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 Theodore Gegoux  (1850 - 1931)

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Lived/Active: Oregon/California/Quebec / Canada      Known for: portrait, land-seascape, still life

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Theodore Gegoux
An example of work by Theodore Gegoux
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from Theodore Gegoux III, Rancho Cucamonga, California

GEGOUX, Theodore
(christened: Theophile) Born: November 19, 1850 St Louis de Gonzague, Quebec
Died: July 1, 1931 Downey, California
Education: Paris France - 1877 to 1879

Collections: Oregon Historical Society, Portland Oregon
Jefferson County Historical Society, Watertown, New York
Mascari Collection, Indiana
Evans Family Collection, United States
Champoeg Visitors Center, Champoeg, Oregon
Fisher Collection, Connecticut
Watertown Public Library, Watertown, New York
Keewaydin State Park, Alexandria Bay, New York
Jette Family, Oregon
McClellan Collection
Zubrinsky Collection
Booth Collection, Oregon
Gegoux Family Collection, United States

First Annual Exhibition - Carnegie Art Galleries, "A Young Paganini", November 6, 1896 to January 1, 1897, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Oregon Historical Society - Exhibition, "The Early Mayors of Portland" 29 in all, 1917, Portland, Oregon

Painting Paradise: Early Oregon Artists (1880-1920) - Pittock Mansion, "Three Roses" and "Distant Vessel", July 1 to November 15, 1999, Portland, Oregon

Friends of Historic Champoeg - Annual Meeting, "19 works by Gegoux", January 29, 2000, Champoeg State Park Visitors Center, Oregon

Jefferson County Historical Society - October 2001 to January 2002, various works by Gegoux and other Northern New York artists.

Media: Oil on canvas, upson board, and wood - Crayon and Pastel on paper
Speciality: Portraits, Seascapes, Landscapes, Florals, and Still Lifes

French Canadian by birth, Theodore Gegoux immigrated to upstate New York at the age of 14. He commenced painting at the age of 23, never having had the benefit of a teacher, and was able to support himself through his artistry for the remainder of his life. Gegoux naturalized his US citizenship in 1876 prior to traveling to Paris, France, where he studied art for several years.

While in Europe, Gegoux copied three works by the masters Claude-Joseph Vernet, Jules Breton, and Pierre-Paul Prud'hon. This was a common method of study at the time. (1) Gegoux's copy of "The Blessing of Wheat at Artois" 1850, Jules Breton, is the only known example of his Paris studies which still exists today.

Gegoux returned to Watertown, NY in 1879 to establish himself, (Hamilton Child wrote in 1890), as "... one of the best oil, pastel, and crayon portrait artists in the city." Gegoux was noted for his work "Justin W. Weeks" circa 1890, which was described by John Haddock in 1894, as "... he has made a picture which seems ready to walk out of the frame, to become the living man himself."

Gegoux's advertisements could be seen in Kimball's Business Directory of Jefferson County during the last years of the 19th century. Many are the notable citizens of Northern New York whose portraits Gegoux was commissioned to paint. Some examples are; Bishop Joseph H. Conroy: Roswell P. Flower; Milo O. Cleveland; Albert Bushnell; Joseph C. Kimball; Hartwell Fletcher Bent; Harrison Fuller; Ella Snell Fuller; Colonel Alexander M. Piper; Eunice Strong Griswold; and Helen Maude Baumert; to name but a few.

Gegoux worked in at his studio in Watertown during the year and at his Point Vivian cottage during the summers. In all Gegoux's work in Northern New York spans nearly 35 years.

In addition to Gegoux's portrait business, he painted other types of subject matter during his years in New York. For example, Gegoux painted "The Salute" circa 1894, which was a nocturnal rendering of a moonlit encounter between a small sailboat and the riverboat "St. Lawrence" near Alexandria Bay, NY. (2) His depiction of the moon in this work reflects the influence of Vernet. Gegoux was also recognized for his work "A Young Paganini" 1896, which was selected for the First Annual Exhibition of the Carnegie Art Galleries in November of 1896. (3) This painting featured a "lamp light effect" which Gegoux mastered while studying Prud'hon in Europe. "High Falls Gorge" circa 1898, was another of Gegoux's major works of this period, which depicts the popular tourist site in New York where the Ausable River plummets 700 feet in a spectacular falls. (4) Gegoux also painted a moonlight picture of the Keewaydin Mansion, which is exhibited at the State Parks Office building at Keewaydin State Park in New York. Also during his New York years Gegoux is said to have sculpted a bust of Governor Flower and to have carved the head of Paganini for his son's violin.

