This following biography was researched, compiled, and written by Geoffrey K. Fleming, Director, Southold Historical Society, Southold, NY.
MAXIMILIEN (COHEN) COLIN (October 24, 1862 - June 22, 1894)
Painter and illustrator. Maximilien Colin was born “Maximilien Cohen” in Bromberg, Prussia, the son of Henrietta (b. 1830) and Morris Cohen (1838-1893). He emigrated with his parents to New York City in 1869 aboard a steam ship from Bremen, Germany.
His father was a school teacher. Maximilien lived with his parents and siblings (Lester, Louis, & Dora) on West 39th Street in New York City in 1880. By the age of 17 (1879) he was already a well know artist, particularly for his work as an illustrator.
He changed his name to Colin sometime after 1880 and prior to his departure for Europe in 1889. This may have been so that he could move from illustration work into the world of Fine Art. It may also have been done to facilitate the removal of any hint of his Jewish ancestry during a period when the New York art world did not easily tolerate artists who were not Christians. In all likelihood the later reason is more probable. In 1888 a painting by Colin entitled Aetelier de Dames was submitted to and exhibited at the Salon in Paris, France.
In March of 1889 Colin’s works were included in a studio exhibition which occurred alongside many of his fellow artists in Brooklyn, New York. That year he also exhibited works at the Boston Art Club (where he would exhibit again after his return to America in 1893) and at the Art Institute of Chicago. Maximilien became a naturalized citizen of the United States in December of 1889. At that time he resided at 139 West 55th Street in New York City. In early 1890 he traveled to France to hone his artistic skills. During his time there he worked under the American painter Henry Mosler (1841-1920), Fernand Cormon (1845-1924), and the noted French painter and etcher, Benjamin Constant (1845-1902).
In April of 1891 he exhibited in the Bouguereau Salon in Paris, also known as the Champ Elysees exhibition (The exhibition was a direct competitor to Meissonier’s salon at the Champ de Mars). His canvases, called “first class” in quality, included a painting entitled Ennui, featuring a young woman seated in an interior, as well as a portrait entitled Miss B., depicting a well known member of the American colony in Paris.
Later that year, in May of 1891, he exhibited a work at the prestigious Paris Salon entitled Souvenirs. The painting showed a young woman in an elaborate interior, “sitting lanquidly in a chair . . . . . . [she] has evidently exhausted all attempts at killing time with music and reading, and has taken to her own thoughts as the least wearisome.” This painting was eventually brought back to America upon his return. He was married to a woman named Mina (b. 1864) and while in France they had one child, a daughter, named Etta Madeleine Colin (b. April 5, 1892) who was born in Wissembourg, France. Prior to his return he exhibited at the Salon one last time, in 1892.
Maximilien Colin returned to New York City late in 1892, and in February of 1893 he held an exhibition and sale of his works at the Holbein Company, located at 576 Fifth Avenue. In March of that year he exhibited at the National Academy of Design, where he showed works entitled Home for Dinner and Music Hall Charms. He also exhibited the later work at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1893.
As an illustrator he was regular contributor to the periodical Once a Week, which included an illustration by Colin entitled Negro Camp Meeting in Dutchess Co., N.Y. In 1894 his portrait photograph was included in The Year’s Art as Recorded in the Quarterly Illustrator for 1894. That year he also illustrated the book Two Gentlemen of Hawaii, and the Stolen Veil.
During his lifetime he was a great believer in the work being produced by American artists, but worried that their works were far too often created with financial re-numeration in mind instead of following their own creative nature. This he blamed on the American art establishment which made it difficult for artists to live, work, and make a living, unlike in Europe. He wrote in 1894 that “The general rush after money makes picture-buying a speculation, and the picture is treated as so much merchandise, regarded solely from the stand-point of its market value, no attention being paid to its intrinsic qualities.” The remedy for this, he stated, lies with “our art writers, dealers, and buyers.”
In June of 1894, in need of a rest, Colin and his wife traveled to Stamford, Connecticut to stay at the popular boarding house named "Elmsmere," located at Sound-View, a popular area south of Stamford which had extensive views of Long Island Sound. On Saturday, June 22, 1894, Maximilien Colin ate lunch and then went down to the beach with his wife for a swim. Quickly overcome, possibly due to swimming too soon after eating, he disappeared under the water. Following a frantic alarm and search, Frank Lowndes of Rowayton, who had been nearby, was able to raise Colin's body into his boat and bring it to shore. Dr. William Hoyt, who had been summoned to the scene, attempted to resuscitate Colin but without success.
Maximilien (Cohen) Colin died at Stamford, Connecticut, on Saturday, June 22, 1894, at the age of 31 years. At the time of his death he was residing at 54th Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City. His body was returned to the city for burial.
His paintings are uncommon, but of exceptionally high quality. At this time (2009) none of his works are known to be in any public collections, though a number reside in private hands. During her lifetime his daughter, Etta, became a respected piano teacher both at the Institute of Musical Art at the Juilliard School of Music as well as privately in New York City.