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 Russell Cowles  (1887 - 1979)

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Lived/Active: New York/New Mexico/Iowa      Known for: genre, landscape, figure and mural painting

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Ad Code: 3
Russell Cowles
from Auction House Records.
Valley of he Rio Grande
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Russell Cowles was born in Algona, Iowa in 1887.  His father was a well-known newspaperman, who became publisher of the Des Moines Register and Tribune.  His mother studied art at the Art Institute of Chicago and encouraged his interest.  He graduated from Dartmouth in 1909 and studied in Paris as well as New York at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students' League with Douglas Volk and Barry Faulkner.  He assisted both artists in mural painting.

He received a fellowship to the American Academy at Rome, receiving a Prix De Rome scholarship, and spent five years in Italy, painting and studying much of that time.  However, serving in World War I intervened, and he served in the Intelligence Department of the U.S. Navy.  In 1920, he returned to America and exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum and also traveled widely including to Japan, China, Egypt, Greece, India, Java, Bali and the ruins of Angkor.  In China he spent a year studying with a Chinese master artist.

He was married in Egypt to Eleanor Stanton.  In the 1930's he began living part time in Sante Fe, New Mexico where he associated with an art group that included John Marin, Andrew Dasburg, Marsden Hartley, Bror Julius Nordfeldt, and D.H. Lawrence.  He also lived part of the year in New York City.

Cowles has had over forty one-person shows, and won many awards including a prize in the 1938 World's Fair in New York and a medal in 1925 from the Art Institute of Chicago.

He was featured in Life Magazine February 9, 1948, pg.74 (article and images of artwork; artist photography by Arnold Newman).  Also in "Cowles at his best in ten new exhibits," Art Digest April 1, 1944; Magazine of Art August/September 1941; Art Digest May 1, 1946 (image and article); Art Digest November 15, 1939 (article and image "Autumn Wind").

On April 16, 1969 the artist was interviewed by Paul Cummings for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

He died in New York City in 1979.

Sources include:
Information submitted as a bulletin, 12/2004, by Anne McNally (whose aunt, Eleanor Stanton, was married to the artist). The source of McNally's information was the website of the SLATER MEMORIAL MUSEUM in Norwich, Connecticut.  The Spring, 2004 museum newsletter carried a notice that the museum had accepted FROZEN FALLS, an oil painting by Russell Cowles.

Peter Hastings Falk (ed.), Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from Papillon Gallery:
Russell Cowles was born in 1887 in Algona, Iowa.  He took an interest in painting from a very young age and used to watch his mother paint.  In 1909, Cowles graduated from Dartmouth College and left for Paris, where he shared the experience of most artists, and remained there until he ran out of money.  He came back to the US to New York and was working at the Art Student’s League and the National Academy of Design.  He worked with Douglas Volk and Barry Faulkner, assisting both men in mural painting.  In 1915, he won in open competition the Prix de Rome.

In 1917, Cowles’ studies at the Academy were interrupted by the US’s entry into war, and Cowles had a special assignment in the Intelligence Department of the US Navy in Italy.  He finished his painting studies through a fellowship at the American Academy of Rome and proceeded to travel Europe.  Due to his disciplined, academic training in Italy, Cowles became aware of both the abstract and practical value of formal study.

In the 1920s, Cowles went back to Paris to work for a while.  He then decided to make a general study tour and work-journey to the Orient, which led to prolonged stays in Java and Bali, China, and Egypt.  He returned to America in 1928.  During his absence, in 1925, he had been awarded the Norman Waite Harris Medal and Prize at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Once back in the US, the 1930s proved to be a productive period for Cowles.  He lived in Santa Fe and became affiliated with the New Mexican group of painters.  He produced beautiful oil landscapes of the Southwest.

Cowles attitude toward painting is that of the artist who has full command of his technical facility along with conceptual control of his subject.  Much of the deeply hidden emotional content of Cowles’ paintings arises from his exquisite adjustment between these two factors.  In addition to landscapes, Cowles painted nudes, animals, flower compositions, and studies in abstraction.

Cowles died in 1979 in New York City.  His work can be found in numerous private and public collections including the Denver Art Museum, LACMA, PAFA and murals on the Register and Tribune building in Des Moines, Iowa.

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