| Rhys Caparn Steel is primarily known as Rhys Caparn
Ad Code: 3
An example of work by Rhys Caparn Steel
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following, submitted December 2005, is by Oliver Chamberlain, cousin of the artist,
is from an exhibition of work by the artist, curated by Chamberlain,
for the Brearley School in New York City.|
Brearley School ’27
Artist in drawing and sculpture, works in major collections
(superscript below indicates a photograph or other material shown in this exhibit)
Rhys was born on July 28, 1909, at Onteora Park in the Catskills while
her parents were enjoying some respite together with their daughter
Anne, almost two years old, in that artistic resort away from the
rigors of their work in New York City.
Her mother, Clara Howard (Jones) Caparn, taught singing in NYC with
such success that by the time of Rhys’ birth (1) she was earning
several times an average yearly salary. Clara had sought divorce
from an earlier marriage in North Carolina to George Claiborne Royall,
which gave her two sons, to
come to New York City to find employment for her skills in music.
From this first marriage of her mother, Rhys had two half-brothers:
George Claiborne Royall, Jr., and Kenneth Claiborne Royall, an
attorney graduated from Harvard, General of the Army and Secretary of
the Army, a Cabinet post, under President Harry S Truman; he was later
managing partner of a New York law firm.
Clara's second marriage, to Harold ap Rhys Caparn, gave her two daughters,
Anne Howard (1907-1971), a writer, and Rhys (1909-1997), an artist.
"Besides teaching, she created “An Hour of Music,” an organization that
supported and encouraged young musicians. She taught until age 85
and died in 1970 at the age of 103.
Rhys' father, Harold Caparn, (2) emigrated from England and then
established an office in Manhattan in 1902 as a landscape
architect. He was receiving sufficient commissions, that two
years after her birth, he bought five acres up the Hudson River in
Briarcliff Manor. He of course immediately set about landscaping
the property, which process would have lasting influence on the young
Rhys. The gardens of their family home at Briarcliff Manor, NY,
are pictured in various landscape design references. In 1912 he
became the consulting landscape architect of the
Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a position he retained until his death in 1945
at age 80. He also designed portions of the New York Zoological
Park in the Bronx, the campus of Brooklyn College, the grounds of the
Office Building of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.,
Grant Park in Yonkers, Lincoln Park in Newark and other public parks
and private estates.
Robert Beverly Hale, an instructor in drawing at the Art Student’s
League and later Curator of American Art at the Metropolitan Museum, in
his book (3) on Rhys’ work says that [Harold’s] “small daughter,
watching [him landscape his property] early became aware of her
father’s enthusiasm for designed space--the positive shape of a tree,
the negative shape of the sky, the precise angle of a slope.”
Indeed, Rhys served, as she was growing up, as a model to give scale to
some of her father’s photographs of this work. (4)
The sensibilities toward nature and the arts of her paternal
grandfather, Thomas John Caparn, a horticulturalist and painter, of a
cousin, William John Caparne, a horticulturalist and painter, and of
both her parents no doubt contributed to Rhys’ formation and eventually
to her lifetime work. (5) She also said “My parents both felt women
were just as good as men.” (6)
Her Education and Training As An Artist
Rhys was educated at The Brearley School, beginning in 1918 and
graduating in 1927. In 1985 the Alumnae Association of The
Brearley School cited Rhys for her accomplishments. (7) Her work
at Brearley led her to Bryn Mawr College, where she decided to follow
art as a career. After two years at the college, however, she left to
study in Paris with the animal sculptor Edouard Navellier at the École
Artistique des Animaux. There, with two young Frenchmen as
colleagues, Rhys did drawings in the studio of a wide variety of
animals, even a wild boar. Some of the animals became pets in the
studio. Her early drawings show animals in mostly realistic
renderings of characteristic poses.
Returning to New York in 1931, Rhys studied at the Archipenko School of
Art for another two years. Alexander Archipenko, a teacher of
sculpture in both Europe and America, called her “one of those rare
artists who create lyrical poetry with pure form.” (8)
Over the years, travel and observation of fauna, architectural ruins
and landscapes also formed part of the self-study that informed her
art. She visited England, France and Belgium in 1926, London and
Paris in 1935, Warsaw, Prague, London, Edinburgh and Paris again in
1948, and Greece, Crete, the Greek islands and Italy in 1958.
Her Solo Shows
At the age of only 24, Rhys held her first solo show at the Delphic
Studios in NYC in 1933; she again had a solo show there in 1935.
