Along the banks of the Seine and on the benches of Luxembourg Gardens in the Paris of 1910, 23-year old Frank N. Wilcox found more freedom to paint than his native Cleveland ever afforded. The young man wrote back to the States, "People are used to artists and usually let you work anywhere in peace. If they do stop to watch they don't say anything. In America they usually end up by advising you to give up art as a serious pursuit."
After his return, Wilcox went on to a distinguished career as an artist and teacher at the Cleveland School of Art, despite the unsolicited advice of his countrymen. However, he would still count the scenes he painted of Paris life as among the best of his career.
"This is a more sensitive body of work than his later style," says Henry Adams, an American art professor at Case Western Reserve University. "The French work has the intensity of a young artist working very hard to develop a viewpoint and techniques." Adams wrote a catalogue for some 50 of Wilcox's Parisian watercolors and sketches, which will be exhibited at the Tregoning & Company gallery's exhibition A Buckeye in Paris, opening during 78th Street Studio's Third Friday open house.
As Adams notes, it is rare for a privately owned Midwestern gallery to publish an extensive catalogue with an exhibition. However, the show almost demands it. Wilcox was committed to exactness in all he painted, from the anatomy of figures to the engineering of buildings. His Paris works represent possibly the most exhaustive painted record of the city from the pre-war years, from its parks and cathedrals to outlying woods and suburbs. Landmarks like the Eiffel Tower get their due, but so do the lives of countless characters of all classes.
A priest and several well-to-do mothers in fine hoop skirts and hats are captured in the park, but so is an "unwilling model" eating a hasty, wine-drenched lunch alone. "In Academy Calarossi" (pictured) depicts a dispute between a familiar couple, with a mustached man leaning in to make a point, while a lady sits with her elbow on the chair's back, unimpressed. Horses strain at stuck carriage wheels, and washerwomen scowl absentmindedly.
Though Wilcox's Paris is conspicuously clean, nothing is hidden. And all is rendered in an intriguing style that juxtaposes the indefiniteness of Impressionism with Wilcox's engineer-like exactness. The unusual combination and captivating subject matter should interest connoisseurs and the general public alike.
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