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 Winold (Fritz Winold) Reiss  (1886 - 1953)

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Lived/Active: New York/Montana/Nevada / Germany      Known for: Indian portrait and mural painting, illustration

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Germany, Winold Reiss grew up in the Black Forest and came to be a foremost American painter of Indian portraits.  He is also considered a modernist, a part of the Art Deco vanguard.

In Munich, he studied at the Royal Academy and the Art School, and having been impressed by novels of James Fenimore Cooper, came to the United States in 1913 with the purpose of painting Indians like those he had read about.

He arrived in New York City with little money and realized he was still a distance from Indian country, so he first got established as a portrait, landscape, and mural painter, art teacher, and interior designer.  In the latter capacity, he successfully decorated several restaurants and other public buildings and had a commission for the Hotel Crillon. All of this activity allowed him to save money for travel.

In 1919, he went West, visiting the Blackfeet Indians who made him an honorary member of the tribe, naming him "Beaver Child."  He returned to their reservation in Browning, Montana most summers between 1920 and 1940 while continuing to live in New York.  Eighty one of his portraits were published by the Great Northern Railway.

Also during the 1920s and 1930s, he painted many scenes of Harlem, during the creative period known as the Harlem Renaissance.  In 1939, he completed, what was then, the world's largest mural for the New York World's Fair.  Also he ran art schools in New York City, Woodstock and Glacier National Park.  In fact, he spent many summers teaching at Glacier National Park and at that time, was probably the state's leading art teacher.  He painted other western scenes including the Grand Canyon. and he gave lectures on color and mural painting.

His technique was to work quickly on a large sheet of Whatman Board with pastel and tempera, media that dried quickly so he could quickly finish his portraits.  Often the elderly Indians would fall asleep, so he would fill on the decoration on their clothing later.  He often used motifs from the Indian crafts in the background of his paintings.

His art was also used in advertising as evidenced by a Great Northern Railway travel advertising poster of 1941, depicting his painting entitled Sundance-Piegan Chief-Glacier National Park.

Sources:
Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art
Travel poster information courtesy of Bob Constant

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, V:
Fritz Winold Reiss, better known as Winold Reiss, was born in Karlsruhe, Germany. He was raised in the Black Forest, where he studied under his father, who painted landscapes. Reiss also studied with von Stuck at the Royal Academy in Munich and with Diez at the Art School in Munich.

Inspired by the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, Reiss came to the United States in 1913 expressly to paint the American Indian. Delayed slightly by World War I, Reiss began in 1919 to paint his collection of Indian portraits, including 81 for the Great Northern Railroad that were exhibited nationally and in Europe.

The Blackfeet, in particular, were the subjects of many book illustrations for which Reiss was commissioned. He spent so much time with them that he became a member of the tribe under the name “Beaver Child,” a reference to the intensity of his painting. Although known for his portraits, Reiss also painted landscapes, including the Grand Canyon.

In 1941, he was assistant professor of mural painting at New York University, and had constructed tens of murals depicting the Indian in theaters, restaurants such as Longchamps in New York City, hotels, clubs and the Cincinnati Union Terminal. Some of murals were done in glass mosaic.

Reiss spent his life portraying the West. When he died, the Blackfeet scattered his ashes at the foot of the Rockies.

Reference: "Samuels’ Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West," by Peggy and Harold Samuels

Biography from Thomas Nygard Gallery:
Winold Reiss was raised in the Black Forest of Germany, where he was the pupil of his father, a landscape painter. He also studied with von Stuck at the Royal Academy in Munich and with Julian Diaz at the Art School in Munich. Inspired by the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, he came to America in 1913 expressly to paint the American Indians.

After a delay due to World War I, Winold Reiss began in 1919 to paint his collection of Indian portraits, including 81 for the Great Northern Railroad that were exhibited nationally and in Europe. The Blackfeet initiated him into the tribe as "Beaver child," in reference to the intensity of his painting, and were the subjects of many book illustrations for which Reiss was commissioned.

He also did portraits of Negroes and Western landscapes such as the Grand Canyon. In 1941 he was assistant professor of mural painting at New York University and had constructed tens of murals depicting the Indian in theaters, restaurants such as Longchamps in New York City, hotels, clubs and the Cincinnati Union Terminal. Some of the murals were done in glass mosaic. When Reiss died, members of the Blackfeet Indian tribe scattered his ashes at the foot of the Rockies near Glacier National Park.

Biography from DB Fine Art:
Reiss was born and raised in the Black Forest of Germany. His father, a landscape painter, gave him his first lessons. His more formal education was in various of the art schools of Munich. The novels of James Fenimore Cooper deeply impressed Reiss, so much so, that he emigrated to the U.S. in 1913 with the express intention of painting American Indians.

It took him several years of living in New York to save enough money (as a portrait, landscape and mural painter, art teacher and interior designer) to pursue this goal, but in 1919 he finally went West. He painted 81 commissioned portraits for the Great Northern Railroad, which were exhibited nationally and in Europe. He continued painting his vibrant images of the Indians of the Northwest for several decades and became friends with many of his subjects, particularly the members of the Blackfeet tribe, who initiated him into their tribe as `Beaver Child'.

He also painted landscapes and other subjects. His preferred media were pastel and tempera. After his death, members of the Blackfeet scattered his ashes at the foot of the Rockies, near Glacier National Park.

