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John Whorf

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biographical statement for John Whorf (1903-1959, submitted by Amy Whorf McGuiggan, granddaughter of John Whorf.
Having been asked for many years by collectors of John Whorf's paintings why there was no definitive resource, the ten-year effort by family members of artist John Whorf to gather family memorabilia, art reviews and clippings, and to locate Whorf's work in private collections nationwide has culminated in the recently published book, John Whorf Rediscovered, available from AFA Publishing. With its detailed, accurate biography, family photographs, and more than 100 examples of Whorf's work - many of the paintings not seen publicly in seventy years - the coffee table-style book has become the definitive resource for collectors of John Whorf's work.
The artistic journey of John Whorf began in Winthrop, Massachusetts where Whorf was born in 1903. At a young age he displayed a precocious talent and was given informal art lessons by his artist/graphic designer father, Harry Church Whorf, followed by instruction at the Boston atelier of Sherman Kidd, and at the Museum School where Whorf studied drawing with Philip Leslie Hale and painting with William James. As a teenager, Whorf's summer months were spent in Provincetown, then a mecca for artists and writers fleeing war-torn Europe during and after the First World War.
Provincetown was the town of Whorf's ancestors, seafarers all until his grandfather, Isaiah, came ashore and established himself in the clothing trade in Boston. The family maintained a summer home in Provincetown where Whorf stayed every summer. By the age of sixteen, he had begun studies in Provincetown with George Elmer Browne (1871-1946) and Charles Webster Hawthorne (1872-1930) who were, unarguably, the two formative teachers in Whorf's life. During his many visits to Paris, Whorf enhanced his training at Ecole Colarossi, Academie Julian, Ecole des Beaux Arts, and Academie de la Grande Chaumiere.
From Browne, Whorf acquired a strong sense of design as well as an appreciation for the evocative nocturnal scenes for which Browne was admired.  From Hawthorne, who opened his Cape Cod School of Art and founded the Provincetown art colony in 1899, Whorf acquired the color sense that infuses his work. The Hawthorne "method" emphasized value and tone. Quick studies of outdoor models, called mudheads, were Hawthorne's method of teaching students to understand the contrast of form in illuminated and shadowed areas, as well as the subtle, related tones in color.
In 1924, Whorf was given his first one-man exhibition at the Grace Horne Gallery in Boston where he remained an annual exhibitor for the next fifteen years. By 1927, Whorf was being represented in New York at the prestigious Milch Gallery, where he exhibited annually until his death in 1959. Whorf's Boston representation subsequently included the venerable Vose Gallery and Shore Studio Gallery. Boston art critic Robert Taylor remarked that, "Whorf's record of thirty-two annual exhibitions [referring to Boston, but with as many in New York], each selling out, will probably never be paralleled." With the cooperation of Milch Gallery, which served as Whorf's agent, Whorf occasionally participated in group exhibitions nationwide.
By the late 1920s and then living in the Boston suburb of Brookline, Whorf had all but abandoned oil paint in favor of watercolor, which, he said, suited his temperament, his eagerness to awaken his sense of immediacy. Traditionally considered a tint medium, critics noted that Whorf's bold, virile use of watercolor, and his employment of oil painting techniques - the building of color - had broken new ground. Whorf's transition to watercolor is also explained, in part, by a childhood injury - a severed sciatic nerve that resulted from a splintered hip after Whorf jumped off an old Provincetown wharf and hit a submerged object - that resulted initially in paralysis and then in a lifelong permanent weakness in one leg that made it increasing difficult to transport the paraphernalia necessary for oil painting.
Despite his disability, Whorf travelled widely in the early years of his career, taking long sojourns in France, Spain, North Africa, the West Indies, and the Appalachian, New York and Canadian wildernesses, painting views of Montparnasse, Moroccan bazaars, Breton villages, stream fishermen, gypsies, bathers and sea apples. "There is very little Whorf cannot do with watercolor," noted one reviewer.
By the late-1930s, Whorf had ceased his far-flung travels and had relocated permanently from Boston to Provincetown where he began to nurture an increasingly indigenous viewpoint, Provincetown, Boston and rural New England furnishing him with a wealth of material and atmospheric mood. His beloved Provincetown was a never-ending source of inspiration and subject matter, the handsome design of the trap boats and the town's quaint byways and backyard gardens becoming favorite subjects.
Among Whorf's many honors and recognitions are the Logan Medal, awarded by the Art Institute of Chicago in 1928, and his honorary Master of Arts degree awarded by Harvard University in 1938, Whorf being the first contemporary painter to be so recognized. That same year, Whorf was one of only two Boston artists to be selected by the Museum of Modern Art for its exhibition in Paris. The following year, the Art Institute of Chicago again honored Whorf with a special exhibition of his watercolors, alongside collections by Edward Hopper and Henri Matisse. In 1947, Whorf was elected to the National Academy of Design and, in 1948, to the American Watercolor Society. In Provincetown, he was a proud and active member of the famed Beachcombers. Whorf, who married Vivienne Wing in March 1925 and was the father of four children, died in Provincetown in 1959 at the age of 56.
Whorf's paintings are included in private collections across America and he is represented in major museum collections, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art: Museum of Fine Arts; Brigham Young University Museum of Art; Brooklyn Museum; Rhode Island School of Design Museum; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, List Visual Arts Center; National Academy of Design; Art Institute of Chicago; Indianapolis Museum of Art; Addison Gallery of American Art/Phillips Academy; Provincetown Art Association and Museum; Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University; Canton (Ohio) Museum of Art; Butler Institute of American Art; Baltimore Museum of Art; Pitti Gallery (Florence, Italy) and the National Museum, Copenhagen.

