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Monday, May 15, 2017

John Fulton Folinsbee

Tow Canal, 1923, John Fulton Folinsbee
Most landscape painters pride themselves in their choice of subjects and very often their willingness to subject themselves to the wiles of nature in painting on location. They have often developed their creative instincts to the point that they automatically choose the most beautiful locales, the most attractive (often nostalgic) content, the best angles, the most appealing time of day, and then render their art in the most exquisite array of pigmented hues they can reasonably justify in having done all of the above. More often than not, they have long ago joined the "art must be beautiful" school of painting, whether for the purpose of enjoying consistent income from their work, or simply because, without even realizing it, they were indoctrinated by some instructor in their past art training to think only along such lines. The American painter, John Fulton Folinsbee, might reasonably have fallen into that category. Quite a number of his New England painting colleagues did. However, Folinsbee stands apart from the other New Hope School of landscape painters for the simple reason that he didn't.
Canal Bridge, October, 1923, John Fulton Folinsbee
That's not to say you won't find an of the usual well-composed, beautifully pigmented, traditional landscapes such as Canal Bridge (above), from 1923, among his works. Although he began his career as a Tonalist, the work above obviously indicates that, like so many other painters of his time, as his personal style evolved, he joined the ranks of the best impressionists the U.S. ever put forth. The difference is, Folinsbee seems to have been forever fascinated by people, places, and things most artists would reject out of hand as either beneath their dignity in painting, or simply downright ugly. He always seems to paint the "backside" of his scenes. His Brooklyn Roofs (below), dating from 1920-21, is a near perfect example of what I mean.
Brooklyn Roofs, 1920-21, John Fulton Folinsbee
One could hardly imagine a more unattractive locale than the Brooklyn waterfront, in the middle of winter, during the bootlegging era of the 1920s. Even several inches of gray-green snow are inadequate to make this scene anything but despairing, even repulsive. This particular painting would appear to have been painted through a window from the warmth and comfort of his studio. However, unlike many of his peers, who retreated to their studios in winter to paint shivering nude models, still-lifes, or imagined landscapes, Folinsbee refused to limit himself to such temptations. Although he painted numerous portraits of his wife, Ruth, and their two daughters as they were growing up, even in the winter, even given what appears to be quite adverse weather, John Folinsbee bundled up, packed up, and clomped through deep snow to set up his easel and paint on location. Check out Tow Canal (top), from the winter of 1923. There were several quite dedicated landscape painters in his circle of friends, but few who were that dedicated.

It would appear that when Folinsbee wasn't slogging through snow to paint en plein air, he had to brave the rain and its accompanying mud.
John Fulton Folinsbee self-portrait.
Speaking of John Fulton Folinsbee's friends, they included Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber, Robert Spencer, and William Lathrop—the group of artists now generally known as the New Hope School of landscape painting, or the Pen-nsylvania Impressionists. John Folinsbee was born in 1892 and grew up in Buffalo, New York. He displayed an early interest in art, and, at the age of nine, attended children's art classes at the Buffalo Art Students League. He continued to draw after his family moved to Boston a few years later. There, around 1907, Fol-insbee received his first formal art in-struction during several months of study with the Norwegian-born artist, Jonas Lie, who introduced him to plein air painting. Soon after, Folinsbee left for Washington, Connecticut, to attend The Gunnery (boarding) School, for the next several years. Fortunately, the Washington area, like many other small towns in Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills, attracted a small colony of artists.

Harry Leith-Ross Painting Outdoors, 1913, John F. Folinsbee
Folinsbee spent the next three summers at Woodstock, two as a student and one as an independent artist sharing a studio with Harry (Tony) Leith-Ross, who became a life-long friend. At the time, the famed landscape painter, instructor, and writer, L. Birge Harrison was the head of the summer school of the Art Students’ League of New York, located in Woodstock. He invited both artists to stay with him in Woodstock and paint during the winter of 1913–14. Through Harrison and a book he wrote on the subject of landscape painting, Folinsbee gained an appreciation of French masters such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Jean-François Millet, and Claude Monet, as well as leading American landscape painters Dwight William Tryon, Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, Edward Redfield, George Inness, William Lathrop, and W. Elmer Schofield.

Whether the sea, rivers, or canals, water was always one of
Folinsbee's favorite areas of "landscape" content.
In the years that followed, Folinsbee's career blossomed as he began exhibiting at museums, galleries, and private clubs in Pennsylvania, focusing his professional attention on the nation’s art capital, New York, while at the same time broadening recognition of his work in exhibitions across the country. For several years early in his career, Folinsbee was represented in New York by numerous prestigious galleries such as the Macbeth Gallery, and beginning in 1917, and for the next forty years, Folinsbee was represented by Ferargil Gallery, where he had a solo show nearly every year.

Folinsbee found a stark beauty, not just in the worst mother nature had to offer,
but somehow, in the worst industrial ugliness of mankind as well.
Folinsbee is normally associated with the New Hope School and impressionism, however he only painted in that style for a short period. By the mid-1920s, as he began to study the landscapes of Paul Cezanne, Folinsbee explored his subjects’ structure and contour. During the 1930s, he studied intently the work of El Greco, Goya, and the French Expressionist Maurice Vlaminck. As a result, Folinsbee’s style became highly expressive. His brush strokes loosened and lengthened. The shimmering colors and bright light of his early work were replaced by sharp, impressive contrasts of deeper, more intense color. Folinsbee appears to have escaped the formulas impressionists are prone to as his brush became more flowing, bolder, surer, and more concerned with contours.

Kennebec Bell Buoy, 1962, John Fulton Folinsbee,
Folinsbee was also a teacher. One of his better-known students was Peter G. Cook, who became a close colleague and friend. He also became Folinsbee's son-in-law after marrying his mentor's daughter, Joan. The two collaborated on three post-office murals in Pennsylvania and Kentucky working for the U.S. Treasury Department's Section of Painting and Sculpture during the 1930s and 1940s. Folinsbee stopped painting in 1971. He died the following year in New Hope at the age of eighty.

The Funeral (not his own), 1921, John Fulton Folinsbee.

Chip and Dana, 1950s,
John Fulton Folinsbee. Some people
should never be allowed in a boat.


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