John Hubbard Rich
Because his family moved from Boston to Minneapolis, John Rich launched his career in America’s Midwest yet he was born in Boston on March 5, 1876. During the period in which John Sloan was an illustrator for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Press, the slightly younger John Rich was similarly employed at the Minneapolis Times. In the evenings he attended art classes. Convinced of his talent, in 1898 his parents sent him to New York to study at the Art Students League. He worked there until 1902 under various teachers including Robert Blum, George Bridgman, Kenyon Cox, Frank Duveneck, and John H. Twachtman. The following three years of instruction under Edmund Tarbell at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston ended in his winning of the Paige Traveling Scholarship (in 1905) for two years of independent study in Europe. Also in 1905, he won the Ayer Prize of $100 “for the best portrait executed by a regular pupil in the advanced class of painting.” (Bulletin, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, August 1905, p. 26).
Once in France, Rich’s sympathies toward impressionism became more pronounced, especially regarding informal contemporary subject matter, which the artist successfully incorporated into his work. Apparently, judging from Rich’s later paintings, the avant-garde art movements in Paris of ca. 1905 (including the Salon d’Automne) had little influence on the artist, who worked in a late, decorative impressionistic style.
After his return to America, Rich became an instructor at the Groton School in Boston (1912) and shared a studio with William V. Cahill. Two years later, Rich and Cahill moved to Los Angeles; Rich’s family had moved from Minneapolis to Pasadena while he was in Europe. The two founded the School for Illustrating and Painting (Hughes, 1985, p. 386). In 1915, Rich exhibited The Blue Kimono (Maureen Murphy Fine Arts, Santa Barbara, California) at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Gerdts and South (1998, p. 191) describe the painting as a “well-worn subject of an elegantly posed and appointed woman in an interior.” Rich’s reputation as a painter expanded locally and later that year, his works were shown at the Los Angeles Museum (15-30 December 1915). Several more one-man shows followed. Cahill went his separate way in 1918, eventually ending up in San Francisco. The remainder of Rich’s career was spent in Southern California and included teaching appointments at the University of Southern California and the Otis Institute. He died in Los Angeles, on March 30, 1954.
While Rich’s compositions seem to be somewhat contrived, his figures are successfully animated so that they appear to exist in an actual living environment. His application of color, however, seems to be somewhat mechanical. The Flowered Dress (Fleisher Museum, Scottsdale, Arizona), ca. 1920-1926, features a woman in repose, lost in a busy web of decorative patterns. This may represent Helen Wood, curator of the Los Angeles Museum, and the woman Rich married in 1920. Rich, perhaps more than other California impressionists, melded the delicate finesse of East Coast impressionism to the broad manner of the West Coast. In the 1930s, Rich’s style showed a drastic change. Around 1934, he painted We Do Our Part, N.R.A. (Ries Collection, Oakland), in which impressionism has been replaced by the more realistic, hard-edged American Scene style. All that remains here of the Boston school is the composition, built on elegant curves and counter-curves.
Moure, Nancy Dustin Wall and Lyn Smith, Dictionary of Art and Artists of Southern California before 1930. Glendale, CA: 1984, pp. 208-209; Hughes, Edan Milton, Artists in California 1786-1940. San Francisco: 1986, pp. 385-386; Zellman, Michael David. 300 Years of American Art. Secaucus, NJ: Wellfleet Press, 1987, p. 730; Oakland Museum, A Time and Place: From the Ries Collection of California Painting. 1990, pp. 46-47, 150-151; Gerdts, William H. and Will South, California Impressionism. New York: Abbeville Press, 1998, pp. 190, 201, 263; Moure, Nancy Dustin Wall, California Art: 450 Years of Painting and Other Media. Los Angeles: 1998, pp. 165, 179.
Submitted by Richard H. Love and Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.