Biography from the Archives of askART
The family of Henry McDaniel has alerted AskART that some works of art signed by John Whorf are in fact by Henry Mc Daniel.  The following article addresses and appears to substantiate that claim.

The Boston Globe

'Whose painting is it? Quincy artist, 98, finds works sold under signature of more famous colleague

By Carolyn Y. Johnson, Globe Staff | April 10, 2005

QUINCY -- When watercolorist Henry McDaniel saw his brushstrokes on the cover of the Spring issue of the Atlantic Salmon Journal, to which he subscribes, he was elated.  The steep gray banks of the Matane River in Quebec, the fly fisherman casting his line over foaming rapids, the dappled pool -- it was exactly as McDaniel remembered painting the scene.

Except that, at least according to the magazine McDaniel received in the mail last month, it wasn't his painting.

Instead of McDaniel's usual red signature, the name of John Whorf, a well-known American impressionist from the Boston area who died in 1959, floated like a white ghost in the bottom right-hand corner.

''That burned me up . . . I'm in my 99th year," McDaniel exclaimed over tea in his Quincy home. ''You just hope you can sit back and not worry about these things."

McDaniel, a former art director whose two lifelong passions are fishing and painting, was flabbergasted, and his son, Joe, who was the model for the fisherman in the painting, immediately launched an investigation.

Drawing on the elder McDaniel's keen memory and the younger's persistent detective work, the duo has unraveled a case of what some say is a common malpractice in the art business: using the name of a reputable artist on a work by someone less regarded to boost its value. The McDaniels say that sometime before summer 2003, Henry McDaniel's water-soluble signature was rubbed off two paintings and replaced with John Whorf's name, and they were sold for thousands more than McDaniel ever received for his work.

The art dealer for those paintings, Barridoff Galleries in Portland, Maine, is now investigating the consignor, who had said the Whorfs were acquired from a private estate.  In the meantime, the McDaniels have initiated a campaign to have the forged paintings re-signed by Henry McDaniel before he dies.

They have more than their memories to back them up: The Atlantic Salmon Journal cover painting, identified as Whorf's Fishing in the Rapids, had appeared with the caption ''One of the beautiful unnamed pools" in a spread of Henry McDaniel watercolors in the July 1957 issue of the Ford Times, a magazine published by the Ford Motor Co.

Joe McDaniel ''is totally right -- it is his father" who was the artist, said Rob Elowitch, owner of Barridoff Galleries, which sold the two paintings with a Whorf signature at an August 2003 auction in Maine.

Fishing in the Rapids sold for $18,720 to Avery Galleries in Haverford, Pa.; the second painting, 'Fishing in the Rapids, White River, Vermont, sold for $9,945 to another gallery.

