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 Lockwood De Forest  (1850 - 1932)

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Lived/Active: New York/California / India      Known for: landscape and coastal view painting, interior design, woodcarving

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Lockwood De Forest
from Auction House Records.
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Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Lockwood de Forest, was a turn-of-the-century artist and interior designer.  Although best known for his designs of Indian and Middle Eastern furniture, Lockwood de Forest's true passion was painting.  Landscapes from Egypt, Syria, Korea, Japan, Alaska, Mexico, Arizona and throughout the United States and Canada can be found among de Forest's nearly 1300 oil sketches and paintings.

He was a member of a New York clan whose family tree blossoms with myriad lawyers and the occasional flamboyant.  A distant relative by marriage was the painter Frederic E. Church, and a great-niece was the Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick.  The largely self-taught artist and decorator is particularly remembered for his passion for India.

Lockwood de Forest was born in New York in 1850, the son of Henry G. and Julia Weeks de Forest.  The family descended from Jesse de Forest, a Huguenot exile who, in 1623, brought the first settlers from Holland to New Amsterdam. Encouraged by their parents, Lockwood and his three siblings were to develop lifelong interests in the arts.  The eldest son, Robert Weeks (1848-1931), became a lawyer and served as a trustee, and later president, of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from 1889 until his death.  Julia Brasher (1853-1910), a devotee of painting and sculpture, wrote a book on the history of art.  Henry Wheeler (1858-1938), also a lawyer, was an avid art collector and amateur landscape architect.

Although he had begun to paint and draw somewhat earlier, it was during a visit to Rome in 1869 that the nineteen-year-old Lockwood de Forest began to study art, taking painting lessons from the Italian landscapist Herman Corrodi.  More importantly, it was on this same trip that Lockwood adopted as his mentor the American painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), who was then on an extended stay abroad.  According to de Forest, his affiliation with Church, a distant relation on his mother's side, was the strongest influence on his artistic maturation.

During his late twenties, following a pattern established in his childhood, de Forest made two extended sojourns abroad, in 1875-76 and 1877-78.  These trips took him not only to the continental capitals but also the Middle East and North Africa.  It was through browsing in the extensive library at Church's home, Olana, that de Forest's interest in the great art traditions of the East was kindled.

From 1878 to about 1902, De Forest's landscape painting was overshadowed by his activities centered around his preoccupation with the Indian architecture and Orientalist styled decor that was fashionable in late nineteenth century America. From 1879-83, de Forest, along with Louis Comfort Tiffany (founder of the American Arts & Crafts movement) was a partner in the short-lived interior decorating firm of Associated Artists.  Other members of the eclectic but prestigious company were Candace Wheeler and Samuel Colman.

In 1879, de Forest married the former Meta Kemble, a grandaughter of Alfred V. du Pont, and visited India on his honeymoon, a nearly two-year trip that he turned to his economic advantage, keeping his eyes peeled for objects and inspirations that would benefit Associated Artists.  He visited Ahmadabad, a region that had become prosperous thanks to its skilled weavers, dyers and artisans, but had suffered greatly from the influx of cheaper goods with the arrival of the railroad in 1864.  There he met Muggunbhai Hutheesing, a philanthropist whose woodcarving studio would become crucial to de Forest's career, partly to fill orders for his decorating firm, and also to encourage continuance of the fast-disappearing Indian traditional handicrafts.

The 1880s were his glory days.  The specialty look of the Associated Artists decorating firm was self-conscious splendor, with exotic interiors that evoked the "Arabian Nights".  Brass lanterns hung from stenciled ceilings. Persian carpets were flung over harem-style balustrades.  Fireplaces glimmered with Moorish tiles.