About this time Soichi Sunami, New York photographer, did a portrait
photograph of the young artist. (9) These shows brought her a good
response in critical reviews and lead to many more solo shows, among
them: Architectural League, NYC (1941), New York Zoological Park
(1942), Wildenstein & Co. (1944, 1947), Dartmouth College (1949,
1955), John Heller Gallery (1953), Art Colony Gallery, Cleveland
(1953), Meltzer Gallery, NYC (1956, 59, 60), Riverside Museum (1961),(10)
La Boetie Gallery, NYC (1970), Phyllis Neil, NYC (1980), Gallery
Felicie, NYC (1984), “Caparn at 75” included about 30 works, many done
in the 1970s and 1980s.
Over the course of her career, Rhys participated in many shows with
other artists, among such shows were: New York Six, Petit Palais,
Paris, 1950 (11)
Fifteen Sculptors, Museum of Modern Art Traveling Exhibition, 1941
Whitney Museum of American Art, Annual Exhibitions, 1941, 53, 54, 56, 60
Pennsylvania Academy of Art, 1951, 1953, 1960, 1964.
United States Information Agency Exhibits, Europe, 1956-57; Europe and Far East, 1957-58.
Museum of Natural History, NY, 1958.
Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, 1956, 1958.
Lowe Art Center, Syracuse University, Contemporary Sculpture, 1960.
Virginia Museum, American Sculpture Today, 1958.
IBM Gallery, NY, National Council of Women, 1960.
Claude Bernard Gallery, Paris, Aspects de la Sculpture Americaine, 1960.
Newark Museum, Women Artists of America, 1965.
National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1968, 1976.
On September 9, 1935, Rhys married Herbert Johannes Steel.
Johannes, as he was known, was an intellectual of Dutch-German descent,
writer of anti-regime tracts in the years leading up to World War II
and later representative to international peace conferences. He
was a syndicated writer on financial matters and radio commentator on
political affairs. In the year of her marriage, Rhys sculpted a
bust of Johannes (12) that was first exhibited in the fourteenth annual
Spring Salon of the American Art Association in New York City in May
1936, winning critical praise.
Johannes died in 1988 at age 80; Rhys died on April 29, 1997 at age
87. After living many years in New York City, from 1968 they made
their home in the rolling hill country of southern Connecticut, where
Rhys maintained a sculpture garden and drew inspiration for many of her
later sculptures. (13)
Teacher and Illustrator
Rhys taught sculpture at The Dalton School, NYC, for twenty-one
years--from 1946 to 1955 and again from 1960 to 1972. Rhys’
interest in nature combined with the same interest in Margaret
Bartlett, science department coordinator at the school, in the
publication in 1963 of “down the mountain” (14) a book for children
about the breakdown of soil through the action of natural forces,
observed in a walk down a mountain.
Her Work “Animal Form I” Causes Controversy
The New York Times, on Wednesday, December 5, 1951, announced that
Rhys’ work “Animal Form 1” had taken second prize out of a field of 101
entries in a comprehensive competition of American sculpture. (15)
Robert Beverly Hale, then Associate Curator of American Art, directed
the competition, and said of it, “sculptors have been less willing than
our painters to abandon realism, to relinquish natural form.” The
competition jury was made up of both representatives of the modern and
classical approach to sculpture. Rhys’ entry, Hale’s statement, and the
makeup of the jury, set the stage for a debate in critical circles in
New York about the meaning of “modern” in art. Hale would later,
in 1972, write a book on the sculpture and drawings Rhys had
accomplished in the forty years of her career to that date.
Her Mature Works Become More Abstract
In an interview in her hometown newspaper of October 19, 1984, (16) in
preparation for her retrospective exhibition in New York at the Gallery
Felicie, Rhys said that during the interim between periods of teaching
at the Dalton School, she created Marsh Birds in the Moonlight,
(17) a large sculpture which gives the suggestion of birds flowing
through the air. She said of it: “that piece changed everything.
‘Marsh Birds’ represented freedom, both for the birds…and for herself
as an artist.” She said later in a 1986 interview: “Birds are
symbols of freedom and challenge and arches are passages to that
freedom.” (17) She had over the years sculpted landscapes,
architectural pieces and abstractions inspired by nature, the moon and
space. She was, through them, reaching out for the universe, suggesting
that man is a small part of the ever-changing landscape. (18)
Over the course of her career, like her father, she was active in community affairs:
President, Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors, 1944, 1963-1965.