Larry Taylor, the art consultant for the Atlantic Salmon Journal who chose the painting as its cover art, quoted Richard Rosello, owner of Avery Galleries, as saying the work has been sold since then for about $40,000. (The gallery would not confirm the figure, for privacy reasons.) Taylor got permission to use it as the magazine's cover art free of charge.

Biography from the Archives of askART
A native of Boston, John Whorf became a watercolorist known for his depictions of genre subjects and views of harbors and beach scenes.  During the Depression years in Boston, he was one of the few artists whose work continued to sell.

He was born in Winthrop, Massachusetts on January 10, 1903, descended from a long line of Cape Cod ship captains, and his father was an artist and graphic designer.  He studied painting at the St. Botolph Studio and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School under Charles Hawthorne and Max Bohm and at the Grande Chaumiere and Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.  Then at age 18, Whorf had a paralyzing fall from which he had difficulty recovering.

Whorf was awarded an honorary M.A. degree from Harvard University in 1938 and received a medal in 1938 and a prize in 1939 from the Art Institute of Chicago. He exhibited at the National Academy of Design annuals between 1945-1956 and 1958-1959.

Initially he painted in oil, but changed to watercolor. His first exhibition of fifty-two paintings, when he was age twenty, sold out. He traveled in Europe and the United States.  Whorf spent the last years of his life in Provincetown, Massachusetts and was part of its art colony for many years. He died there in 1959.

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born in Massachusetts on Jan. 10, 1903. Whorf studied in France, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco in 1919. At age 21 his work was purchased by John Singer Sargent and Dodge MacKnight who continued to influence him throughout his career. While a resident of Provincetown, MA, Whorf was active in California during the 1930s. He died in Boston, MA on Feb. 13, 1959. Exh: Oakland Art Gallery, 1930 (solo); Mills College (Oakland), 1931 (solo); Calif. WC Society, 1934, 1939. In: Boston Museum; AIC; Vose Gallery (Boston); MM; LACMA.

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Who's Who in American Art 1938-56; NY Times, 2-14-1959 (obituary).

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Spanierman Gallery (retired)
John Whorf was one of the most accomplished and esteemed watercolorists of the first half of the twentieth century. Creating realist depictions of urban and rural imagery, he worked in a luminous painterly style often compared to that of John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer.

Born in Winthrop, Massachusetts, Whorf received his initial exposure to art from his father, Harry C. Whorf, a commercial artist and graphic designer. His first formal instruction began, however, at age fourteen when he enrolled simultaneously at the St. Botolph Studio in Boston, where he was taught by Sherman Kidd, and at the Boston Museum School, where his teachers were Philip L. Hale and William James. Spending the summer of 1917 or 1918 in Provincetown, Whorf attended a class with Charles W. Hawthorne, a popular teacher who rendered portraits and landscapes in a bold and painterly style. The Cape Cod landscape had a deep effect on Whorf and he would return to render it continuously throughout his life. He was also attracted to Provincetown's growing art colony, and during his first stay he met such leading contemporary painters as Max Bohn and E. Ambrose Webster.

About 1919, Whorf visited France, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. In Paris, he enrolled briefly at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the Grande Chaumière, and the Académie Colarossi. During his time abroad, Whorf turned increasingly away from oil painting and began to focus on watercolor, which he found suited his transient lifestyle and his expressive and aesthetic interests.

Whorf returned to Boston during the early 1920s. In 1924, his first solo exhibition was held at the Grace Horne Gallery. The show was extremely well received; fifty works were sold, and Whorf was commended as Boston's leading watercolorist by the press. His paintings also captured the attention of John Singer Sargent, who purchased a watercolor from the artist. Whorf claimed that following his successful debut, he received informal instruction from Sargent.

Throughout the rest of his career, Whorf remained a popular and prolific artist. He exhibited his work annually at Grace Horne in Boston and at the Milch Gallery in New York; during the summers, he showed at the Shore Galleries in Provincetown. He depicted landscapes and figural works, however, he is best known for his city views which have been compared to those of Edward Hopper and Reginald Marsh for their realistic approach. Yet Whorf's fluid technique reflects the more painterly styles of Sargent and American Impressionist Frank Benson. He developed a confident and spontaneous method of applying his paint, creating works in which he interspersed sparkling transparent washes with areas of deep opaque color.

