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Will Quinlan

 (1877 - 1963)
Will J. Quinlan was active/lived in New York, California.  Will Quinlan is known for etcher-architecture, seasonal landscape.

Will Quinlan

Biography from the Archives of askART

The following information is from Liam Quinlan, who writes:

I checked out the date of death reported for Will Quinlan by Edan Milton Hughes in his book "Artists in California 1786-1940". The NY Times obituary of July 15, 1949, which Mr. Hughes cites is of a William Quinlan, but it is not the obituary of the artist, Will J. Quinlan. Rather, the obituary is of a Union Organizer (Steel) in Youngstown, Ohio, who died at the age of 85, and thus was born in 1864--and not in 1877 as was Will the Artist.

After a long road of research, I learned that Will Quinlan, the artist, died on April 21, 1963, in Seattle, Washington. I have a certified copy of his death certificate (and his birth certificate, for that matter) in my possession.

The following is the text of an article from a book on deaf artists, which increased the mystery of what happened to Will, who went missing in Yonkers, New York in 1939.

Deaf Artists in America Colonial to Contemporary, "Will J. Quinlan--1877circa 1939"

Will J. Quinlan was born in Brooklyn, one of the five boroughs of New York City, on June 27, 1877. He lost his hearing at the age of three. The young Quinlan was caught up in the excitement of a city that, by the year 1882 saw the highest point of immigration to New York City (789,000) and the completion of a modern marvelthe Brooklyn Bridge. It was a stimulating time to be in New York, particularly for a developing artist. He never lost his fascination with cities and his prints reflect this life-long love.

The young Quinlan was educated by private tutor and at the famed Wright Oral School in New York City, which did not allow the use of sign language. He was taught to use his voice and lip read as his major mode of communication. He expressed an early interest in art and began art studies at the age of eleven. In 1905 while a student at the Academy of Design in Brooklyn he studied the art of etching, which held him spellbound.

He studied under Professor J. B. Whittaker of Adelphi College and the National Academy of Design. He etched the marvels of the new architecture sprouting up in his native New York, including Manhattan Excavations (1912).

It was an exciting time for Quinlan, who as a child had witnessed the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, at that time the longest suspension bridge in the world (started in 1869 and completed in 1883). In his life, Quinlan also watched the building of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest Gothic-style cathedral in the world (began in 1892 with the towers long under construction), St. Patrick Cathedral (begun in 1879, with the completion of the towers in 1888), and many other structures.

He was awarded the Shaw Etching Prize at the Salmagundi Club in New York City for two successive years, 1913 and 1914. While his best-known works are etchings of street scenes and structures, he also painted landscapes in oils. The Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and the National Academy in New York City acquired Quinlan's oil paintings. Some forty of his paintings and etchings were accepted for exhibition in the Art Palace of the Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915. In 1934 he exhibited eight oil paintings and eleven etchings at the International Exhibition of Fine and Applied Arts by Deaf Artists at Roerich Museum in New York City. The subject matter varied, with cityscapes, seasons, and structures. He continued to exhibit his works in Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, St. Louis, and the World's Fair in San Francisco in 1939, which was attended by millions.

During Quinlan's lifetime American Renaissance Art was booming, and he did not try to escape the enthusiasm the art world had for a delicate balance between American Realism and Greek Idealism. It was an unwritten rule that all great art is borrowed from the past. However, instead of drawing Greek architecture and other related Greco/Roman objects he focused on contemporary American buildings and bridges, giving them a majestic and Classical atmosphere seen in 16th century Italian Renaissance art.

Quinlan never studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris; therefore he retained an American characteristic in his etchings yet with the "Classical spirit." To Quinlan, the American streets, wharfs with boats, libraries, and bridges assume the lofty role that cathedrals did in Europe. His style is very much like that of Cadwallader Washburn, who let the lines on the copper plate "speak" for themselves. Unlike Washburn, who preferred portraits of a variety of individuals, Quinlan found architecture more interesting. His etchings show that Quinlan understood, breathed, and loved perspective.

