was orderly and organized. His studios were clean and neat with every brush and tube of paint in its assigned place. At opening exhibitions he would place each piece and carefully consider its relationship to others in the show, giving as much attention to other artists who were exhibiting as to details such as publicity and refreshments.

In later years, Florsheim's work became less fashionable as the popular styles in the art world changed. He continued to work, as did many others of his generation, but sales declined. Today, some fifty years later, an appreciation of American art from the first half of the twentieth century has once more gained the attention of the art world. Florsheim's work, in the permanent collections of major American and European museums, is once more being exhibited.

The Art Institute of Chicago; the Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit Institute of Arts; Kunsthalle Hamburg, Germany; La Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France; the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museo d'Art Moderna, Milan, Italy; Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Syracuse University, New York; Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England; and Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut own Richard Florsheim works.

Richard Florsheim was known to care a great deal about his fellow artists despite having an independent streak. He served on various national commissions and committees on behalf of art and artists. In his will, he established the Richard Florsheim Art Fund which between 1988 and 2001, made over three hundred grants to older American artists to pay expenses connected with museum exhibitions and artists' catalogs.

-- August L. Freundlich, Ph.D.

President, Richard Florsheim Art Fund

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Ms. Jody Sherman of the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, for her help concerning permissions for reprinting the essay.


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