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 Edward Penfield  (1866 - 1925)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: genre, landscape, illustrator, mural

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Ad Code: 3
Edward Penfield
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
An illustrator born in 1866 in Brooklyn, New York, Edward Penfield is known, along with William Bradley and Louis Rhead as being in the forefront of the American Art Nouveau movement. His parents were Ellen Lock Moore and Josiah B. Penfield. Ellen was a native of England, and both Edward's father and grandfather, Henry Lewis Penfield, came from Rye, New York.

Edward Penfield was the third of five children, and as a boy his health was not strong. He received his elementary education in Brooklyn, was cared for by his mother, and sometimes studied at home. As he grew up, he decided to carry on in the footsteps of his uncle Henry Lewis Penfield, his father's brother, to become an artist. Uncle Henry had a 'bureau of engraving' studio in New York City and was an artist-engraver who supplied 'cuts' for neighboring publishers.

When he was in his early twenties, Penfield enrolled at the Art Students' League in New York City. Among other classes, he studied painting under the impressionist George de Forest Brush around 1890. He met many fellow aspiring artists at the school, with some of whom he would later work.

Around this time, an associate art editor at Harper's saw Edward's work exhibited and suggested to the head of the art department that they hire this young artist as a staff illustrator. Penfield's first published work appears in "Harper's Weekly", 1891. He started out under the guidance of Frederick B. Schell, Horace Bradley and Arthur B. Turnure, cleaning up and inking field artists' sketches, and executing small spot illustrations from photos.

In 1892, Penfield went to Europe. When in Paris, he looked up George de Forest Brush, his mentor and teacher from the Art Students' League, who by then lived in Paris with his family. Penfield's travels were cut short, however, when he was summoned by Harpers to return to New York immediately to head up their art department in place of Frederick Schell.

In 1897 Edward Penfield married Jennie Judd Walker, the daughter of Major Charles Ashbel Walker, a Civil War veteran and treasurer for the Delaware and Hudson Company railroad. The newlyweds, accompanied by Major Walker, honeymooned in England and Europe. Penfield's July 1897 Harper's poster is signed "London." Edward and Jennie lived with the Walkers in the Bronx, and later in a large house the Walkers built at 185 Jackson Avenue in Pelham Manor, New York. Penfield made a small studio in an upper floor of the house. In 1898 the couple had a son, Walker Penfield, born in New York. A second son, Oliver, was born in 1905, but died at the age of five, in 1910.

A rising literacy rate in the nineteenth century contributed to a growing number of literary periodicals and trade journals, and Edward Penfield's spare, expressive designs for Harper's magazine were meant to appeal to, and often featured, stylish men and women of the middle or upper classes. Penfield's posters have also been described as narratives or vignettes that reveal a uniquely American character. Of his work, Edward Penfield is said to have remarked, "A poster has to play to the public over the variety stage . . . to come on with a personality of its own and to remain but a few moments. We are a little tired of the very serious nowadays, and a little frivolity is refreshing."

Penfield worked for Harper's publications for ten years, as art director, manager, editor, and as artist, until he retired in 1901 to devote full time to illustrating. He did illustration work for Outing, Scribner's, Collier's and Saturday Evening Post. Penfield's Harper's posters have been characterized as definitive graphic works of the 1890s, taking advantage of improvements in color printing to create works that were effective vehicles of communication and also aesthetically engaging. Less concerned with the dramatic curving lines of Art Nouveau than his contemporary Will Bradley, Penfield used a variety of stylistic sources in his work, including Japanese prints and the influence of French artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Jules Chéret.

In 1901 he painted the murals for the breakfast room of Randolph Hall at Harvard University. In 1904 his work was exhibited at the St. Louis World's Fair. He shared a studio in New York City with Henry Reuterdahl in 1916, while also teaching at the Art Students' League. By 1921 he had become the president of the Society of Illustrators in the city.

In 1924 he suffered a fall, and died the next year from complications of his injuries.

Martin S. Lindsay, author of "Edward Penfield: A Biography"
the website of postersamerican style.

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Edward Penfield is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Art Nouveau

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