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Monday, October 11, 2010

An American in Paris

Fathers very frequently have visions of their sons following in their footsteps, either into a family business or taking up a similar profession.  This is no less true of artists. Very often the art that sometimes seems to run genetically in families manifests itself in the son becoming more famous and more successful that the father.  However, the manifestation of that success can often be quite disturbing if it differs radically from the father's perception of success and his conception of the art accompanying it.

In 1897, a proud father put his son on the boat to Europe to study art and become a great, internationally famous artist.  The father is not without a modest degree of success as an artist himself, employed by the famous lithographers, Currier and Ives.  Inasmuch as art seemed to "run in the family", he has seen to it that his son has the best art training money can buy, studying at the National Academy and there developing a good eye for drawing and detail, a strong, traditional painting style, and, at the age of 29, a thirst for more and better instruction in his chosen career.  The trip is not without some sacrifice for the old man.  A first class round-trip passage and year in Europe cost him roughly a year's pay, but it was worth it to see his son rise to the top of their profession.   

His son, Alfred H. Maurer, was born in 1868, and his trip to Europe was the highlight of his life.  He gravitate toward Paris, the epicenter of art in the whole world at the time, and the best place to make a reputation for ones self in the first decade of the brand new twentieth century.  Alfred loved it.  Paris was an exciting, exotic, thrilling, amusement park of a city, brimming over with art, music, literature, drama, the opera (which combined all the above), and most of all the avant-garde.  He like it so much he stayed past the one year his father had promised to support him.  He stayed over ten years, in fact.  He became a regular a the salons of Leo and Gertrude Stein and there met the brilliant Henri Matisse.

Les toits de Collioure, 1905,
Henri Matisse
Matisse had a profound effect upon him.  Almost overnight Mauer jettisoned everything he'd learned from his father and the conservative National Academy, departing totally from realism in favor of Matisse's brand of freedom in terms of color and design.  Maurer's Landscape in Provence, painting in 1912, after his return from Paris, is Matisse with an American accent, very reminiscent of Matisse's Les toits de Collioure, painted in 1905. 
Landscape of Provence, 1912,
Alfred Maurer
Having departed so completely from the image his father had of him as an artist, it's little wonder Maurer stayed in Paris ten years.  Perhaps he was afraid to go home.  When he did, return to New York in 1909, his work found a place in the 291 Gallery of Alfred Stieglitz along side the work of John Marin whose paintings were very similar to his.  Together, some four years before the Armory Show of 1913 officially brought modern art to the U.S., they were among the first to introduce it to the elite gallery patrons of the New York art scene.  One can only imagine the encounter between the Maurer and his father when the old man took a look at his son's work and saw what ten years of study in Paris had wrought.   


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