De Forest's work was exhibited to acclaim at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London in 1886 and at the World's Colombian Exhibition in Chicago seven years later, attracting an impressive array of clients: the transportation magnate Charles Tyson Yerkes, Chicago hotelier Potter Palmer, even Mark Twain. The end of the 19th century saw a fad for the exotic and Oriental, and de Forest was ready to cater to this clientele.  There are de Forest mantel pieces and chairs in 'Olana', Fredric Edwin Church's home in the Hudson Valley, and an entire paneled room at the Cooper Hewitt Museum, which was once home to steel industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

De Forest's trendy ensembles for clients such as Baltimore & Ohio Railroad heiress Mary Garrett and her lover M. Carey Thomas, a president of Bryn Mawr College, incorporated exquisite teak furniture and architectural fittings that resemble petrified lace.

Unlike European Orientalists, many of whom looked upon Asia and the Middle East with colonialist superiority, de Forest wanted to help the cause of Indian woodworkers and preserve traditional Indian arts and crafts.  Part of him had a romantic response to the beauty, but he was pragmatic, too.  Ms. Roberta Mayer, an art historian who has written a dissertation on de Forest says, "He wanted to make his art into a legitimate profession, a way to create beauty and make money at the same time".  De Forest was actively involved with the Indian workshop until after the turn of the century.

In 1885, he had published a book on Indian architecture, and in 1892-93 and in 1913 he made return trips to India.  De Forest's passion for the Mogul art and architecture of the subcontinent led him to create widely admired Indian- style rooms; a dining room at Queen Victoria's 'Osborne House' on the Isle of Wight; a billiard room for her son the Duke of Connaught at his country house in Surrey; and 'Bagshot Park', now the home of Prince Edward; as well installing similar spaces from Ithaca to San Francisco.  Unfortunately the end of the nineteenth century brought with it the end of the Orientalist style in decor and de Forest's Indian experiment.

By 1908, de Forest had sold his remaining stock of moldings and furniture to his old friend Tiffany, and turned his attention to landscape painting.  He began to winter in Santa Barbara, California, sometime between 1889 and 1902, and eventually built a house there, settling permanently in 1922.  During this time, he also made painting trips to Arizona, doing desert scenes and images of the Grand Canyon.  De Forest did however, continue designing and decorating Indianate houses in the East, Midwest and West.  His last and largest, the Dean's residence at Bryn Mawr College, was completed in 1919.

A portrait photograph of the artist and 31 color reproductions of his works are displayed in a brochure accompanying the show Lockwood de Forest: Suites from the Artist's Estate, held November 20, 2000 January 26, 2001 through Sullivan Goss, Santa Barbara, California.  It states that "although best known for his designs of Indian and Middle Eastern furniture, Lockwood de Forest's true passion was painting.  In his early years, he formed a partnership with Louis Comfort Tiffany. This allowed de Forest to travel extensively.  Landscapes from Egypt, Syria, Korea, Japan, Alaska, Mexico, and throughout the United States and Canada can be found in de Forest's nearly 1300 oil sketches, all which measure approximately 9 _ x 14 inches (the size of de Forest's painting box)."

Some Western artists looked at India through a romanticized, Orientalist filter, while others met the exotic new culture head-on:  Among other Orientalist artists, William Simpson sensitively records the richly carved temples of Ajanta, Edward Lear (mostly known, funnily enough, for having popularized the limerick) depicts palm trees in simple stirring brush strokes, and Lockwood de Forest takes viewers exotic locales such as the ghats at Mathura.

An extensive traveler, de Forest traveled to Alaska during the summer of 1912, where he painted coastal and glacier landscapes in which he attempted to capture the region's cold and mists.  Some of these works were exhibited in 1988 at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, and recorded in the catalogue Lockwood de Forest: Alaska Oil Sketches co-authored by Professor Kesler E. Woodward of the University of Alaska.  Currently, De Forest's art and interiors are enjoying a newfound interest.

Merchant and Ivory Foundation, is an arts organization founded by the Oscar- winning filmmakers Ismail Merchant and James Ivory.  Its headquarters are in red-painted gristmill buildings that have been turned into exhibition and performance spaces near their Greek Revival house.  The Mill is located high in the Hudson Valley, a nationally landmarked property.  Set on a bucolic 60 plus acres in Claverack, N.Y.

