Eugene Francis Savage
(1883 - 1978)
Eugene Francis Savage was active/lived in Connecticut, New York. Eugene Savage is known for mural, genre, figure and landscape painting.
Eugene Francis Savage
Biography from the Archives of askART
Eugene Francis Savage, widely known as an American regionalist muralist and a painter of both native Hawaiian and Seminole Indian cultural groups was born in Covington, Indiana on March 29, 1883. He studied at the School of the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC, and later at the Art Institute of Chicago, one of America’s most influential schools of art.
Biography from the Archives of askART
He moved to Rome after being offered a fellowship at The American Academy created in the 19th century as a home for talented American artists who desired to study abroad. After returning to the United States, he was a mural painter for the Works Progress Administration Federal Arts Program. He later attended Yale University and received a Bachelor’s degree in painting in the fine arts program. Following graduation, he was offered membership at the National Academy of Design, a preeminent invitational and honorary society of American professional artists founded in 1825 in New York City where it still operates a school of art and a museum.
Savage became interested in the history and mythology of Seminole culture after a number of visits to Florida that started in 1935. The Seminoles came to Florida in the early 18th century and were a branch of the Muskogee-Creek nation that developed its own identity in the territory known as Florida.
Savage’s Seminole oeuvre is known for both its accuracy when portraying Seminole traditional mythology and for Savage’s unique art-deco and colorful style of execution. When reviewing his Seminole paintings, it is apparent that much of the unique Seminole clothing that plays an important role in his vision consists of a wide array of bright fabric colors. Historically, Seminoles are said to have used primitive bone needles and fiber thread as well as human-powered sewing machines to create these colorful garment masterpieces from scraps of available fabric material.
Like other minorities in Florida both before and after statehood in 1845, the Seminole nation experienced a struggle while attempting to integrate their lifestyle into the mainstream culture of the western world. With rapid growth in the early 1900s, some of the Seminoles, who had lived in isolated communities throughout the State and in the Everglades of South Florida for decades, were forcefully removed to the American West. During this period of coercion, Florida was poised to experience exponential development which included harvesting much of the hardwood forests and the destruction of natural bodies of water through engineering designed to drain much of the State for agriculture. This rapid development and population explosion from people throughout the United States who moved to the State was met by a conservation effort to save much of the natural assets of the State and create an Everglades National Park. This idea was proposed to Congress by Eugene Savage and a group of environmental supporters. The Everglades National Park was created in May of 1934 but not dedicated until 1947 by President Harry Truman. It was during 1935-1936 that Savage painted an additional number of influential and historical paintings depicting the life and the mythology of the Seminoles in Florida.
Savage attempted to portray the Seminole culture in a positive light, but through themes of Seminole travail. Many of these paintings show Seminole families living in what would later become the officially established Everglades National Park. One specific painting, Gaunt Tamarac, painted by Savage in 1935, depicts a Native American family with the female figure holding a bag in her hand and with a sad look on her face. This theme of loss, which was present in several of his other Seminole paintings, references the hardships that Natives experience due to the introduction of development and industry in Florida. What was enclosed in the white sack held by the female figure, though, is unknown. It could symbolize a number of items including objects unable to survive due to a lack of resources. And/or it could be filled with the few and minimal scant resources the family salvaged as they began their trek away from their home to an uncertain future. Either way, though, the bag acts as a symbol for the burden of obstacles and difficulty that many Seminoles had to endure because of their unfortunate history in Florida.
Savage painted more of Seminole culture later in his career after additional visits to Florida in the 1950s. Most of his paintings demonstrate a contemporary Art Deco-inspired yet personal style of Surrealism and were called Dreamscapes by a number of critics because of their supernatural and often surreal subject matter. Following his work in Native-themed art, Savage taught mural and easel painting to students at Yale University.
While many of Savage’s public works became famous and well-known throughout the United States, his Seminole paintings were relatively unknown to the public until an exhibition in 2011 organized by Jacksonville’s Cummer Museum and accompanied by a catalog written by Elizabeth Heuer entitled, Eugene Savage – The Seminole Paintings.
Eugene Savage died in 1978 in Woodbury, Connecticut. Savage’s Seminole paintings are included in the collections of several Florida, regional and national museums including a large body of Florida work at the Cummer Museum and Gardens, Jacksonville, Florida, and a number of Seminole paintings at the Museum of Arts and Sciences’ Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art, Daytona Beach, Florida. Savages’s career and his Florida paintings are also discussed in 50 Masterworks from the Brown Collection by David K. Swoyer and Reflections Paintings of Florida 1865-1965 by Gary R. Libby.
Written by Talia Aslani, student of Gary R. Libby at The Honors College, The University of Florida, Gainesville
Submitted by Gary R. Libby, author of Reflections: Paintings of Florida 1865-1965
Eugene Francis Savage was born in Covington, Indiana 1883. He underwent
various forms of art training in the early years. He was a pupil
of The Corcoran Gallery and The Art Institute of Chicago, and was later
awarded a fellowship to study in Rome at The American Academy.
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under the spell of that ancient city the young artist began to render
historic figures that were suitable for the classic style needed for
mural painting in the traditional manor. During this period he
was able to study and observe Roman and Greek sculpture, although much
of the academic training was accomplished by using plaster casts along
with the incorporation of live models. This method survived and
was used efficiently throughout Europe and the United States.
leaving the Academy, Savage was commissioned to paint numerous murals
throughout the United States and Europe. This artist received acclaim
for the works he produced while under commissions from various
sources. This young master was a contemporary of Mexican
muralists David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974), Jose Clemente Orozco
(1883-1949) and Diego Rivera (1886-1957). In this period he was
to show the influence of his contemporaries in formulating a modern
style. Savage also played a vital role in the WPA Federal Art
program, and he was a member of The Mural Art Guild..
was elected an associate member of The National Academy of Design in
1924 and a full member in 1926. From 1947, he held a professorship at
Yale University where he taught mural painting, and some of his
students went on to significant positions.
By this time the
artist had painted large-scale murals at Columbia, Yale University,
Buffalo N.Y., Dallas, Texas, Chicago, Indiana, along with other
commissioned works. He also achieved recognition for a series of murals
commissioned by the Matson Shipping Line and completed around
1940. For this commission, Savage made many exacting studies of
customs and folkways of the Hawaiian natives. However, the
award-winning murals were not installed as planned but were put in
storage during the war years when the ships were used for troop
transportation and were in danger of attack.
However the mural
images were reproduced and distributed by the shipping company
including nine of the mural scenes that were made into lithographed
menu covers in 1948. The American Institute of Graphic Arts awarded
certificates of excellence for their graphic production, and the
Smithsonian Institute exhibited the works in 1949. Today Savages'
Hawaiian Art production is held in high regard by collectors of
In later years the artist focused his
attention on a theme that dealt with the customs and tribal traditions
of the Seminole Indians of Florida. He produced many variations of this
theme throughout his lifetime, and the pictures were usually modest
scale easel paintings, precise and carefully delineated. Many of these
pictures incorporate Surrealistic elements and show some minor
stylistic influences of the painters Kay Sage (1886-1957) and Yves
Tanguy (1900-1955). Many of Savages' artistic portrayals of Seminole
culture could be considered Dreamscapes with models and elements are
often composed in a stage-like setting.
Eugene Savage spent his remaining years in Woodbury, Connecticut, and he died peacefully in 1978.
Written and submitted October 2003 by James R. Kieley, Woodbury, CT.
Gene and Virginia Crawford, descendants of the artist
Glenn Opitz, Mantle Fielding's Dictionary
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
Daniel Mallett, Index of Artists
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