Frank Duveneck

Frank Duveneck (Covington Kentucky, October 9, 1848 – Cincinnati Ohio, January 3, 1919) was an American painter.

Duveneck was born in Covington (Kentucky), being the son of Bernard Decker, a German immigrant. However, Decker died when Frank was only a year old. His mother married Joseph Duveneck, who gave his last name to Frank. At age 15, Duveneck began studying art under the tutelage of the painter Johann Schmitt, who had been apprenticed to a German church decorator firm. While growing up in Covington, Duveneck was also part of the German community in Cincinnati. However, due to his Catholic beliefs and his German ancestry, he was considered a stranger in the artistic circle of the city. In 1869, Duveneck traveled to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he met Wilhelm Leibl and Wilhelm von Diez. There he developed a direct, realistic and obscure style. He subsequently became one of the young American painters who during the 1870s tried to displace the traditions of the Hudson River School. Together with William Merritt Chase, John Henry Twachtman and Walter Shirlaw, Duveneck initiated an artistic movement characterized by freedom when painting.

Although initially his works were ignored, after several exhibitions in Boston and its surroundings, the works of Duveneck began to attract the attention. Many pupils also sought him in Germany and Italy, where he made long visits. In 1878, he opened a school in Munich. Among his students, known as the “Duveneck Boys”, were John Henry Twachtman, Otto Bacher, Julius Rolshoven and Herman Wessel. In 1886, Duveneck married one of his students, the Bostonian Elizabeth Boott. The couple lived for two years in Bellosguardo (Italy) for two years, where Elizabeth had a son. However, she died of pneumonia later in Paris. This devastated Duveneck, who returned to the United States and became interested in sculpture. The painter modeled a monument for his wife, which is in the English cemetery of Florence. In spite of these activities, the death of Elizabeth diminished its artistic production. Thanks to the money he had previously earned, Duveneck decided to lead a secluded life. He lived in Covington until his death in 1919. Duveneck also taught at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, where he taught John Christen Johansen, M. Jean McLane, Edward Charles Volkert and Russell Wright. During his later years, he used to spend summers in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Among his most famous works are Lady with Fan (1873) and The Whistling Boy (1872), in which the influence of Frans Hals can be appreciated. Duveneck’s works can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Art Gallery, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Richmond Art Museum and the Kenton County Library. One of his portraits, titled Young Man with Tousled Hair (the Street Urchin), currently housed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, had been part of the collection of Kurt Vonnegut.

His work, at first ignored in Covington, attracted great attention when shown at the Boston Art Club in 1875, and pupils flocked to him in Germany and Italy, where he made long visits. Henry James called him “the unsuspected genius” and at the age of 27 he was a celebrated artist. In 1878, Duveneck opened a school in Munich, and in the village of Polling in Bavaria. His students, known as the “Duveneck Boys”, included John Twachtman, Otto Bacher, Julius Rolshoven, and John White Alexander.

In 1886, Duveneck married one of his students who was much admired by Henry James, Boston-born Elizabeth Boott. They lived in Villa Castellani in Florence (where she had been raised) for two years. She produced a son, Frank Boott Duveneck. She died in Paris of pneumonia. Duveneck was devastated. After returning from Italy to America, he gave some attention to sculpture, and modelled a fine monument to his wife, now in the Cimitero Evangelico agli Allori in Florence. Despite this activity, Elizabeth’s death marked a slowing in his productivity; a wealthy man, he chose to lead a life of relative obscurity. He lived in Covington until his death in 1919 and taught at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, where some pupils of note were Ida Holterhoff Holloway, John Christen Johansen, M. Jean McLane, Edward Charles Volkert, Russel Wright, and Herman and Bessie Wessel.

He often spent summers in Gloucester, Massachusetts visiting his son and painting en plein air.

Among his most famous paintings are Lady with Fan (1873) and The Whistling Boy (1872), both of which reveal Duveneck’s debt to the dark palette and slashing brushwork of Frans Hals. His work can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Richmond Art Museum,the Kenton County Library in Covington, Ky, and the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, also in Covington and the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center in Poughkeepsie, NY. A portrait, Young Man with Tousled Hair (the Street Urchin), now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, was previously in the collection of Kurt Vonnegut. In 1905 he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full Academician in 1906.
Duveneck is buried at the Mother of God Cemetery, in Covington.

A life-size bronze statue depicting Duveneck holding a plaque with his wife’s picture on it stands in a small park at the intersection of Pike and Washington streets in Covington, Kentucky.