Gegoux continued his work in New York until sometime in December of 1909. A local newspaper at the time reported that he left Watertown to do a posthumous portrait of his nephew Captain Henry Gegoux, who died at Cleveland, Ohio in 1908. He was reported in the newspaper to have been in route to an aviation meet. (5) The only aviation meet held in 1910 and the first on the West Coast was at Los Angeles, which was held at the Dominquez Ranch in January 1910. It is not known if Gegoux made it to this aviation meet. The photographs at the California State University Dominquez Hills archives have not revealed an identifiable likeness of Gegoux as of this writing. None the less, Gegoux arrived at Portland in 1910, most likely having taken the train. (6)

The Portland City Directory, dated February 1, 1910, shows that Gegoux was a renter at a location which is near today's address of 518 NW 6th Street, Portland. However, a short time later the Federal Census, dated April 23, 1910, listed Gegoux as a resident of the "Haunted Castle". This building has since been determined to be the Gleall Castle, which is located at the present day address of 2591 SW Buckingham Terrace, Portland. (7) The Gleall Castle is believed to have been unoccupied when Gegoux moved in and opened his studio. Based on Gegoux family photos, it remained unoccupied after his departure in 1912, and was still boarded up and unoccupied when his family joined him for a visit of the Haunted Castle in August 1921.

In Gegoux's studio in the Gleall Castle he painted several studies of roses. It was not lost on Gegoux that Portland was the "Rose City". Years after his death, sheet music to the "Portland Oregon Rose Song" was found along with his tools in a storage container at Bekins Moving and Storage of Portland.

Gegoux used many different media during this period including oil on canvas, oil on wood and occasionally oil on "upson" board. "The Portland Rose" 1911 (77 x 43 in), being his most significant work of this period. Oil on canvas, it features the view of Portland from the castle looking east towards Mt. Hood, with a woman standing in the foreground arranging roses. (8) Gegoux also completed many still lifes and seascapes at the castle. Known works from this period include, "Three Roses" 1912, "Distant Vessel" 1912; a study of "Jelly Jars" (no less than 5 known examples) (9); and studies of fruit, primarily apples, as with "The Bag of Apples" 1912. Gegoux paintings dated 1910 through 1912, were in all probability completed at the Gleall Castle studio or on location in the "plein air" style.

By February 1913, Gegoux's letters to George Himes of the Oregon Historical Society reveal that he had nearly finished painting his "Early Mayors of Portland" series. Gegoux's letters indicate that George Himes of the Oregon Historical Society was mailing him photographs of the former mayors. Gegoux was anxious to finish the Mayor's series in the fall of 1913 saying, "I might be an angel before the finish". (10)

During this time, Gegoux was working somewhere near the "Port of Los Angeles" at Santa Monica, California. (11) In photographs, there appears a small shack near the water, where Gegoux is believed to have operated a portrait studio. His sign on the beach shack read, "Let Me Paint Your Portrait". This was painted in large letters so as to be visible from the road. During this period no reference is made to him in the Santa Monica City Directory, however Gegoux was known to be painting in this area during the years 1913 to 1915. Gegoux continued to paint in California completing two versions of "Topanga Canyon", one in 1914 and the other in 1915. (12)

In January of 1916, Gegoux moved back to Oregon bringing with him all 29 paintings of his mayors series. He consigned these paintings to Mr. Himes and the paintings remain at the Oregon Historical Society to this day, having been looked after by Jack Cleaver for many years. It is not known at this time whether Gegoux traveled by train to Portland or took one of the last ships from the "Long Wharf" which was closed down permanently shortly after Gegoux left California.

In February of 1916, Gegoux established a studio in Aurora, Oregon, which Guy V. Abernethy described in a Portland news article as the Old Jette Saloon. (13) There he began drafting sketches for his historical canvas "The Inception of the Birth of Oregon" (80 inches x 130 inches). This painting was to be his masterpiece, depicting the gathering at Champoeg on May 2, 1843 where the settlers voted to form Oregon's first provisional government. (14) Disaster nearly struck in early 1918, when there was a fire at his studio in Aurora. Apparently the house in which he had his studio was gutted by fire and Gegoux lost nearly everything. Fortunately however, his masterpiece was saved.

