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Who is Frank Duveneck?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated May 17, 2024
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Frank Duveneck, an American painter, art teacher and etcher, is recognized as an influential realist of the 19th century. Some of his best-known portraits include "The Cobbler’s Apprentice," "Portrait of a Boy and Whistling Boy." His oil paintings often featured expressive brush strokes; a vivid, detailed head or figure; and dark, often referred to as brooding, backgrounds.

Frank Duveneck was born to German immigrants in Covington, Kentucky, near Cincinnati, Ohio, on 9 October 1848. As a teen, he apprenticed with two German-America artisans who traveled the Midwest area decorating Catholic churches. He studied in Munich, Germany, at the Royal Academy from 1870-73, where he produced many of his famous portraits. He was very successful in the bravura brush technique, which was taught at the Munich art academy he attended.

Returning to Cincinnati in 1874, he taught art at the Ohio Mechanics Institute. His students there included Robert Frederick Blum and John H. Twachtman. During this time period, Frank Duveneck also attracted a great deal of attention and respect through an exhibit of his work in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1875.

A few years later, he returned to Munich, where he was a celebrated figure. Many of his students, also German-Americans, traveled with Frank Duveneck to study. The group, who became known as the Duveneck Boys, included Twachtman, Otto Henry Bacher, Joseph DeCamp and Theodore Wendel. Other pupils of Duveneck included W. M, Chase, George Edward Hopkins, John Alexander White, Julius Rolshoven, Harper Pennington and Charles Abel Corwin.

During his time in Munich, Duveneck also traveled to Bavaria during the summers, accompanied by friends and students. There the artists painted outdoors and Duveneck’s work from those trips included landscapes. In 1879, he moved to Florence, Italy, where he met his wife, Elizabeth Booth, a Boston, Massachusetts, native who was living in Florence. In Italy, his style changed from dark portraits of young boys or older men to brighter portraits of young girls, incorporating both color and light. He also began to blend his brush strokes and edit his pieces.

At one point in Florence, Duveneck, along with James McNeil Whistler, began to create detailed etchings. Duveneck's etchings of Venice, including "The Riva," "No. 2," "The Grand Canal," and "The Bridge of Sighs," are described as bold. But tragedy struck in 1889 when Duveneck's young wife died. He then returned to Cincinnati where he became a renowned teacher at the Cincinnati Fine Arts Academy.

During the 1890s Frank Duveneck produced Impressionist type paintings, including one named "Little Girl in Red Dress." His style at this stage returned to the more expressive of the past, even described as wistful, innocent and vulnerable. In 1915, three years before Frank Duveneck died, he received a gold medal for the work he exhibited in San Francisco at the Panama-Pacific Expo.

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