Quinlan's works can be found in the permanent collections of the New York Public Library, the Oakland Museum in California, and the John H. Vanderpool Art Gallery of Chicago.

Quinlan was a member of several art clubs, including the Salmagundi Club, the Brooklyn [129] Society of Artists, the Brooklyn Painters and Sculptors, and sketching societies of Chicago and California. He was a charter member of the Society of American Etchers, which also included eminent deaf etcher Cadwallader Washburn. There are no records or documents that these two deaf etchers were acquainted with each other.

Quinlan's last known whereabouts was a residence on Warburton Avenue in Yonkers in 1939. There are no available records or information on Quinlan after 1939.


Quinlan was arrested at least once in New York City while sketching a new bridge that was being built, as he could not explain what he was doing due to his deafness, despite his lip-reading and voice-use. He was mistakenly thought to be a spy or a traitor. The following is from an undentified clipping in the collection of the New York Public Library Prints Department.

Sunday, April 5, 1917
"Etcher Arrested as Spy"
"W. J. Quinlan Caught While Sketching Tunnel Approaches"

Painters and etchers, famous and otherwise, would do well these plotting and spying days to choose with skill and care the spots where they set their easels. Yesterday afternoon William J. Quinlan, an etcher, who has a studio at 51 West 10th Street, was discovered by sentinels in New Jersey sketching approaches to a tunnel.
The soldiers rushed their prize to the Union Hill police station, where, despite his efforts with his penQuinlan has been a mute since boyhoodand press clippings and other proofs in his sketching case that he was a real artist, he is being held. He will probably be taken early this morning to Governors Island.


(Caption: "Washington Heights" 1909. Etching, 8-13/16 x 5-7/18 inches. Collection of David Prosser.)

"Washington Heights"
This charming print reflect Quinlan's attraction to buildings and bridges. He did much work around Pittsburgh and New York. The outline of the rocky hillside and the railing between land and water leads [130] the eye to the majestic bridge. The bridge divides the picture plane but not on equal terms. It is placed at one-fourth of the width of the picture, which enhances the power of the bridge in the spectator's eye. The rhythm of the arches of the bridge brings to one's mind the former grandeur of Roman aqueducts.

"Fixing the Bowsprit"
Quinlan was also attracted to boats and water. This remarkable piece is a close-up, giving the viewer a front-row seat to watch a seaman repairing his boat. The boat in the foreground sets the stage and points the way to the second boat. Then the hull of the second boat gently leads the eye to the seaman with a sledgehammer in his right hand. The tall vertical posts of the mast stand emotionlessly and stately. Their vertical rhythm is repeated in the short tie-posts in the foreground.

(Caption "Fixing the Bowsprit" 1909. Etching 8-7/8 x 5-7/8 inches. From the Collection of Don L. Leone.)

New York Public Library
It is evident from this print that Quinlan has learned his linear perspective well. This knowledge enabled Quinlan to draw buildings and bridges with remarkable accuracy. The library stands impressively high and bathed in light for all to admire. There are no clouds in the sky to take the limelight away from the building yet there are darker areas of the sky at the very edge of the top that complement the bottom area, tying the composition together to focus one's eye on the majestic building. There is a soft dark undulating line of people streaming into the library, culminating in the Greek/Roman architectural style with pediments and round arches. [131]

(Caption: New York Public Library 1912 Etching, 5-7/8 X 7-1/4 inches. Print Collection of Miriam and Ira D. Wallace Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations, The New York Public Library, New York.)

Broad Street, New York City
New York buildings stand proudly tall with the city's inhabitants engulfed in their shadows. Quinlan's sense of perspective is impeccable, with the vertical buildings arranged in a curve leading the way to the tall and dignified building in the middle, which acts as an axis for all linear movement. The horizontal outline of the roofs of the buildings ties together the vertical buildings, giving the composition a sense of stability.

(Caption: Broad Street, New York City 1913. Etching,
8-5/8 x 5-7/8 inches. From the Collection of Don L. Leone.) [132]

Sonnenstrahl, Deborah. "Deaf Artists in America: Colonial to Contemporary". San Diego, CA: Dawn Sign Press, 2002.

