Thursday, September 29, 2016

Francis Quirk and Maine's Lumber Industry

In his time in Maine, Quirk painted many classic scenes including seacoasts, buildings, and people. But two watercolors capture the lumber industry nicely. The first is of a lumberjack posing with his double edged axe featuring prominently as the owner stands with one foot on a tree section beside a broken tree. The double edged axe is a tool for the professional, or more demanding user with better balance. The edges usually are ground differently for different purposes such as chopping and splitting. The lumberjack wears the classic red hunting hat, work clothes and heavy boots that would provide some protection of an errant bounce of the axe head.  

Lumberjack watercolor by Francis Quirk
Lumberjack Painting by Francis Quirk

Perhaps this painting symbolizes the mastery of the lumberjack over the fauna or his role in culling the woods of the weak and dead like the grim reaper of people. Both carry an implement for cutting things down and bring the end of life. But the lumberjack is wearing white.

The Grim Reaper

Francis J. Quirk signature on Lumberjack Watercolor

The second painting is of a lumber mill. With its depiction of the giant blades and toothy log-moving equipment, one can sense the power and danger of these mills. One careless move and a limb or life could be lost. 

watercolor of lumber mill by Francis Quirk
Lumber Mill watercolor by Francis Quirk
These were the only two lumber related works we have found to date. There are other works of people active in the boat-building and fishing trades.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Quirk Participates in "Impossible Art" Exhibit in 1970 with Avinash Chandra, Lenore Laine, Sybil Wilson, and Anthony Tortona- Including Quirk's Paintings

Francis Quirk did travel in some impressive circles.  In the February 13 1970 issue of Lafayette, the College's student paper an art exhibition/opening is mentioned in the Happenings section. As we began to research the artists Quirk brought to Lehigh in this exhibition, we became increasingly impressed with their collective vibrancy.

The "Impossible Art" exhibition at Lehigh University would include works by Avinash Chandra, Francis J. Quirk , Lorna Laine, Sybil Wilson and Anthony Tortona. 

Avinash Chandra was a well known artist from India.

Avinash Chandra Painting   Exhibited with Francis J. Quirk
Avinash Chandra at his easel.
Painting by Avinash Chandra
Painting by Avinash Chandra

Chandra is well profiled including a discussion of this particular work on the South Asian Diaspora Literature and Arts  Archive

Avinash Chandra painting nude in New York
This black and white photograph depicts Avinash Chandra at work in his studio in New York. The style of the painting in the photograph is consistent with Chandra's artistic development in the 1960's and early seventies. 

Artist Avinash Chandra was born in Simla,India,in 1931. As a child,Chandra knew he was born to paint and in 1947 he enrolled at the Delhi Polytechnic Art School. His father had wanted him to study Engineering and for six months Chandra's family were unaware he was studying art. However,excelling in his chosen field,Chandra graduated in 1951 with a first class degree. He then joined the staff,teaching fine art to undergraduates. 

Chandra's formal artistic training taught him little about Indian art and more about the 'alien' art of Europe and the west. As a young painter,he began painting landscapes which were highly acclaimed. They expressed nostalgia for the trees and landscape of the Simla hills using vibrant colours. At twenty-one years old,Chandra was the youngest artist to be granted a solo exhibition by the progressive artist's movement,the 'Delhi Silpi Chakra'. One of his first paintings,'Trees',was bought by the then newly established Museum of Modern Art in Delhi,and was awarded first prize in the First National Exhibition of Indian Art at the Lalit Kala Akademi in 1955. However,after three successful exhibitions and relative fame,Chandra grew dissatisfied and felt limited by the artistic scope in Delhi. Yearning for artistic liberation,in 1956 Chandra and his then artist wife,Prem Lata (d. 1975),left Delhi and moved to the UK,following an art scholarship awarded to Lata to study at the Central School of Art in London. 

Renting a flat in North London,Chandra made space to complete half-finished canvases he had brought from India. For two years,he worked alone,applying his early influences of Van Gogh and Soutine. He mastered the technique of oils and quietly observed the trends and themes of worldwide attitudes to art. Chandra's first exhibition in England was hosted by the Royal India,Pakistan and Ceylon Society and held at the Commonwealth Institute (then the Imperial Institute),London in 1957. The exhibition,although successful,left Chandra frustrated. He witnessed the same class of people attend his exhibition as those who had seen his work in Delhi - upper class colonial subjects with royal connections. Chandra felt far from liberated,and saw his initial arrival on the London art scene as being from one colonial environment straight into another. 

