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 Adolfo Felice Muller-Ury  (1862 - 1947)

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Lived/Active: New York/California / Switzerland      Known for: portrait, figure and still life painting

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Ad Code: 3
Adolfo Felice Muller-Ury
from Auction House Records.
Portrait of Donald Alexander Smith 1st baron Strathcona and Mount Royal
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is a biography based on information provided on 6/2002 by Stephen J. Conrad, M.A.., South Croydon Surrey, England. Conrad is writing a biography of Adolfo Felice Muller-Ury.

Adolfo Felice Muller-Ury was born on March 29, 1862 in Airolo, in the Canton of Ticino in Switzerland.  His parents were Carl Alois Muller (1825-1887) and Genovefa Lombardi (1836-1920). The Muller family were aristocrats in the Middle Ages, and had distinguished themselves as mercenary soldiers in the armies of the Kings of France and Spain who had ennobled them, the former granting two lilies and the latter an unsheathed sword on their coat of arms.  By the early nineteenth century the lineage contained a high proportion of politicians, soldiers and landowners.

Adolfo was the sixth of Carl Alois and Genovefa Muller's nineteen children. He was educated in Airolo, and attended the drawing school where the sculptor Vincenzo Vela noticed his talent.  Adolfo was first sent to public school in Sarnen and then in 1880, to Stans to study painting with a Swiss religious artist called Melchior-Paul von Deschwanden, who died shortly after in Adolfo's arms in February 1881.

His parents then sent him to the Munich Royal Academy where he studied painting with Gyula von Benczur and Karl Von Piloty.  Between 1882 and 1884 he was in Italy, and when in Rome he made copies of a number of pictures in the Vatican.  He possibly painted Pope Leo XIII at this time, and for certain, he painted Cardinal Hergenrother and Cardinal Hohenlohe.

In September 1884, he was in Paris where he applied to the studio of Alexandre Cabanel, but in November 1884 he emigrated to New York.  In the Spring of 1885 he painted a Miss Brandeis as a child dressed in pink (Newark Museum, New Jersey - signed 'A. Lombardi-Muller') and in the summer he executed two portraits of Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore, both of which are lost.

In the summer of 1890, he painted a portrait of Senator Chauncey M. Depew, President of the Grand Central Railroad and the Vanderbilt lawyer, which was exhibited with great success.  This led to a commission from Mrs. Theodore Havemeyer, wife of a sugar baron, which was completed in April 1891, and is in the Newport, Rhode Island Preservation Society.  This painting launched his success with the 'Four Hundred,' the cream of New York society, whose members now came flocking to his studio in the Sherwood Building at the corner of 57th and Sixth Avenue in New York.

Other prominent persons who sat for him at that time were Mrs. Jefferson Davis and her daughter Winnie, President William McKinley, and Metropolitan Opera House divas, Dame Nellie Melba, Marcella Sembrich, Emma Calve, and Lina Cavalieri and bass Pol Plancon for his patroness Emma Raymond.

Muller-Ury's portraits in the new century acquired a lighter palette and frequently emulated the portraits of English painters Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Sir Henry Raeburn whose works were bought and sold by his friend, the great British art dealer Joseph Duveen, later Baron Duveen of Millbank, whom he painted in 1923, 1929 and 1938.

In 1905, Muller-Ury moved to a new studio in New York at 33 West 67th Street, Atelier building, Studio 7 East, and remained there for the remainder of his life. In 1907 he painted a full-length of Pope Pius X, busts of Cardinal Merry del Val and Cardinal Bisletti in Rome, as well as Archbishop Thomas Kennedy of the North American College, now at Overbrook Seminary Philadelphia. In 1920 he painted Pope Benedict XV; in 1923 and 1930, he painted Pope Pius XI.  The 1930 portrait was designed specifically to hang in the foyer of the new Pinacoteca in Rome but is now missing. Pius XI made him first a Knight of St. Gregory the Great and later a Papal Count.

He executed a portrait of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson in 1916 and two of President Wilson in 1917. In 1921 he travelled with Duveen to San Marino in California to deliver to Henry Huntington Gainsborough's famous picture 'The Blue Boy'. He decided to stay, and built a studio at 3400 Monterey Road which still exists in San Marino.

Here, apart from painting the local elite including Huntington's grand-daughter, Mary Brockway Metcalf, he began a series of still lifes of roses, which he grew in his garden and executed in rare Chinese vases that had been the property of J. Pierpont Morgan whom he had also painted in 1904 and many times subsequently.  He abandoned California in 1933 and returned to New York. In 1940 he painted Cardinal Spellman and soprano Jessica Dragonette, both whom became great friends of his.

Muller-Ury exhibited at Durand-Ruel, Knoedler Gallery, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Duveen Brothers, Wildensteins, and French & Co., and in many other places, including the Paris Salon.

He died in the Lenox Hill Hospital in New York on July 7th, 1947, allegedly of cancer, at the age of 84, and was buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York.

Note from Stephen Conrad: 10/2003
"Further to my biography of this artist, I have now published in the periodical THE BRITISH ART JOURNAL, Volume IV, No. 2, Summer 2003, a long article called: 'Re-introducing Adolfo Muller-Ury (1862-1947): The artist, two dealers, four counts and the Kaiser: a hitherto unknown episode in international art history.'

This is fully footnoted, the present locations of many of his works, particularly in public collections, are stated, and there are eight reproductions of relevant paintings by him (including a self-portrait) and two other illustrations.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born on March 28, 1862 in Airolo, Canton Ticino, Switzerland.  Müller-Ury studied at the Royal Academy in Munich and at Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris before coming to the U.S. in 1885.

Most of his career was spent in New York where he painted the local elite, such as J. P. Morgan, James J. Hill, Mrs. Wm Astor, and President McKinley.  In 1907 he painted Pope Pius X who gave him a gold medal; in 1909 he went to Potsdam to paint Kaiser Wilhelm II; his portrait of Woodrow Wilson was done in 1917; he later painted the next three Popes and Cardinals Hayes and Spellman.

In 1922 he came to California with Sir Joseph Duveen to deliver to Henry Huntington Gainsborough's Blue Boy.  The following year he made trips to San Francisco where he painted Archbishop Edward Hanna.  Opting to remain in California, he built a studio in San Marino at 3400 Monterey Road.  While there, he spent much time painting the roses which he grew in his garden.  Müller-Ury was active there until 1933 when he returned to New York where he died on July 6, 1947.

Member: Lotus Club; NAC; Salmagundi Club; Nat'l Ass'n of Portrait Painters. Exh: Paris Salon, 1889, 1902; CGA, 1908; Gump's (SF), 1923; USC, 1933.

Awards: Knight of St Gregory the Great, 1923; Knight of Malta.

In: Huntington Hospital (Pasadena); NY Historical Society; NMAA; Univ. of Wyoming; North American College (Rome).
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
American Art Annual 1933; Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs, et Graveurs (Bénézit, E); Interview with the artist or his/her family; NY Times, 7-8-1947 (obituary).
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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