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James Daugherty

 (1889 - 1974)
James Henry Daugherty was active/lived in District Of Columbia, New York, Connecticut, North Carolina.  James Daugherty is known for abstract color painting, mural.

James Daugherty

Biography from Spanierman Gallery (retired)

Among the early American modernists, James Daugherty was one of the first exponents of abstract color painting. Throughout his career, whether he was working in an abstract or a representational mode, Daugherty felt pure color to be the most effective means of creating powerful and evocative works of art.

Daugherty was born in Asheville, North Carolina, near the Great Smoky Mountains. He received his formal training at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia during the early years of the last century. Although he was in Europe from 1905 until 1907, he remained unaffected by avant-garde art until the groundbreaking Armory Show of 1913.

Daugherty worked in a futurist manner until late 1914 or early 1915, when he came into contact with Arthur B. Frost, Jr., who had recently returned from Paris, where he had worked closely with Robert and Sonia Delaunay, the inventors of Orphic Cubism. Inspired by Frost's example, Daugherty began to explore the use of pure color in conjunction with abstract design. He soon developed a style consisting of highly complex arrangements of strips, segments, and circles of color. Daugherty quickly became one of the foremost proponents of color painting and in turn, influenced other young American painters, including Jay Van Everen. During these years, Daugherty exhibited his work at the Society of Independent Artists in New York and later with the Société Anonyme, Inc.

In the 1920s, Daugherty responded to the call for indigenous subject matter by adopting a more figurative style while retaining his former emphasis on vibrant color. He subsequently produced numerous easel paintings and murals, most notably his Spirit of Cinema America (1920; Loew's State Theatre, Cleveland). He continued his mural work in to the 1930s, but eventually devoted much of his time to illustrating children's books.

In 1953 Daugherty once again began to create abstract paintings. The first of these works, small images with relatively stable compositions and subdued palettes, suggest the influence of the work of Piet Mondrian. By the end to the decade, Daugherty had expanded to larger formats and had broken from the grid to create increasingly complex designs. In the years that followed, he alternated modes, often joining his old rectilinear format of vertical and horizontal with circles and frequently using a lighter, more refined painterly touch and layered, almost transparent color planes that recall the color veils of Mark Rothko's art.

By the mid-1960s Daugherty's work reached a peak of size, complexity, and color intensity. The explosive energies of these paintings put into physical form what Daugherty called the "out rushing forces of the cosmos" in an "ever expanding infinitude." Fusing the old and the contemporary, Daughterty referred both to early modernism and to the abstract illusionism developed by younger artists in the 1960s such as Frank Stella, Al Held, and Ron Davis. Daugherty continued to paint until the end of his life, never ceasing to experiment and find ways that abstraction could "restore meaning to life and announce its beauty and capacity."

Examples of Daugherty's paintings can be found in many important public collections, including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; Asheville Art Museum, North Carolina; The Columbus Museum, Georgia; The Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan; Flint Institute of Arts, Michigan; Heckscher Museum, Huntington, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire; Hoover Institution, Stanford University, California; The Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas; The Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; New Britain Museum of American Art, Connecticut; Portland Museum of Art, Maine; Sheldon Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute, Indiana; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Société Anonyme Collection, Yale University Art Museum, New Haven, Connecticut; The Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library, New York; Stanford University, California; Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, Savannah, Georgia; and 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 ACME Fine Art
James Daugherty

Corcoran School of Art
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, with Chase, Anshutz, Breckenridge

Selected Exhibitions:
Fairfield University
Society of Independent Artists
University of Minnesota
Macbeth Gallery
Schoelkopf Gallery
Janet Marqusee
Salons of America
Silvermine Guild
Bridgeport Art League
Stamford Historical Society
Vassar College, Loeb Art Center

Selected Collections:
National Museum of American Art
Whitney Museum of American Art
Museum of Modern Art
Yale University Art Gallery
Hirshhorn Museum
New York Public Library
Wilmington Public Library
Montclair Museum
California Palace of the Legion of Honor
Achenbach Foundation

James Daugherty was associated with and inspired by the Synchromist work of Morgan Russell and Stanton MacDonald-Wright early in the twentieth century. From 1905 to 1907 Daugherty traveled in Europe where he studied mural painting with Frank Brangwyn at the London School of Art.  Daugherty devoted the balance of his career to mural painting, often on a grand scale.  His murals and their related studies are complex compositions of writhing figures in fragmented industrial or rural landscapes.  While his murals are often compared with those of Thomas Hart Benton, it is Daugherty's Synchromist sense of color which sets his work clearly apart.

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia
James Daugherty was born in 1889 in Asheville, North Carolina.  The early years of his life was spent in Indiana and Ohio. (1)  In 1898, his family moved to Washington, D.C., where in 1903 he enrolled in the Corcoran School of Art.  In the summer of 1904, he studied with Thomas Anschutz and Hugh Breckenridge at the Darby Summer School of Painting in Pennsylvania.  That fall, before going to Europe, he commenced studies for one year at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where one of his teachers was William Merritt Chase.