EXHIBITION REVIEW FROM "Evening Post", March 28, 1914
The Louis Katz Galleries, 103 W. 74th Street, has opened an exhibition of etchings by Edgar L. Pattison and Will J. Quinlan, the former an Englishman, whose work has not before been shown in New York, the latter a charter member of the New York Society of Etchers and a member of the Chicago and California Societies.

The catalogue of the exhibition is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) call number NE1952 L6P. The catalogue of the exhibition had this to say:

Will J. Quinlan
Born in Brooklyn, NY. When a mere lad he took a thorough course in linear perspective at the Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn, and this knowledge enable him to portray city scenes, especially architectural and bridge compositions with remarkable accuracy. When thirteen years of age he received the gold medal for drawing from the antique, in competition with adults, while studying at the Adelphi Academy in Brooklyn.

In 1905, while a student at the Academy of Design, he took up the art of etching in which he has since met with deserved success. In 1912 the Shaw Prize was awarded him at the Salmagundi Club exhibition for "Black and Whites," and in the winter of 1913 the same prize for etchings. Mr. Quinlan's plates are strictly limited in number; in fact, at the present time probably not more than fifteen impressions have been pulled off each plate.

He is a charter member of the New York Society of Etchers; also a member of the Chicago and California Society of Etchers.

Catalogue Listings
20 Broad Street, New York City $10.00
21 Broadway from Bowling Green $10.00
22 Brooklyn Bridge from James Slip $10.00
23 Clam Diggers $ 6.00
24 Constructing the Bankers Trust
Building, New York City $10.00
25 Eleventh Street Bridge, Tacoma $ 6.00
26 Fixing the Bowsprit $10.00
27 From Washington Heights $10.00
28 Madison Square Tower $ 6.00
29 Metropolitan Tower and Worth
Monument $ 6.00
30 Metropolitan Life and Madison
Square Tower $10.00
31 New York Canyon $10.00
32 New York Public Library $10.00
33 New York Towers (Site of the
old Equitable Building) $10.00
34 Old Spy Oak $ 6.00
35 Portrait of an Old Man $ 6.00
36 Repairing the Damage $10.00
37 Cathedral of St. John the Divine $ 6.00
38 Stone Bridge, Central Park $ 6.00
39 Sassafras Trees (small plate)$ 6.00
40 Sassafras Trees (large plate) $10.00
41 Tower of Manhattan Bridge $ 6.00
42 The Queensboro Bridge $10.00
43 The Smith Building, Seattle $10.00
44 Trees and Rocks $10.00
45 Under Brooklyn Bridge $10.00
46 Van Cortlandt Mansion $10.00
47 Weatherbeater Sentinels $12.00
48 Yonkers Refinery $10.00

Biography from Crocker Art Museum Store
Etcher, painter. Born in Brooklyn, NY on June 29, 1877.

A deaf mute, Quinlan was quite young when he took a course in linear perspective at Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn. This enabled him to portray city scenes, architectural and bridge compositions with great accuracy. At 13 he earned a gold medal for drawing while at the Adelphi Academy where he was a pupil of J. D. Whittaker.

In 1905 he took up etching and continued his art education at the NAD with Maynard and Edgar Ward. He traveled widely and was active in California, Chicago, and the Northwest while based in Yonkers, NY.

Member: California, New York, and Chicago Societies of Etchers; Yonkers AA. Exh: AIC, 1911-19; Salmagundi Club, 1912-14 (prizes); PAFA, 1915; PPIE, 1915; Corcoran Gallery, 1916; Society of Independent Artists, 1917-18; PM of LA, 1920; Yonkers AA, 1932 (prize); Yonkers Museum, 1939. In: Yonkers Museum; NY Public Library; Oakland Museum.

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
AAA 1907-33; WWAA 1936-41;

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.

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About  Will Quinlan

Born:  1877 - Brooklyn, New York
Died:   1963 - Seattle, Washington
Known for:  etcher-architecture, seasonal landscape

Essays referring to
Will Quinlan

San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915