Member, Citizen’s Advisory Committee, Office of Cultural Affairs, NYC, 1963.
Founding member, Harlem Cultural Council, 1964.
Member, Mayor’s Committee on Beautification of the City of New York, 1965.
Member, Sculptors Guild (19)
Member, American Abstract Artists
Honors and Recognitions of Her Work
Second Prize for Sculpture, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, 195115
First Prize for Sculpture, New York State Fair, 1958
Medal of Honor, National Association of Women Artists, 1960, 1961
Named to Academia Italia with gold medal, 1979
Named as Life Fellow, International Institute of Arts and Letters
Her Work in Public Collections
City Art Museum, St. Louis, MO (Morton May Collection)
Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Butler Art Institute, Youngstown, OH
Fogg Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Wollman Library, Barnard College, New York
U.S. Department of State in embassies abroad
Brooklyn Botanic Garden, “Moonrise” given in honor of her father (20, 21)
Western Connecticut State University, “Marsh Birds,”17 and four other pieces
Her Work in Private Collections
Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Simon
Mr. and Mrs. Norman Elson
Estate of Mrs. Anne Howard Moore (her sister)
Mr. and Mrs. Louis Beck
Estate of Clara Howard Caparn (her mother)
Mr. and Mrs. Michael Erlanger
R. Sturgis Ingersoll
Morton D. May
Dr. and Mrs. Richmond C. Hubbard
Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Chamberlain, Jr. “A Dream of Mountains” (19, 22)
Rhys Caparn – A Brearley School Alumnae Recognition
1Photo, Rhys and her mother Clara Howard Caparn, unknown photographer, 1909.
2Photo, Harold ap Rhys Caparn, Zuven Studio, Pittsburgh, ca. 1900.
3Book, “Rhys Caparn,” by Robert Beverly Hale, Retrospective Press, 1972.
4Photo, Rhys in father’s landscape at Briarcliff Manor, NY, photo by Harold Caparn, ca. 1921
5A Google entry on the names Thomas John Caparn, Harold A. Caparn,
William John Caparne and Rhys Caparn will yield further information on
these family members.
6Interview, photos by Liz Wilson, The Newtown Bee, October 19, 1984.
7Plaque, “Rhys Caparn,” The Brearley School Alumnae Association, 1985.
8Alexander Archipenko, Robert Beverly Hale, “Rhys Caparn,” 1972, p. 5.
9Photo portrait of Rhys Caparn by Soichi Sunami, New York, ca. 1933
10Solo Show Brochure, “Rhys Caparn – Selections From Thirty Years –
Sculpture and Drawings” The Riverside Museum, 1961, sculpture portrait
(1935), “Johannes Steel,”
terra cotta; photo by Soichi Sunami, p. 5; “Marsh Birds in the Moonlight,” (1955), p. 7.
11Group Show Brochure, “New York Six,” six women sculptors, for the
exhibit at the Petit Palais, Paris, 1950; including ten works by Rhys
Caparn, of which two are pictured.
12Group Show Brochure, “Spring Salon – 1936” by the American Art Association,
at the Anderson Galleries, New York; first showing of sculpture portrait “Johannes Steel.”
13Photo, “Passerine, cast stone, 1978, by Rhys Caparn
Photo, “Landscape Formation,” bronze, 1962, by Rhys Caparn
Photo, “Hawk,” bronze, 1978, by Rhys Caparn
14Book cover, “down the mountain” written by Margaret Bartlett,
illustrated by Rhys Caparn, photocopy; 63pp., cover and illustrated
throughout with whimsical drawings by Rhys Caparn; pub. William R.
Scott, New York, 1963.
15Article, “Prize Winners In American Sculpture Exhibition,” New York
Times, December 5, 1951; photo of “Animal Form I,” densite, by Rhys
16Interview, Liz Wilson, The Newtown Bee, October 19, 1984.
17Photo, “Marsh Birds in the Moonlight,” densite, Robert Beverly Hale, “Rhys Caparn,” pl. 32.
18Article on Rhys Caparn, The Newtown Bee, January 3, 1986, on her gift of sculptures to Western Connecticut State University.
19Sculptors Guild, cover “Sculpture 1966,” p, 13, “A Dream of Mountains,” bronze and rock, first showing.
20Photo, “Moonrise,” bronze, 1968, with Rhys Caparn, in the sculpture
garden at her home in Newtown, CT; photo, 1977, by Oliver Chamberlain,
21Photo from Brooklyn Botanic Garden Report, 1980-1982; Rhys Caparn donates her
sculpture, “Moonrise” to the Garden in memory of her father, Harold A. Caparn, 1980.