Then in July 1918, Gegoux moved his nearly finished work to Champoeg and took up residence in the Memorial House. (15) Gegoux was allowed to exhibit his paintings and live at Champoeg in exchange for duties as caretaker of the new State Park. The "Inception of the Birth of Oregon" was considered finished in 1919. By December of that year, Gegoux was already discussing the sale of the painting with Mr. Himes. Gegoux filed a copyright on the painting in January of 1920 and it was featured at the Founders Day celebration that year. However in September 1920, a group of clergy protested the presence of Father F. N. Blanchet in the painting. It was determined that Father Blanchet had not been in attendance at the historic meeting in 1843. (16) Accordingly, Gegoux painted Solomon H. Smith over the likeness of Father Blanchet. The painting was finally signed and dated in 1923 and in 1924 Gegoux and his son Frank, finished the frame for the painting. (17)

While in Champoeg, Gegoux became friends with Guy Abernethy and his sister Matty (Abernethy) Eldriedge. This friendship inspired a fine painting, when Gegoux rendered "The Abernethy Farm" 1920, which was painted in oil on upson board. (18) Gegoux also did several paintings for Matty in exchange for her kindness. Among them "The Peach" 1922 (19)and "The Forest Fire Scene" 1925. (20)

In early 1925, Gegoux moved to Highland Park, California. In 1925, he signed the "Birth of Oregon" over to his son Frank, who stayed at Portland in an effort to sell the painting to the State of Oregon. Exhibitions were arranged in the Governor's office and U.S. National Bank, but the painting was not purchased and it was eventually warehoused by Frank Gegoux, in Portland at Bekins Moving and Storage Company for over 40 years.

Gegoux continued to paint in 1925. From a bridge near his home in Highland Park, he painted "The Southwest Museum" 1925. (21) He also traveled to the beach and sketched pictures which he would later paint at his studio in Highland Park. One such work is "Sunrise at Castle Rock" 1925. (22) "Distant Sailor" 1925, and "Stormy Sunset" circa 1925, are also from this period. Sadly, in July of 1925, Gegoux regretted his move back to California, writing in a letter to Guy Abernethy, "... if I had one choice to make, namely, to remain in Los Angeles for the rest of my days or to be shot to death, I would say 'shoot away'."

Theodore Gegoux died in July 1931 at the County Farm (Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center) in Downey, California. At the time of his death, Gegoux was unheralded and penniless, having spent nearly the last four years of his life hospitalized. Gegoux's cremated remains were shipped back to Watertown, New York where he was interred in the family plot.

Upon Frank's death in 1966, his wife Hazel Grey Gegoux sold the painting to Alfred Collier, who in turn, transferred it to the State of Oregon. In 1979, the Lucas Conservation Laboratory in Vancouver, Washington was commissioned to restore the "Birth of Oregon" canvas under the direction of Jack Lucas and Betty Engel. It was finally hung in Champoeg Park in time for the May 2nd, 1979 celebration. The timeliness of this restoration was in no small part owing to the labors of Alan Cherney, who not only restored the massive frame, but who also engineered a way to hang it securely.

Gegoux died without the fame he deserved, and today he is still little known. But his art stands in mute testimony to his creative spirit.
Theodore Gegoux III
The Jefferson County Historical Society in Watertown, New York, houses the second largest collection of works by Gegoux.

References to Theodore Gegoux (1850-1931) in Literature:
1. The Pacific Northwest Landscape: A Painted History, by Kitty Harmon & Jonathan Raban, 2001
2. Davenport Art Reference, Ray Davenport, 2001-2002
3. Oregon Painters, the first hundred years (1859-1959), Ginny Allen & Jody Klevit, 1999
4. Artists of the Pacific Northwest, a Biographical Dictionary, Maria Sharylen, 1993 5. Art Across America in 3 volumes, William Gerdts, 1990
6. 19th Century Paintings, Drawings and Watercolors, Christie's East, October 25, 1988
7. Champoeg: Place of Transition, J.A. Hussey, 1967
8. The Autobiography of Theodore Gegoux, Theodore Gegoux, 1926
9. History of the Oregon Country in six volumes, Harvey W. Scott, 1924
10. Catalogue, First Annual Exhibition, Carnegie Art Galleries, 1896
11. The Centennial History of Jefferson County, New York, John Haddock, 1894
12. Gazetteer of Jefferson County, N.Y., Hamilton Child, July 1890

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