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Ben Austrian

 (1870 - 1921)
Ben Austrian was active/lived in Pennsylvania, Florida.  Ben Austrian is known for trompe l'oeil animal, still life and landscape painting.

Ben Austrian

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Ben Austrian
Ben Austrian left school at the age of fifteen and worked as a salesman for several years, while teaching himself to be an artist.  He helped promote the business by giving every person that placed an order-no matter how small- an original painting.

His painting career began by exhibiting a trompe l'oeil painting called A Day's Hunt that received attention in Philadelphia.  However, Austrian's success came from his paintings of chickens.  In 1902 he went to Paris, where he opened a studio and in London he was acclaimed "The Landseer of Chickens."

One of his chickens became the famous trademark for the Bon Ami slogan - "hasn't scratched yet."

His paintings for the advertisements were full-color oils. Unfortunately at the height of his success he died of a stroke in 1921.

Pennsylvania Heritage, 1987

Biography from Turak Gallery of American Art
Biography photo for Ben Austrian
Ben Austrian was a native Pennsylvanian from Reading, who lived there all his life.  As a child, he was encouraged by his mother in drawing and painting, and some of his earliest works were of farmyard chicks.  The love of animals permeates his work, and the artist's subjects include hens and their chicks, cats, dogs, horses, game and the occasional fruit still life.  Austrian's trompe l'oeil game pieces, like From Old Virginia, are the crowning achievements of his career.

William Harnett and John Frederick Peto popularized trompe l'oeil hanging game pieces in the 1880's.  Ben Austrian decided to try his hand at game pieces in 1899 with a painting titled A Day's Hunt.  The painting was enthusiastically received and resulted in Austrian continuing to paint trompe l'oeil hanging game.

In 1901, Austrian painted After a South Wind.  Measuring 74 x 38 inches, it depicts a brace of 23 ducks hanging against a door.  In From Old Virginia, executed eight years later, Austrian has refined both the composition and his technique.  The painting is also somewhat smaller at 65 x 45 inches.  By reducing the number of ducks, the painting becomes more realistic and believable, resulting in a more dynamic composition.

In an interview with his local newspaper, the Reading Times, Austrian describes how he painted these hanging game pieces: "I conceived the idea first as to how in my mind a bunch of ducks hang on a nail would look, then I made a rapid sketch in my head of the various colors and how they would look most attractive.  Then I took the ducks one by one and sketched them in.  This had to be done rapidly, as I could only work several hours at a time on each one before the feathers had a chance to thaw out and the position change.  When the sketch was finished, I began to paint them in, using the birds and never painting by chance.  Every duck in the picture is as near to itself as paint and brush can make it."

Geoffrey D. Austrian: Ben Austrian, Artist, Pennsylvania, Garrigues House, 1997, pages 55-56]

Biography from Schwarz Gallery
Biography photo for Ben Austrian
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Ben Austrian attended school in his hometown until he started working as a traveling representative for his father's business, a job that allowed him to visit museums in New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and St. Louis. When his father died in 1897, he took over the family business but soon sold it, gave the profits to his mother, and pursued a career as a painter.  He quickly became very successful, and one of his first paintings, Coal Black Lady, was acquired by the Philadelphia department store magnate John Wannamaker for his personal collection.  

In 1902 Austrian went to Europe and opened a studio in Paris; his work was acclaimed in both France and England.  After his return to the United States, he established studios in Reading, as well as in Palm Beach, Florida, where he and his wife spent the winters.  He also had a summer home in the mountains near Kempton in Northern Berks County, Pennsylvania.  One of Austrians best known ventures was his series of advertisements for the Bon Ami Company, many of which originated as paintings that featured chicks accompanied by his wife Molly, posing as a housewife, who always used the cleanser Hasn't Scratched Yet.  The trademark chicks are still used by the company.  Austrian's remarkable career was ended prematurely by his sudden death at the age of fifty-one.

A retrospective of his work was mounted by the Historical Society of Berks County in 1982.  At the same time, Judy M. Hartman published an article on the artist in the spring 1982 issue of the Historical Review of Berks County.

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About  Ben Austrian

Born:  1870 - Kempton, Pennsylvania
Died:   1921 - Palm Beach, Florida
Known for:  trompe l'oeil animal, still life and landscape painting

Essays referring to
Ben Austrian

Trompe l'Oeil Painting