Monday, November 20, 2017

Violet Oakley makes a strong impression at Lehigh thanks to Francis Quirk

We have begun researching the curatorial work of Francis Quirk while he was at Lehigh University. After his 1950 arrival and an initial show of fifty of Quirk's own works, he hit the ground running with an exhibit of the work of Violet Oakley.  Oakley was the first American woman artist to receive a public mural commission.  She is best known for her work at the Pennsylvania State Capital in Harrisburg. 


Penn's Vision by Violet Oakley
We excerpt below from her biography on the Mary Baker Eddy Library website and added a bit of information we gleaned from other sources. 

Violet Oakley (1874-1961) is now widely known for her talents as an illustrator, stained glass designer, manuscript illuminator, portrait painter, author, and speaker. This remarkable woman gained prominence as an artist at a time when women’s artwork was generally considered inferior to that of men. 

Violet Oakley



Oakley was a prolific illustrator. Her images, appearing in prominent magazines, helped promote women as confident and educated. But perhaps her most widely known accomplishments are as a muralist; she was the first American woman to receive a public mural commission and proved that a woman could not only succeed but create masterpieces in a medium dominated by men. Grand themes of the quest for peace and freedom, undergirded by vigilance and diligence—two qualities she greatly valued in mankind’s quest for peace—resonate through her works, which take on a number of different styles, including Pre-Raphaelite and Art Deco.

Born June 10, 1874 in Jersey City, New Jersey, Violet came from a family of artists, including both her grandfathers. When she was 21, the family traveled to France, where she was inspired by her exposure to works of the great Impressionists. She attended the Académie Montparnasse, studying with the painters Raphaël Collin and Edmond Aman-Jean. When her family returned to America, she studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, the city that would remain her home for the rest of her life. It was after her sister Hester began studying illustration at the Drexel Institute, and urged Violet to join her, that Oakley became a student of famed illustrator Howard Pyle, who recognized her talent. Under his instruction she blossomed.

In 1902 architect Joseph M. Huston chose Oakley to decorate the new Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, “purely because of her immense talent.” Oakley invested a great deal of time researching for the assignment, traveling to Europe and delving extensively into the life of William Penn, who features prominently in her painting for the Governor’s Reception Room, The Founding of the State of Liberty Spiritual. In the years that followed, she was commissioned to paint murals for the Capitol Rotunda and for the Senate and Supreme Court chambers. In all, 43 of Oakley’s murals adorn the walls of state buildings in Harrisburg; they were painted over the course of 25 years.

The murals can be viewed as a testimony to Oakley’s moral and spiritual ideals. Raised an Episcopalian, Oakley embraced Quakerism and its advocacy of equality and pacifism—two major themes in her artwork. She particularly admired William Penn’s utopian vision for his Pennsylvania commonwealth. 

Oakley was a prolific artist, and it is said that she worked up to the last day of her life. At age 81 she led a large group from Philadelphia on a tour of her work in Harrisburg. 

She was politically active, supporting the League of Nations, the United Nations, and Cold War nuclear disarmament. She is also known as one of the “Red Rose Girls,” who along with fellow artists Elizabeth Shippen Green and Jessie Willcox Smith transformed the Red Rose Inn on the Philadelphia Main Line into a communal art gallery, where the women lived and worked together—something quite revolutionary that pushed against the strict gender roles of  the time. She was instrumental in establishing The Plastic Club in Philadelphia (to promote “art for art’s sake”), as well as the Philadelphia Art Alliance. She also was a driving force at Windmere Art Museum, an institution that Francis Quirk also was actively involved  with. 

Woman with a Fan by Violet Oakley



Violet Oakley died in Philadelphia on February 25, 1961. During much of her lifetime, she was considered the most distinguished woman painter in the United States. But her name fell into relative obscurity after World War II. By the early 1970s, however, there was an increased interest in the artistic styles she championed, and that has led to a deeper interest in her works and those of her colleagues. In 1977 Oakley’s studio in Philadelphia was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, as recognition for her multifaceted genius. 






If you are interested in learning more about this amazing woman or seeing her art, there is an exhibit at the Woodmere Museum of Art that includes some of her work. It is on display through January 21, 2018.

What is exciting about this exhibit is how cutting edge it must have been for an all-male college to be highlighting the work of a woman. And for a new Professor of Art, Francis Quirk to make such a bold statement with his first major event, it certainly highlights a daring element in his character and may have positioned him as a bit of an iconoclast.  

Write up in the Brown and White about Oakley's Opening at Lehigh University. 








Sunday, October 29, 2017

Quirk's Later Home in Bethlehem

By chance we came upon a label on a Quirk painting for sale and saw the address of  Macada Road- 



Further Research revealed that he  later lived at 219 East Macada Road in Bethlehem,  PA so he did not spend his entire time on Homestead Avenue (See earlier blog post below. )

Quirk's later home may reflect some downsizing as his children left for college.  This home is only 2.9 miles from Homestead Ave. 





Quirk Arrives at Lehigh

In searching through the archives of Lehigh University's student newspaper, The Brown and White, we came across this article from Quirk's first year. It provides a brief background and mentions two children. (I had only recently learned of one.)

It mentions an exhibit of his work including pastels, portraits and fishing scenes from Maine.

The house currently listed as 1814 Homestead Ave is pictured below. It was built in 1949-50

Bethlehem Homestead of Francis and Anna Quirk

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Francis Quirk Paints Francis Quirk- The Self Portraits

We have finally set the time aside to put together the self-portraits of Francis Quirk in one spot. It is an interesting mix of different styles and ages. 

