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Patrick Henry Bruce

 (1881 - 1937)
Patrick Henry Bruce was active/lived in New York / France.  Patrick Bruce is known for abstract painting, still life, portrait.

Patrick Henry Bruce

Biography from the Archives of askART

The following was written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Patrick Henry Bruce was the great-great-great grandson of the patriot Patrick Henry and was one of the most mysterious figures in American 20th century art and one of the first American abstract painters. 

He was born in Long Island, Virginia in 1881, the son of Virginia gentlefolk.  He came to New York in 1901 to study with William Merritt Chase  and Robert Henri. Like so many of his peers he went to Paris, but unlike most of them, he remained in France.  His early work, many of them portraits, reflected the influence of his American teachers, especially Henri.  But by 1907, he was beginning to show the effects of modernism including the bright colors of Renoir.  He met Matisse in 1908 and began studying with him, thereby completing the transformation to abstraction.   

Bruce and his wife, Helen, socialized with many of the leading intellectuals such as Gertrude and Leo Stein, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp and Matisse.  But Bruce was an ambitious, austere and obsessive figure who lived and worked with almost no public recognition and destroyed much of his work before he destroyed himself.  His paintings moved inexorably toward a very personal vision of ideal order, form and structure.  He experimented with all forms; his still lifes of 1910 until 1912 were influenced by Cezanne, his "Compositions" of 1916 captured the fevered, jazzy tensions of Paris.  The still lifes Bruce painted over and over again for the rest of his life.  They did not sell and he was becoming more morose and withdrawn.   

His wife Helen left him and took their twelve-year-old son with her in 1919.  Bruce remained in Paris, eking out a living dealing in antiques.  He returned to New York and committed suicide at the age of fifty-five in a New York hotel room.

Sources include:   
Newsweek Magazine, September 3, 1979    From the internet,

Biography from the Archives of askART
An expatriate painter associated with the styles of Synchronism, Fauvism, and Cubism, Patrick Henry Bruce lived an aloof, increasingly reclusive life as he aged and communicated nothing about his art and even destroyed much of it.

He was born in Long Island, Virginia and took several years of classes at the Richmond, Virginia Art Club with Edward Valentine and at the Virginia Mechanics Institute.  He went to New York City in 1901 to study with William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri.  Like so many of his peers, he went to Paris, but unlike most of them, he remained in France, staying there from 1904 to 1936, the year before he died.

He and his wife were social with many of the leading intellectuals such as Gertrude, Sara and Leo Stein; Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and his teacher, Henri Matisse.  Bruce was praised by Guillaume Apollinaire and Robert Henri.

His early work, many of them portraits, reflected the influence of his American teachers, especially Henri, and James McNeill Whistler.  But by 1907, he was beginning to show the effects of modernism including the bright colors of Renoir.  The meeting of Matisse in 1908 followed by study with him completed the transformation to abstraction.

From 1920, he did many paintings called Compositions, of which many can be found in the collection of Yale University.  These show a hard-edged style of flat, unmodelled forms.  His later paintings were geometrical forms introduced on tabletops, creating a sense of spatial ambiguity by the eye's manipulation of the colors and shapes.

Michael David Zellman, Three Hundred Years of American Art

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries
Born March 25, 1881 in Cambell County, Virginia to a prestigious family who traced its descendants to Patrick Henry, Bruce had all the advantages before reduced circumstances would force his family to move to Richmond, Virginia in 1885. By 1889, when he was eighteen years old, Bruce was orphaned and responsible for a younger sister, Mary. After graduating in 1897, Bruce worked for a real estate firm during the day and attended the Art Club of Richmond at night. He studied with Edward Valentine, a neoclassic sculptor, who encouraged Bruce in his artistic endeavors.

During 1900-01 Bruce attended the Virginia Mechanics Institute in Richmond where Valentine taught freehand drawing and drafting which would prove a fundamental pictorial ingredient of Bruce's geometric still lifes. In 1902 he attended the New York School of Art to study with William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri who greatly influenced Bruce by urging him to loosen his style in the manner of Monet and Whistler.

In 1903 Bruce journeyed to Paris where he reacquainted himself with Helen Kibbey who was part of a group Chase took to Holland to study the Dutch masters and whom he married in 1905. Bruce began to frequent Gertrude and Leo Stein's salon in 1904 where he saw the embodiment of European modernism.

The Bruce's returned to Paris in September and rented a place on the Boulevard Arago which became a popular rendez-vous for Americans. In 1907 Bruce met Henri Matisse and was so overwhelmed he rented an apartment above Matisse's apartment and atelier on the Boulevard Invalides. Bruce began to apply broad areas of Fauve color like Matisse. Bruce's vibrant colors are his hallmark. He used color contrasts rather than light and shade to model form with a high degree of sculptural relief through warm and cool colors.

Between 1910 to 1912 the Bruce's spent summers in Bousssac. The summer of 1912 the Bruce's spent in Belle Ile-en-Mer off the coast of Brittany in the company of Arthur B. Frost. In late 1912 Frost introduced Robert and Sonia Delaunay to Bruce. This meeting was to precipitate a change in his painting style. He exhibited two of his first abstractions compositions to the Erster Deurtscher Herbstsalon in Germany, where Bruce and Marsden Hartley were the only Americans in the show. He submitted these same paintings to the Salon des Independents in the spring and the Salon d'Automne in the fall of 1913.

Bruce exhibited four painting at the 1913 Armory Show, and in 1914 he exhibited four large Orphic paintings at the Salon des Independents. Bruce was the only American artist to remain in Paris during and after the war, so integrated had he become in the Parisian milieu. At this time Bruce became independent from the Delaunay's, and in 1914 he changed his style radically and began painting from photographs.

In 1915 Bruce sent some of his landscapes and still lifes to his best-friend Arthur B. Frost in New York where they were exhibited at the Montross Gallery in New York in 1916. Bruce also sent his six Compositions to Frost which were purchased by Katherine Dreier and hung as panels in her Central Park West home. Frost arranged to have these Compositions exhibited at the Modern Gallery in New York and also shown in the 1917 exhibit of the Society of Independent Artists.

Bruce's separated in 1919 and his wife left with their son to New York. Bruce drew into himself and became reclusive. In 1936, just months after his arrival in New York, Bruce took his own life.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

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About  Patrick Henry Bruce

Born:  1881 - Long Island, Virginia
Died:   1937 - New York City
Known for:  abstract painting, still life, portrait

Essays referring to
Patrick Henry Bruce

New York Armory Show of 1913