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 Aurelius O. Revenaugh  (1840 - 1908)

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Lived/Active: Kentucky/Ohio      Known for: portrait, figure, genre

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Ad Code: 4
Aurelius O Revenaugh
from Auction House Records.
Portrait of a Girl Holding Roses
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from The Speed Art Museum:
Aurelius O. Revenaugh was born in Zanesville, Ohio in 1840 and died in Louisville, Kentucky in 1908. The “O” was an affectation he added later in life.

His father’s family was of French Hugenot extraction but had been in the US for a number of generations. As a young man, Aurelius had shown particular talent for the violin and for the visual arts, although his physician father discouraged him.

According to one of his daughters, when he was around 16, Aurelius saved up his money from working on neighboring farms to buy a violin; on Saturday nights, he would walk into town for lessons. At home, he had to practice in the barn. He and some friends formed an ensemble, which would play for dances and square dances, where he would call. In college at Ann Arbor, he studied medicine, still keeping his finger in the music world; in later years, he would say he “fiddled his way through college”.

During the Civil War and before finishing school, he served with distinction in the Union Army as a hospital steward and in the signal corps. During his service, he did sketches in his diary of the scenes he witnessed. He returned to school and after finishing and married Lovina Aurelia Morrow on December 26, 1866. Together, they had four children; the first named Claude Lorain Revenaugh.

Apparently, he only briefly or never practiced medicine. Instead, he pursued a career in the arts, first painting houses, then carriages, perhaps concurrently with his medical study. The young Revenaugh family lived in Ann Arbor a few years; his younger brother was a photographer, and the two worked together. Aurelius did enlargements of photographs in India ink and watercolor.

Apparently, Revenaugh had a bit of formal study back in Michigan, with a “painter of Indian pictures”, probably John Mix Stanley who worked in Detroit. However, he was largely self-taught, a characteristic he probably liked to exploit in his stories about his life. In 1871, Aurelius moved to Jackson, Michigan, possibly with his brother, where he continued the work.

Aurelius also took up violin making; one of his daughters recalled that he made violins on days when the light was not good for painting. His daughter Rita recalled “he was a man of many talents and very proficient in all of them.” He also enjoyed horses, often owning at least one during most of his adult life.

In Jackson, Revenaugh became known as a painter, particularly of portraits. He painted prominent citizens, often from outside of Jackson, gaining patrons across the South and Midwest. He continued the practice of enlarging photographs until the technology became available that made the practice no longer profitable.

Aurelius had patrons in Louisville, Kentucky and moved there around 1886. Again, he painted a number of portraits of prominent individuals. He painted several of Andrew Carnegie for his libraries; one hangs in the Louisville Free Public Library. He seems to have been an active, well-compensated portraitist. He may have lived in Washington, DC briefly in 1897.

Revenaugh’s first Louisville studio was in the Courier-Journal building. When that building was renovated, he moved to the Wilkes block of 4th Avenue, where he remained for 40 years. Near the end of his life, he was planning to move yet again, this time to the Atherton Building.

He was a member of the Filson Club and well known locally. His reputation during his lifetime was based primarily on his portraits; he did some notable genre scenes as well, notably the "Newsboy" and "Gypsy Girl" currently in the collection of The Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.

Revenaugh suffered from heart disease and contracted pneumonia at the end. He passed away at his home at 2009 First Street.

Nancy Renick,
Assistant Director of Education

Additional Bibliography
Barr, Lockwood. A.O. Revenaugh. Unpublished paper. Kentucky History Collection, Louisville Free Public Library. [k B R451B]
Benedict, Mary Jane. “Aurelius Revenaugh” in The Encyclopedia of Louisville. Ed. John Kleber. Lexington, 2001.
Files of the Filson Historical Society and The Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky


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