In 1959,the same exhibition toured to Belfast where Chandra lived for a period of time. Here,his landscape watercolour paintings reflected the city as he saw it,full of churches,steeple and trees. As time passed,Chandra replaced the churches in the foreground of his canvases with circular shapes he called 'heads',and moved the churches to the background of the landscape. His Belfast art was different from the work of his first exhibition in London,mainly because it became increasingly colourful. He painted his landscapes in vivacious reds and blues with strong black outlines and the finished pieces began to thrill him. 

The late 1950s was a turning point in Chandra's artistic development. It was at this time he desired to break away from what he felt were rigid teachings imposed on him in Delhi. He explored philosophy and searched for an artistic expression that was entirely his own,and not influenced by external teachings or interpretations. After a period of gestation,paintings and drawings 'began to flow like lava' from Chandra. 

It was the sale of a Chandra painting entitled 'Sun',to the famous tenor Sir Peter Pears (1919-1986) in 1960 at the Molton Gallery in London,that ignited the future value and pace of success of Avinash Chandra's work. The 1960s brought Avinash Chandra great public success and critical acclaim. Almost every national newspaper and major art magazine wrote about him. In 1961,Chandra's paintings were exposed to the European art world and were featured at various galleries around Europe. In 1962,the BBC produced a television documentary entitled 'Art of Avinash Chandra' exposing the uniqueness of his work. His paintings were showcased at solo exhibitions at the Gulbenkian Museum of Oriental Art in Durham,and in Newcastle,York and Middlesbrough as well as in a national touring exhibition in the United States. 

In 1965,Chandra became the first Indian British artist to be featured at the Tate Gallery,London,with their purchase of 'Hills of Gold'. In London,the art community described Chandra's work as 'refreshing','optimistic' and him as 'an artist of great ability'.

During the mid 1960s,Avinash Chandra undertook several corporate art commissions for coloured glass murals and became renowned for their magnitude and vibrancy. Among Chandra's commissions were a mosaic mural for the Indian High Commission in Lagos in 1962,the Pilkington Brothers new office building in St Helens,Lancashire,and a fibre glass mural for the new Indian Tea Centre in Oxford Street,London,in 1964.

In 1967 Chandra moved to New York following an award by the Fairfield Foundation Fellowship for Travel and Study. He held several exhibitions on the East coast and was well received by the American art community. Chandra returned to London in 1973 and married actress Valerie Murray in 1977.

The so-called erotic imagery of Chandra's 1970s work has led many critics to draw a direct line between his work and Khajuraho,(the intricate sculptures of Hindu gods,girls dancing and lovers,proclaiming the most exalted experiences of men and women upon the temple walls). However,Chandra saw this connection as part of the preconceived perceptions of how India is seen by the West. 

At this time,Avinash Chandra's main theme was the female body. He began with elegant line drawings which evolved throughout the 1970s,to subtle,erotic coloured drawings. Art critic Ronald Alley said of these paintings 'In Chandra's work,sexual images play a vital role,but it is important to realise that they are almost always introduced as part of a much larger experience in a wider context...their appeal Iies in their constant blending with other poetic images: spires,trees,flowers,hills,moons and stars.' 

Avinash Chandra continued to work within this theme until the mid 1980s,when his paintings gradually returned to landscapes and nature.

Lorna Laine was described on AskARt briefly "Lenore Laine was active/lived in New York.  Lenore Laine is known for geometric abstraction." However, we were able to find at least one of her paintings in a French Museum.

Lenore Laine Painting
"Cadrans bleus dans boƮtes rouges"
from the Musee de L'Oise in Beauvais France.  Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais / Thierry Ollivier

Lenore Laine Portrait

Lenore Laine Painting   Exhibited with Francis J. Quirk
Painting by Lenore Laine
This painting was for sale on EBay. Not only does it stand out as an art work, but also it has an unusual provenance.  It was in the collection of the distinguished nuclear chemist Dr. Edward Sayre, who has made monumental contributions for over half a century in the intersecting worlds of chemistry and the humanities.  From his work on the Manhattan project through his work at the Smithsonian's Conservation Analytical Laboratory his contributions have been profoundly significant.  

Sybil Wilson went on to become known as a designer more than an artist. We found this bio and image on

Sybil Wilson was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1923. She studied at the Art Students League in New York with Ernest Fiene and, after having worked as a graphic designer in Connecticut, studied at Yale University with Josef Albers, receiving a BFA in 1954 and an MFA in 1959. Wilson also studied weaving privately with Anni Albers, and worked with her as editor on Anni Albers's 1961 book "On Designing." Wilson taught at the Rhode Island School of Design and at the University of Bridgeport, and exhibited her work in the 1960s and early-1970s. She was awarded the American Institute of Graphic Arts "50 Best" award in 1960, and her work is in the collections of New York University, University of Kentucky, University of Massachusetts and University of Bridgeport. Sybil Wilson died in 1997.