We are leaving out one image that is in the collection of the Snape Collection at the University of Notre Dame. They have a particularly restrictive policy on sharing images, which in this humble amateur scholar's opinion runs counter to the purpose of an art museum's mission of fostering art appreciation. However, the Snape team does get partial credit as they did share with us an image of their Quirk painting when we were building a signature library in our early days.

So here they are. 

The first is a pastel drawing that was in his papers at the 2016 Auction in Maine. The young Quirk has piercing eyes, brown hair and a strong chin in an almost cartoonish self depiction.

Self Portrait, Great Maine Artists, Francis J. Quirk
Pastel Self Portrait by Francis J. Quirk
Based on the Materials backing this oil painting, we believe it may have been painted when Quirk was in his late 20's or early 30's. His hair is still brown. 

Self Portrait, Great Maine Artists, Francis J. Quirk
Oil Self Portrait by Francis J. Quirk

Quirk has a more serious tone and a few more wrinkles in this rather serious frontal view.
Self Portrait, Great Maine Artists, Francis J. Quirk
Charcoal Self Portrait by Francis J. Quirk

A more pensive profile has a more mysterious aura.

Self Portrait, Great Maine Artists, Francis J. Quirk
Pastel Self Portrait by Francis J. Quirk
While not a focused self-portrait, this painting of Quirk with his wife Anna also includes his profile.  This painting was exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy. 

Self Portrait, Great Maine Artists, Francis J. Quirk
Portrait of Francis J. Quirk with wife Anna
The Self Portrait below illustrates Quirk's sense of humor and knack for self-promotion. He is perhaps the only artist with a portrait and self-portrait in the National Portrait Gallery.  He cleverly embedded the sefl-portrait in his commissioned portrait of Edgar Lee Masters. 

Self Portrait, Great Maine Artists, Francis J. Quirk
Self Portrait of Francis J. Quirk embedded in the portrait of Edgar Lee Masters
Portrait of Edgar Lee Masters with embedded Self Portrait of Francis J. Quirk

Quirk exhibited this gray haired self-portrait in his final exhibition at Lehigh University, which also included works from Ossabaw Island.  
Self Portrait, Great Maine Artists, Francis J. Quirk
Self Portrait by Francis J. Quirk
Photo of Francis J. Quirk at the time of his retirement from Lehigh University.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Francis Quirk Designs a Medal

Among the Quirk papers auctioned in 2016 was the design for a medal. The medal has the title of “ART AND PHILOSOPHY” and features a toga clad man seated on a marble bench surrounded with scrolls. He appears to be deep in thought.

Art and Philosophy Medal Design by Francis Quirk

We have no idea if the medal was ever cast and have found no reference to it on the internet. This may have been an academic assignment.

We did find it interesting that with the medal design is some background lines that he used as a tool for aligning the elements. One salient feature is that he used the classic triangle to lay out the paintings key elements.


An illustration of the esteem for the triangle being reserved for important subjects is the uproar caused by George Caleb Bingham’s The Jolly Flatboatmen.  The painting is now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Bingham was known for his paintings of hunters, trappers and boatman on the Mississippi. But, he also executed some genre scenes around elections that were quite good as well.

The Jolly Flatboatmen by George Caleb Bingham



The triangle composition in the Flatboatmen caused a bit of a stir as some art connoisseurs asked, “How the painter could use this format of common working men?” Looking back, this writer’s view would be “That is exactly the point. These humble men are exulting in life and the arts. Is an honest day’s work not noble? Isn’t the joy of music and dance not noble? This is not the dance of the seven veils here.  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Watercolors of Artist Francis Quirk Can Now be Found In One Place

We finally have made the time to get all the Francis Quirk Watercolors in one place on Slideshare.  You can find them by clicking here. 

To whet your appetite, we are providing a few images below. 








Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Francis Quirk, the Artists Relationship with Winter- A Watercolor of a Skier

Among the works of Francis Quirk we have notice one material to be largely missing from his oeuvre- snow. He did seem to have a proclivity for warm weather with a winter home in Arizona, and a Summer home in Maine in addition to his main residence in Bethlehem Pennsylvania. Undoubtedly his teaching duties kept him at Lehigh University for many a winter. And from a news photo we know he was there on at least one snowy day



As we were gathering together images for a collection of his watercolors, this image of a skier stood out as it was so different from the boats, buildings and other bucolic scenes he executed in watercolor. It almost looks like it was intended as an illustration. While records of his earnings from illustration work have not been found, it is believed that he derived some income from this side work. 

Quirk Artist, Quirk Painter, Quirk Painting, Quirk watercolor painting, Skier painting
Artist Francis Quirk's Watercolor Painting of a Skier

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Francis J. Quirk Maritime Watercolor Coming to Auction

Francis Quirk loved painting maritime subjects and he had excellent technique. A painting coming up for auction today in New York embodies these statements. You can bid on it here.  The artwork features the bow end of some type of sailing schooner. The outline of the prow and rusting anchors are carefully depicted with numerous ropes,chains, and stays. This artwork was not dashed off in a few minutes. There is great attention to detail.

Maritime Painting Square Rigger at Dock by artist Francis J. Quirk
Maritime Watercolor by Francis J. Quirk 

Watercolor is a difficult medium to work with as one needs to think about where the white space is at the outset. Notice the ripples in the water.

Master Maritime Painter Francis Quirk stevedorles
Close up of Stevedores in Maritime Watercolor by Francis J. Quirk 

The close up photo of the stevedores on the dock shows a tremendous amount of craftsmanship from the detail in the rope to the reflection of rigging in the window. 

Quirk Artist Signature
Signature on Maritime Watercolor by Francis J. Quirk 

This work is dated 1953 when Quirk would have been 36 years old. At this time he would be early in his tenure at Lehigh University. 


Quirk Artist
Maritime Watercolor by Francis J. Quirk  as Framed