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 Robert Loftin Newman  (1827 - 1912)

About: Robert Loftin Newman


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Lived/Active: New York / France      Known for: landscape, figure, portrait and religious painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Robert Newman
1827 (Richmond, Virginia)
1912 (New York City)

New York / France

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landscape, figure, portrait and religious painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Painter Robert Loftin Newman, born in 1827 in Richmond, Virginia, grew up in Clarkesville, Tennessee. A painter of mood, he is sometimes associated with Albert Pinkham Ryder, with whose work he shared thematic and stylistic affinities, especially during the 1880s.

Although he read voraciously on art, he received no instruction, with the exception of five months spent with Thomas Couture in Paris in 1850. At that time, his predilection for color manifested itself in his great admiration for Titian. Newman made a second trip to Paris in 1854, resumed an acquaintance with William Morris Hunt, and was introduced to the Barbizon painters.

After serving with the Confederate forces during the Civil War, he probably lived in New York City until 1867, before moving, in 1872, to Nashville, Tennessee, where he tried to establish an academy of fine arts.

Once again in New York City in 1873 (where he stayed the remainder of his life, with the exception of trips abroad in 1882, 1908 and 1909), Newman designed stained glass for five years for Francis Lathrop. This brought him into contact with leading artists and cultural figures who helped support him, even though he rarely exhibited his work.

His subject matter was usually limited to children, mothers and children, and Old and New Testament themes ("Hagar," Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; "Christ Saving Peter," Brooklyn Museum). Usually dominating their murky landscape settings, his monumental, often vaguely sketched, figures were brought to life by accents of color rather than by their contours. Eugene Delacroix was an important source of subjects for Newman.

He did not receive public recognition until 1894 when a group of his friends organized a Newman exhibition at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Source: Matthew Baigell, "Dictionary of American Artists"
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:

To look at the paintings of Robert Loftin Newman is to be drawn into the personal world of the artist's imagination. His figures, shrouded in layer upon layer of thick, dark pigment, cannot be considered portraits, for the motivation behind their creation was not to record external reality. Rather, they are miniature dramatizations--often based on literary or Biblical sources--of ideas and feelings from the depths of the artist's soul. Painting seems to have been the only vehicle Newman ever found for self-expression. He left few letters or journals; in fact, he shunned social contact most of his adult life, choosing to live as a recluse in abject squalor, dependent on one or two close friends to take care of his practical needs.

Newman's background was thoroughly Southern. He was born in Richmond and lived there until his eleventh year when he moved with his mother and stepfather to Clarksville, Tennessee. In 1850, he decided to enter the art academy at Dusseldorf where nearly every aspiring young American artist was then headed, but once abroad, he never got past Paris. There, he was befriended by the young New Englander William Morris Hunt, who persuaded him to enter the atelier of Thomas Couture. Couture eschewed the making of preliminary studies or even the blocking out of a design on canvas. Newman adopted this revolutionary method of painting, creating form through masses of color, as seen in this example, where the loosely defined figures seem to hover before a murky background in mysterious suspension. When Newman made a second trip to France in 1854, he was introduced him to the Barbizon painter Jean-Francois Millet. As a result, Newman spent several months at Barbizon, where he strove to master technique.

Newman returned to Clarksville and opened a studio there, teaching painting and fulfilling portraits commissions until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he joined the Confederate army as a draftsman. At the war's conclusion, Newman moved to New York, assuredly out of economic necessity, but also in search of readier acceptance of his avant garde French techniques. The artist kept very much to himself in New York. His work was rarely exhibited, though he did manage to attract a small but loyal following of patrons from the art and business worlds. In 1886, he exhibited two works in the Fifth Autumn Exhibition of the National Academy of Design, and, in 1894, his friends joined together to exhibit 109 of his pictures at the Knoedler Gallery in New York to critical acclaim.

This essay is copyrighted by the Charleston Renaissance Gallery and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from Hicklin Galleries, LLC.

Biography from Don Barese Fine Art & Antiques:
Robert Loftin Newman is one of the group known as American visionary eccentric painters of the 19th century. Born in 1827 in Richmond, Virginia, Newman followed an inner calling to paint and was primarily self taught. His early years were spent in Clarksville Tennessee where he supported himself painting portraits.

In 1850 he travelled to France and in Paris studied with Thomas Couture for five months (his only formal training).During his life he was highly admired by his fellow artists, they admired his highly individualistic work and unconventionality. He was never self promoting and avoided the business aspects of art including exhibits and sales. His one exhibition during his lifetime was in 1886 at the National Academy of Design.

From 1865 to his death in 1912 he resided in New York City. An elusive figure he is compared sometimes to Albert Pinkham Ryder with whom he was friends. He was described as a restless spirit, a nonconformist, and a poetic colorist. His works are described as "a massing of shadows and light" they are his lasting contribution to beauty, creativity, and expression.

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