Sybil Wilson  Lehigh Exhibit with Francis J. Quirk
Black and White ARTIST: Sybil Wilson YEAR: circa 1970 MATERIALS: Acrylic on canvas CONDITION: Very good DIMENSIONS: 35 x 45 inches.

As to Anthony Tortona, we have not been able to track down information on him or his work.

Quirk's Contribution 

At the September 2016 auction in Maine, several Quirk paintings from the exhibition came up for sale. While they are not exceptional paintings, they do illustrate his draftsmanship and willingness to pursuue a new direction for the exhibition. They also add another argument for the case for his versatility.

Francis J. Quirk  Painting  for Impossible Art
Francis Quirk Painting for Impossible Art Exhibition at Lehigh University

"Impossible Art  Exhibition" "Francis J. Quirk" Lehigh University
Francis Quirk Painting for Impossible Art Exhibition at Lehigh University :"Pear, Ivory, Pine"

Label for "Pear, Ivory, Pine" by Francis Quirk

"Impossible Art Exhibition" Lehigh  "Francis J. Quirk"
Francis Quirk Painting for Impossible Art Exhibition at Lehigh University

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Working Methods of Francis Quirk

Among the treasure trove of Francis Quirk paintings and drawings that went up for auction in Maine were several sketches for works and preliminary drawings.

The first is a sketch for a later portrait that we have not found. It is interesting to see how he is thinking of how the face fits in with the background and the tool in his hands. In some ways the older gentlemen (possibly a farmer) could be seen as fitting into the same genre as "The Summer Pastor."

Sketch for Farmer Portrait by Francis Quirk Lehigh University Faculty Member
Sketch for a painting by Francis J. Quirk 

young hunter with dog watercolor study "Francis Quirk"
Water Color Study for Portrait by Francis Quirk.
The second is a watercolor sketch for a portrait of a young man and his dog. Could this be a sketch for the painting of Scott Adams III that won the Juror's Prize at the Providence Art Club's 1932 Exhibition?  The hunting outfit, furniture and dog indicate a person of some degree of affluence.  The discovery of the original painting will provide the answer.

Next we have two pastel sketches of  two boys heads in profile. They were studies for the oil painting of the boys at the shore. Could one of them possibly be his son James?

Pastel sketch of boy by Artist Francis Quirk
Pastel Sketch of Older Boy by Francis J. Quirk

pastel sketch of boy in profile by Maine Artist Francis J. Quirk
Pastel Sketch of Boy by Francis Quirk

Two boys on the Maine Coast Oil Portrait by Francis J. Quirk
Oil Painting of Two Boys By Francis J. Quirk

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Francis Quirk in Arizona

Francis Quirk also spent time in Prescott, Arizona.. In the press there are references to him being at his residence on Pine Drive in the Mountain Club in Summer and over Christmas. One can imagine him loading the family in the car and heading west for a bit of weather as they escaped the Pennsylvania winter.  He was fairly involved in the community and even wrote articles about it for the area newspaper.  Below is the only painting that could be strongly placed in Arizona.

Image of Camelback Mountain in Pastel by Francis J. Quirk Phoenix, Arizona
Francis J. Quirk  Pastel (Camelback Mountain Phoenix, Arizona) 
New friends at the Mountain Club have provided helpful information. This painting is of Phoenix's Camelback Mountain from the South. The palm trees could not survive at the altitude of Prescott's Mountain Club.

Camelback Mountain from the South, Phoenix, Arizona

While we are on the Western topic, there was one other work by Quirk that recently was auctioned in Maine. It is a pastel of a wagon train moving through the old west with saguaro cacti and red mountains. It is reminiscent of a work executed for a WPA mural commission. However, we have no record of his being in the employ of that effort. 

Francis Quirk Pastel of a Wagon Train
Wagon Train Pastel by Francis J. Quirk

Monday, September 19, 2016

Francis Quirk and the Christian Faith

While researching Francis Quirk, we have been able to find out very little about him as a person.  On-line profiles list him as a Roman Catholic. In a review of the work that was going up for auction in Maine recently we were surprised to see several religious works. They may have been produced either for a church or in pursuit of a larger commission.  This provides us with an incentive to spend more time exploring houses of worship on the Maine seacoast.  Who knows what we will find? (Spiritual enlightenment could be a side benefit.)

The first is a sketch for a triptych, altarpiece or mural. It features a haloed Christ offering a blessing while flanked by two angels. On either side are six haloed figures- perhaps the disciples?
Francis J. Quirk image of Sketch of Christ and the Apostles for a mural or triptych
Sketch of Jesus and the Apostles by Francis J. Quirk

The next two are scenes from the Stations of the Cross. 