Daugherty took classes in London with the academic painter Frank Brangwyn for two years beginning in 1905.  In 1907, he returned to New York, and there he worked for some time as an illustrator.  After seeing the Armory Show in 1913, Daugherty was greatly influenced by modernist ideas.  (2)

In 1915, he met the artist Arthur Burdett Frost, Jr., who introduced him to Synchronism. (3) As a result, Daugherty's work was transformed; until 1922, he worked in this modernist style and focused on painting inventive abstractions emphasizing color volumes. (4) Daugherty did not focus on pure abstraction for long; by the early 1920s, he returned to a representational style.  However, his work continued to show his interest in color. 

Daugherty is best known for a series of murals painted in a realistic style and rich with social messages.  In 1920, Daugherty executed his first monumental mural, the Spirit of Cinema American from the Four Continents from the Loew State Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio.  After this first commission, he was sought after for additional mural commissions.

He completed many murals as a member of the WPA in the 1930s.  Among his best known are those for the Stamford, Connecticut High School (1934), Stamford Connecticut TRAP Housing Project (1937) and the United State Post Office in Virden, Illinois (1939).  Many of Daugherty's murals illustrate scenes from rural life in the Midwest, a frequent subject for the artists of the Regionalist movement. (5)  A love for these scenes was fueled by Daugherty's childhood.  He stated, "My earliest impressions are of the life and people on the farms in small town of the Ohio Valley, so warm and so vivid that I cherish them and relish them increasingly."

Daugherty's work not only reflects that of the Regionalists in subject matter, but in formal issues, as well.  His murals are especially reminiscent of those of Thomas Hart Benton, who also came to mural painting from an earlier interest in abstraction. (6) This interest influenced both men when designing large-scale works with numerous figures, in that the general design was more important than various small details.  The pronounced rhythms in Daugherty's work are similar to those developed by Benton, as well. (7)   Furthermore, Daugherty's elongated figures with graceful contours recall Benton's love of the Michelangelo and El Greco. (8)

Daugherty's career as an author and illustrator that began during his early days in New York continued until the 1960s.  He wrote and illustrated many books, his first picture book being Andy and the Lion of 1938.  His Daniel Boone won the Newbery Medal in 1940. 

Daugherty died in Weston, Connecticut in 1974.

1. Biographical information taken from the following: Marianne Berardi and Henry Adams, Under the Influence: The Students of Thomas Hart Benton (St. Joseph, MO: Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, 1993); Lee Klingman, Illustrators of Children's Books 1955-1966 (Boston: Horn Book, 1968); and Janet Marqusee, James Daugherty, 1887-1974: American Modernist Works on Paper from the New Deal Era. (New York: Janet Marqusee Fine Arts, 1992).

2. The Armory Show, officially known as The International Exhibition of Modern Art, was the first major exhibition of modernist works from Europe and America.  It challenged the academic definition of and public attitude towards visual art.  The exhibition opened in New York in March 1913, and went on to venues in Chicago and Boston that same year.

3. Synchronism means "with color."  The movement was a reaction against the monochrome colors of Cubism and stressed the use of color to build the impression of space and depth.  Janet Marqusee credits Frost with most influencing Daugherty with newly developed theories on color and form that Frost had studied firsthand in Paris from Patrick Henry Bruce, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, and Henri Matisse Marqusee.   There is an entire other body of work that is identified with Daugherty. These paintings, which were produced mostly before The Porch, deal with color and abstract form, and are identified readily with the Synchronism artists.

4. It is interesting to note that during World War I, Daugherty worked in shipyards in Baltimore, Maryland and Newport News, Virginia, camouflaging ships for the Navy. He also painted at least one propaganda poster for the U.S Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation.

5. The Regionalists were a group of American artists, mostly from the Midwest, who flourished during the 1930s and early 1940s.  These artists depicted everyday life in a humble style.

6. Thomas Hart Benton, a leading Regionalist painter, was a friend, associate, and contemporary of Daugherty.  The two met as young men in New York, and they had similar careers.  Like Daugherty, Benton worked for a time as a Synchromist before returning to figurative work.  Benton was a highly successful muralist. According to Norman Kent, Daugherty, too, had a long and professed admiration for the work of Michaelangelo and El Greco (Drawings by American Artists, Bonanza Books, 1968). In the 50's, Daugherty made flat, grid-based compositions with generously sensuous surfaces.  This work shows the influence of painters like Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman.  Rather than moving toward the greater simplification of 60's Color Field painting, however, Daugherty brought back the Cubist complexity of his early years.  There are paintings, too, from his later years that hark back to the spinning color wheels of Daugherty's Delaunay-influenced period.  His works from the 1960s update Constructivism while reflecting contemporary geometric work by Frank Stella and Al Held.  Yet others bring in hints of Surrealism in their play with biomorphic shapes (Ken Johnson, "James Daugherty: Late Abstractions," The New York Times, June 21, 2002)

7. Barardi and Adams, 67.

8. Marqusee, Kristen Miller Zohn,

Staff, Columbus Museum

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About  James Daugherty

Born:  1889 - Asheville, North Carolina
Died:   1974 - Weston, Connecticut
Known for:  abstract color painting, mural

Essays referring to
James Daugherty