The Mill has a program of yearly exhibitions, and they have recently featured the furniture of Lockwood de Forest in what is likely his first one-man design show since the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition.  Curated by David Petrovsky, a Lockwood de Forest expert and collector, the exhibition of 18 works includes arm and side chairs, room screens and doors, plus a rare dresser and fire mantel, exemplifying the top-dollar exoticism that was de Forest's hallmark in the 1880s.  Carved mostly out of teak, the pieces feature geometric patterns and scroll motifs that were frequently taken from Islamic Mosques or other architectural sources.

A desk embodying his design philosophy is part of an exhibition on Orientalism at Williams College in Massachusetts. With the resurgence of interest in De Forest's designs, the Indian-style interiors he championed are being echoed by hip designers like Muriel Brandolini and Lulu Kwiatkowski.

A particular De Forest landmark is located in New York City.  After wintering in Santa Barbara for several years, the artist established a townhouse for himself and his family in New York.  His townhouse in the Greenwich Village Washington Square area is now the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, located at 7 East Tenth Street, in the heart of NYU's Greenwich Village campus.  The well-preserved facade with elaborate wood detailing was designed by De Forest.

Inspired by his wedding trip to India, De Forest decorated the facade with low-relief teak carvings produced in a Ahmedabad factory, particularly around the building's main entry and the projecting oriel on the second floor.  Widely admired for its decoration and furnishings, in 1900 a writer for House Beautiful called it the most beautiful Indian House in America. Purchased by New York University in the early 1990s, the building has been painstakingly renovated to preserve its historic interior and exterior and remains one of the most interesting townhouses in New York.

The building itself is five stories, but its interior survives only in old photographs. The facade remains very much preserved, with low relief teak carvings around the building entrance and a protruding second story bay window. Dedicated in 1996, the building is used for Jewish students and other student programs within NYU.

Lockwood de Forest was not the only American aesthete of his time who fell under the spell of India, a country that became a pop-culture influence after Queen Victoria became its empress in 1876.  He was, however, perhaps the most passionately pro-India Yankee of his time, the American equivalent of John Lockwood Kipling, who was the father of poet Rudyard Kipling, and during the days of the British Raj was curator of a museum in the Indian city of Lahore, now in Pakistan.

De Forest was a close friend of the Kipling family, and while onboard a sailing ship together a book by Rudyard Kipling was given to De Forest's little daughter, -a choice bit of Kiplingania.

Lockwood de Forest died in Santa Barbara in 1932, at the age of 82.

Sources:
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art
Sullivan Goss Gallery, Santa Barbara, California
Kesler Woodward, Paintings in the North

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in NYC on Jan. 23, 1850, Lockwood DeForest studied with Herman Corrodi in Rome (1869) and in the U.S. with Frederick Church and James M. Hart.  He traveled extensively in Egypt, Syria, Greece (1875-78) and India (1881-82) collecting handicrafts for U.S. museums. 

His Indian Domestic Architecture book was publishied in 1885 and Illustrations of Design in 1912.  In 1915 he settled  in Santa Barbara where he remained until his death on April 3, 1932. 

His work includes landscapes of the desert near Palm Springs and the coast of Santa Barbara. 

Member: National Academy of Design

Exhibitions:
NAD, 1877; Colonial Expo (London), 1886 (medal); World's Columbian Expo (Chicago), 1893 (award); Louisiana Purchase Expo (St Louis), 1904 (award); Del Monte Art Gallery (Monterey), 1909, 1910; Stendahl Gallery (LA), 1922. 

In: MM; Herron Art Institute (Indianapolis); Cleveland Museum.
Source:
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Fld; AAW; WWA 1918; Sam; SCA; WWC 1929; AAA 1919-32 (obit).
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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Lockwood De Forest is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
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