Image of Francis Quirk Painting "Fifth Station of the Cross" "Simone of Cyrene Helps Jesus to carry his cross" Painting by Francis J. Quirk
Stations of the Cross 5th Station- Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus to carry his cross. Painting by Francis J. Quirk

The first painting depicts the fifth Station of the Cross in which a carpenter ,Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross.  With the exception of the haloed Christ figure the other figures are in contemporary dress and localized it with an urban background including a golden dome. Notable features include a woman in the classic 60’s protest anti-war pose and the hand in the foreground.  Hands can be challenging to paint, so this may have been an opportunity to engage in an exercise or to demonstrate his skill.  Could it have a special meaning?

Image of Painting by "Francis J. Quirk" "Twelfth Station of the Cross"  "Jesus Dies on the Cross"
Stations of the Cross 12th Station Jesus Dies on the Cross    Painting by Francis J. Quirk

The second  is The 12th station in which Jesus Dies on the Cross. The scene has been localized to the Maine Coast with a lighthouse in the background and modernized with contemporary fashions including a businessman and a soldier. While it may have driven home a metaphor about his town and an outpost of the Roman Empire, it also may have raised a few eyebrows among more conservative parishioners at the time. For perspective, it was not uncommon at the time of the Viet Nam war for some people to vilify the military and sadly use insults such as the term “baby killer.” But, isn’t prodding thought part of what art is for?

The fourth is a pencil sketch for a work of Jesus meeting with the Fishermen. He tells them to cast their nets on the opposite side of the boat.  And they are rewarded with a bountiful catch. In this sketch he has again localized it by putting the fishermen in modern clothes and making the boats dories that were traditionally used for cod fishing.
Francis Quirk "Image of Christ and the Fisherman" sketch set in Maine by Francis J. Quirk
Sketch for painting of Christ and the Fisherman  by Francis J. Quirk

The sketch illustrates the thoughtful work Quirk put into laying out his paintings and positioning the figures. Christ is center in a position that foreshadows his eventual sacrificial death.

This image in the collection also struck our eye as a possible image of Jesus.However, we readily point out that Jesus probably did not use a pencil or pen.

"Image of Jesus" francis Quirk
Jesus? by Francis Quirk

The final work is a charcoal sketch of people praying in church. It includes people praying in the foreground and nuns in the rear.

"Francis Quirk" Image of Charcoal sketch of nuns and people praying in pews in Church
Charcoal sketch by Francis J. Quirk

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Quirk's Painting of Carl Sandburg-- Oil Study Found in Maine, Pastel Study Found in Pennsylvania

April 2018 Update

The owners of the pastel have provided us with this better image of the pastel protrait study of Carl Sandburg.

Carl Sandberg Portrait by Francis Quirk- a  study for an oil portrait.

May 2017 Update

Through a Pennsylvania friend of Francis Quirk, we have found a pastel study for the painting of Carl Sandburg. It still does not solve the riddle as to the location of the final painting. But it does provide us with a bit more context.

Carl Sandburg  Pastel Portrait

Carl Sandburg Portrait in Pastel by Francis Quirk

The pastel is a profile, while the oil portrait study below has an angled approach.

The Original 2016 Post

Among the paintings and paintings due to come up for auction in the coming days we found this painting which is clearly a study for the missing portrait of Carl Sandburg. We reached out to decendents of Abby Sutherland Brown, but have had no luck finding it.

Francis J. Quirk study for Carl Sandberg
Study for Portrait of Carl Sandberg Found in Francis Quirk's Maine Auction

Amelia Earhardt and Abby Sutherland Brown of Ogontz College

While this is a bit off-topic, it is an interesting side item. While seeking the possible location of Francis Quirk's portrait of Carl Sandburg, we conducted a search on information related to Abby Sutherland Brown. She was the primary force driving Ogontz College and commissioned the portrait of her friend, Sandburg. 

Carl Sandburg (January 6, 1878 – July 22, 1967) was an American poet, writer, and editor who won three Pulitzer Prizes: two for his poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln. During his lifetime, Sandburg was widely regarded as "a major figure in contemporary literature", especially for volumes of his collected verse, including Chicago Poems (1916), Cornhuskers (1918), and Smoke and Steel (1920). 

The main Sandburg portrait we found is the work of William Smith from 1961. It is not the work of Francis J. Quirk.

Portrait of Carl Sandburg by William Smith

In a Dictionary of Literary Influences we came across this write up of Ogontz College student Amelia Earhart and her relationship with Abby. 

You can find the original text of the book here.