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 Kenyon C. Cox  (1856 - 1919)

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Lived/Active: New York/Vermont/Ohio      Known for: easel and mural painting, illustration, teaching

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Ad Code: 3
Kenyon C Cox
from Auction House Records.
After the Harvest
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Warren, Ohio in 1856, Kenyon Cox was considered one of the finest draftsmen of his day.  He did easel paintings, portraits, and illustrations for books and magazines, but it was for mural paintings that he became best known.  The murals, classically inspired, simple in composition and muted in color, were commissioned for public and collegiate buildings in many parts of the country.  His mural installations, many of them done in his studio in Cornish, New Hampshire, include venues at the Library of Congress, the Appellate Court House in New York City, and the Essex County Court House in Newark, New Jersey for which he used actress Ethel Barrymore as a model.

Cox, a proponent of Classical Realism*, is also remembered for his scathing written attacks on the New York Armory Show* of 1913, with its introduction of modernist* art to America.  He found the work "heartrending and sickening" and Cubism* "nothing else than the total destruction of the art of painting." (Colby)

Cox studied at the McMicken School of Drawing and Design* in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he became enamored with the vitality of the work of Mariano Fortuny, and wanted to go to Paris to study with Fortuny followers.   His parents demurred, and sent him to Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts* in Philadelphia.  Cox considered the Academy instruction stodgy, and in 1877 he went to Paris.

The Fortuny circle had waned by that time, and he decided to study with Carolus-Duran, whose vigorous style had attracted John Singer Sargent, among others.  He took courses with Alexandre Cabanel, and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts*, he chose to study with Jean-Leon Gerome, whose work, ironically, he had dismissed as "artless" only two years before.

The World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago* in 1893 finally provided Cox with an opportunity to paint murals on a grand scale.  It also gave impetus to a much broader interest in murals for public spaces.  From then until 1913, Cox created a series of monumental allegorical murals.  He was also a long-time teacher at the Art Students League* and the National Academy of Design* and was an art critic, writing for the Nation and Scribner's.  He did much of his writing in Cornish*, New Hampshire where he and his wife, Louise Howland Cox, were a part of the Art Colony.

Cox died in 1919 of tuberculosis.

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Virginia Reed Colby and James B. Atkinson, Footprints of the Past

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from Blake Benton Fine Art, Artists C - F:
Kenyon Cox, painter, sculptor, illustrator, muralist, writer, lecturer, teacher born in Warren, Ohio, Oct., 27th, 1856.  Cox grew up in an intellectually stimulating environment, which sustained him through a childhood illness that disrupted his early education.  He first studied art at the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati.  He left his home state in 1876, Cox then spent a year at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts before leaving for Paris, where he stayed for five years, between 1877 and 1882.  He was married to Louise Cox a very talented illustrator and painter known for her portraits and children, she was an Associate of the National Academy.

Cox's first training was rather diversified, he spent a year in the studio of the portrait painter Carolus-Duran; he further trained in drawing at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Cabanal; three years in the studio of Gerome.  Throughout his life he sited Gerome as the major influence on his development, (ironically, he had dismissed Gerome's work as "artless" only two years before) he continued study with other masters at the Academie Julian with Bouguereau, Lefebvre, Boulanger, and others.  During his stay in France, Cox exhibited at the Paris Salon. Upon returning to the United States, in 1882, he became a member of the Society of American Artists, this organization became his main forum for exhibiting art from the mid 1880' to the late 1890's.  He also exhibited work at the National Academy of Design during this period.

He was a writer who covered a variety of artists including Veronese and others.  He wrote one of the first monographs on the well-known American artist, Winslow Homer.  He and Homer both displayed "A similar catholicity" in their works, whose subject matter ranged from ideal themes to landscape and portraits.  "Disenchanted with the literal transcription of the subject that characterized nineteenth-century naturalism, Cox sought certain underlying principles that linked all art, regardless of subject or century." He also authored Mixed Beasts, Old Masters and New, Painters and Sculptors, and Concerning Painters.  The subjects that Cox painted were as varied as his artistic training.

One standout in his Cox's career was Portrait of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Cox's homage to his friend Augustus Saint-Gaudens.  This painting was among his most highly admired works, praised not only for its likeness as a portrait but also for its artful conception.  The original, owned by Saint-Gaudens, was destroyed in the fire in his studio in 1904; it was replaced by a replica that Cox painted in 1908.  The pictures motif, the artist in his studio, was one of general interest to American Painters during the 1880's, but most painters explored the subject's decorative aspect.  Cox's rendition was more innovative, both in conception and execution.  The work depicted Augustus Saint-Gaudens close up, working on a clay relief of the famous American impressionist William Merritt Chase.

During his career as an artist Cox became known as one of the preeminent mural painters in the country, and these works are considered his greatest contribution as an artist.  He was one of the most prolific artists working in the field of mural painting.  The Worlds Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 was where Cox made a name for himself as a Mural painter.  The Exposition afforded Cox the opportunity to paint murals on a grand scale.  His work there brought him much praise; it also gave impetus to broaden his interest in murals for public spaces. He went on to do mural work in many of the nations important landmarks including the Library of Congress; the Minnesota State Capital; Iowa State Capital; the Appellate Court House in New York City; Bowdoin College; Essex County Court House; Luzerne County Court House; Rhode Island School of design; Cleveland Museum; Manhattan Hotel; Oberlin College; Wisconsin State Capital; National Gallery, Washington, DC; Hudson County Court house and many others.  He won the Medal of Honor for mural painting at the New York Architectural League in 1909, a coveted prize for a muralist of the time.

He was also known for genre, portraits, rivers, bathers, nudes, objects and illustrations for books and magazines.  Cox was elected an associate member of National Academy of Design, 1900; Academician, 1903; Society of American Artists of New York; New York Architectural League; National Institute of Arts and Letters; American Academy of Arts and Letters; Fellowship of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art; Art Students' League; Lotus Club, and others.  Additionally his easel work can be found in numerous important public and private collections. 

He died in New York City March 17th, 1919.

Blake Benton Fine Art

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

Kenyon Cox is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Cornish Colony

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