Biography from Thomas Minckler Fine Art:
This biography submitted by Thomas Minckler Gallery.Winold Reiss(1886-1953)

Winold Reiss was born in the Black Forest of Germany and was a pupil of his father, a landscape painter. Later, he studied art in Munich before moving his family to the United States in 1913, inspired by the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, to fulfill his dream of painting American Indians. Settling in New York, the artist quickly established a reputation as a teacher and designer. Eventually after World War 1 in 1919, Reiss was commissioned by the Great Northern Railway to produce portraits of members of the Blackfeet Confederacy. Beginning in 1927 and continuing for almost three decades, his vibrant images of Northwest Native Americans were used on countless posters, menus, calendars, cards, and advertisements produced by the railway. Many of his models became close friends, and the Blackfeet elders dubbed him Ksistakpoka, or “Beaver Child,” in reference to the intensity of his painting.Reiss’ identification with his models continued even after his death when his ashes were scattered at the reservation near Browning, Montana in 1954.


Biography from Hockaday Museum of Art:
Winold Reiss (1886-1953) was an artist and designer who emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1913.  Probably best known as a portraitist, Reiss was a pioneer of modernism and well known for his brilliant work in graphic and interior design.  A compassionate man who greatly respected all people as human beings, he believed that his art could help break down racial prejudices.  Like his father Fritz Reiss (1857-1915), who was also an artist and who was his son's first teacher, Winold Reiss was artistically moved by diverse cultures.  The elder Reiss focused on folk life in Germany while Winold drew substantial inspiration from a range of cultures, particularly Native American, Mexican, and African-American.

As did many young aspiring artists, Winold Reiss studied with the esteemed painter and teacher Franz von Stuck at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, which was at that time a center of the decorative and fine-arts movement.  It is not known whether Reiss met E. Martin Hennings (1886-1956) and Walter Ufer (1876-1936), who were also studying at the Royal Academy about that time and who later became members of the Taos Art Society.  All of these artists’ works depict elements taught by von Stuck.

Romantic visions of the West had spread across France and Germany through the tales of artists who had already visited the western portion of the United States.  The popular novels of German author Karl May (1842-1912), whose stories of the American west filled young minds with travel and adventure tales, dealt with noble Indians and cowboys and offered moral lessons.  Young Reiss was an avid reader of May’s books.

It was often due to the American railroad companies' commissions that artists were enabled to travel in the West, paint the native peoples, and enjoy the magnificent landscapes.  Some of them, like Ernest Blumenschein (1874-1960), Ernest Hennings and Walter Ufer, as well as many European artists who had settled in the East, went to the Southwest where they were supported through the commissions of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company’s advertising campaign.  Winold Reiss, however, headed to the Northwest.  He chose Montana as his destination after hearing about the Blackfeet Indians and Glacier Park from his friend H.V. Kaltenborn, editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, who had traveled there earlier.  After his first trip to Montana in January of 1920, Reiss was able to return to Glacier Park many times in a long-lasting collaboration with the Great Northern Railway.  His works graced the calendars, menus, playing cards, and souvenirs of the Great Northern Railway for thirty years, thus reaching a wide audience.

Reiss’s works remain well known today, in part because of the railroad calendars and souvenirs produced from his portraits.  However, his work—like that of other great artists and illustrators such as Norman Rockwell—survives and flourishes not just as a result of the Great Northern's printed matter but because he captured a very recognizable and uniquely American theme.  Reiss also expressed the great feeling for color and design that his native friends favored.  He rendered his subjects in a way that conveyed honor, beauty, and dignity upon them, free of racial prejudice. His own unique style can be viewed as a synthesis of bold, colorful graphic design, skillful drawing, and fine art.

Submitted by Linda Engh-Grady, Executive Director, Hockaday Museum of Art

Addendum

Winold Reiss Art School in Glacier National Park

“…the students in the quiet and beautiful atmosphere of Glacier Park advance surprisingly well and I can truthfully state that a month of study out West is equivalent to six months’ study in any Eastern art center.” - Reiss wrote about the summer art school to a railway agent sometime in the spring of 1936 after the school had been open two full seasons.

The Winold Reiss Summer Art School was established in Glacier Park in the summer of 1934.  The idea for the school was first presented to W.R. Mills, general advertising agent for the Great Northern Railway in 1929.  Mills was very agreeable to the idea of the school, but as fate would have it, he died suddenly in April before the school could open. O.J. McGillis was Mills replacement and he tabled the idea due to budgetary concerns.  In 1931, Reiss returned to Glacier Park once again at the request of the Great Northern Railway but this time, he brought several students from his New York studio and ran an independent art school.  The railway was still not in support of his art school, and misunderstandings over budget limits resulted in Reiss reimbursing them for overspending his limit.

O. J. McGillis supported the idea of the art school after seeing that Reiss was being used as a scapegoat for Railway’s budget problems.  So, in 1934, the Great Northern Railway fully supported Reiss’s plan for an art school and the Winold Reiss Summer Art School was established in Glacier Park.

The Railway offered Reiss the use of the St. Mary Chalet complex at the eastern side of the Going to the Sun Road.  The school was operated by Winold, Hans Reiss (Winold’s brother who was a sculpture and a guide for the Park Saddle Horse Company) and Winold’s son Tjark Reiss.  Winold’s colleague, artist Carl Link, later joined the faculty and assisted with teaching portrait and landscape painting.  The students came from a variety of backgrounds and young Blackfeet artists were allowed to take classes for no fee.  Many of the students had originally studied at Reiss’s New York studio.  But in time, others began hearing of the Glacier Park school.

The Hockaday Museum of Art is currently organizing an exhibition that will open June of 2007 on Winold Reiss - Glacier Park Art School.


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