Although he often traveled in America and abroad in search of painting subjects, Whorf and his wife Vivienne settled in Provincetown in 1937. There the artist painted landscapes and figural subjects, and continued to enjoy a successful career. He was one of two contemporary Massachusetts artists represented in the Museum of Modern Art's 1938 exhibition of American art created in Paris. In 1947, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Design.

Whorf is represented in many important private and public collections including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Pitti Palace, Florence; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.


© The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery, LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery, LLC, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from Spanierman Gallery, LLC, nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery, LLC.

Biography from Stephen B. O'Brien Jr. Fine Arts, LLC
In a preface to Whorf's 1997 show at the St. Botolph Club in Boston Massachusetts, Amy Whorf McGuiggan makes the following observation regarding John Whorf's success: "If there was a secret to the popular appeal that Whorf enjoyed in his day it is that he reminded people of everyday scenes, taking his viewers along with him to sun-drenched Moroccan bazaars, on strolls along slushy Boston sidewalks, for a moonlit sailing party on Provincetown Harbor or up a mast to reef a sail during a northeaster. The critics of the day were no less enthusiastic, citing Whorf's technical proficiencies, his bold washes, provocative color, balanced design and forceful play of light and shadow."

Whorf was born in Winthrop, Massachusetts, to parents who encouraged his early talent. At age 14 he was enrolled to study painting at the Boston Museum School and with Sherman Kidd at the St. Botolph Studio. He also studied with Charles Hawthorne at the Cape School in Provincetown, John Singer Sargent, and later took training at the Ecole Colarossi and the Academie des Beaux-Arts.

At age 21, Whorf held the first of his thirty-five successive annual one-man exhibitions, two each year. After recovering from a paralyzing accident at age 18, Whorf left for Europe where he painted throughout France, Portugal, and Morocco. From 1924 on, he was a highly regarded watercolorist.

Whorf married Vivienne Wing in 1925 and became the father of four children. He and his family lived in Brookline spending summers in Provincetown until 1937 when they relocated permanently to the lower Cape. Whorf's work owes a great debt to his teacher, the master Charles Hawthorne. His watercolors employ a boldness and depth of color usually associated with oil painting which he learned from Hawthorne.

Whorf earned memberships in the National Academy and National Watercolor Society. In 1938, Harvard College conferred on Whorf an Honorary Master of Fine Arts. His work is in major collections including the Metropolitan Museum and Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Biography from Pierce Galleries, Inc.
John Whorf is noted for his watercolor paintings in the 20th Century and for a style much influenced by John Singer Sargent.

Whorf was born in Winthrop, MA in 1903 and died in Provincetown in 1959.  He studied with his father Harry C. Whorf; at the St. Botolph Studio in Boston with Sherman Kidd at the age of 14; at Boston's Museum School with William James and Philip Leslie Hale in 1917; and in Provincetown after 1917-1918 with Charles W. Hawthorne; with Max Bohm, Richard Miller, Garrett Beneker, George Elmer Browne and E.A. Webster in Provincetown; and in Paris after 1919 at the Academy de la Grande Chaumiere, the Ecole des Beaux Arts and the Academie Colarossi and with John Singer Sargent in Boston as late as 1924-1925.

Whorf was an Associate and a full Academician of the National Academy of Design (1947) and a member of the American Water Color Society; the Florida Water Color Society; The Beachcombers; and the Provincetown Art Association. He was given his first solo exhibition in 1924 at the Grace Horne Gallery in Boston and the Milch Galleries in New York gave him 32 solo exhibitions. Awards include medals the California Water Color Society; Art Institute of Chicago (1939, 1943) and an honorary M.A. from Harvard University in 1939.

The artist's work is represented at Museum of Fine Arts (Boston); Metropolitan Museum of Art; M.I.T.; Fogg Art Museum; Addison Gallery of American Art; Amherst College Art Museum; John Herron Art Institute; Museum of Modern Art; Los Angeles County Museum; Worcester Art Museum; Montclair Art Museum; Art Institute of Chicago; R.I. School of Design; Corcoran Gallery of Art; St. Louis Museum of Art; Butler Art Institute; National Museum, Stockholm, Sweden; Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy; Yale University; Baltimore Museum of Art; and more.

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About  John Whorf

Born:  1903 - Winthrop, Massachusetts
Died:   1959 - Provincetown, Massachusetts
Known for:  street-landscape, marine and figure painting