22Photo, by Oliver Chamberlain, Jr., 2005, “A Dream of Mountains” in the garden at his home.
Materials assembled from the Caparn Family Collection of Oliver Chamberlain, Jr., cousin of Rhys Caparn.
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Rhys Caparn, is noted as an American sculptor, painter, educator, and
former president of the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors.
She is best known for her abstracts and animal subjects, as in her Drawing of a Cat,
1952, ink and wash, (signed in pencil lower right, 10 x 14 in.)
Her preferred medium was hydra-stone cast sculpture, but she was also
an illustrator and painter.|
Caparn was born in Onteora Park, New
York and studied at Bryn Mawr College from 1927-29, the Ecole
Artistique Animaux with Edouard Navellier in 1930, and with Alexander
Archipenko from 1931 to 1933. She was married to Johannes Steel,
and for many years, she taught art at Dalton High School in New York
Caparn's work is in various styles, and in her sculpture
she often created flattened relief forms directly in plaster, which
were sometimes cast in bronze, that suggested weathered, natural, and
architectural forms. For Barnard College, she completed wall
reliefs, fountain heads, and drawings in ceramic tile. She was
also an illustrator, and did the artwork for the book Down the Mountain a book for juveniles (1963) by Margaret Bartlett.
father was Harold A. Caparn, a noted landscape architect who died
September 24, 1945, in New York City, aged eighty. He had
been born in Newark-on-Trent, England, studied at the Ecole des
Beaux-Arts, Paris, and then came to New York, where he was a consultant
to Brooklyn Botanic Gardens beginning in 1912. He was former
President of the New York Chapter of the American Society of Landscape
Architects. The gardens of their family home at Briarcliff Manor, which
is the name of the town in which the home was located in New
York, are pictured in landscape books.
Rhys Caparn was a
member of the American Abstract Artists (AAA) group in the 1930s and
1940s. The group's exhibitions and publications added considerable fuel
to the simmering discussion of "What is art?". The AAA was formed in
1936 to unite and exhibit the work of abstract artists in the United
States and to promote a "new art form" that would veer away from social
realism, then the accepted style for American artists. European artists
had the corner on modernism.
The numerous members of the AAA,
including Rhys Caparn, Ilya Bolotowsky, John Ferren, and others, were
significant participants in the ongoing debate of the nature of
art. Through their efforts, recognition for synthetic cubism,
geometric abstraction, neoplasticism, abstract biomorphism, and
hard-edge was achieved, and the way was paved for the emergence of the
New York school. The Peter A. Juley & Son Collection at the
National Museum of American Art, includes photographic documentation of
some of the group's work.
Writing about an AAA exhibition,
Malcolm Vaughn, a reviewer for the New York American, was somewhat
dismissive: "The spacious galleries are well suited for such a
display, as abstract art is a decorative rather than a fine art, seen
to best advantage when the spectator looks at it from a distance after
a close-up examination of its quality." Some members of the AAA
assertively defended their positions. One such expression came
from the painter Charles G. Shaw, who wrote: "Honest painting,
regardless of its representational or non-representational merits,
embraces certain patent fundamentals. One seeks, for example, rhythm,
composition, spatial organization, design, progression of color, and
many, many other qualities in an aesthetic work There is surely no
earthly reason why a painting may not possess all such qualities and
still be the most abstract picture ever painted. Art, since its
inception, has never depended upon realism."
AAA member Ilya
Bolotowsky said, in recalling that era, "The main distinction was this:
there were people who would paint and abstract from nature, and there
were those who dared to simply abstract without any nature at allWe
could never get a definition to suit everybody and finally gave up the
attempt because of the arguments that came out of it."
work may also be seen in the sculpture courtyard of the Colorado
Springs Fine Art Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, among other
Cynthia Mills, essay in North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century by Jules Heller and Nancy G. Heller.
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following is from Alexandra Moore:|
am Rhys Caparn's niece and my aunt was the daughter of Harold and Clara
Caparn. She had one sister, Anne Caparn Moore, and two half-brothers,
Claiborne Royall and Gen. Kenneth Royall.
Rhys spent most of her
life in New York City before she and her husband moved to Newtown,
Connecticut where she died of Alzheimer's disease. Rhys was a great
animal lover and learned to sculpt when she accompanied my grandfather
on his landscaping jobs. He would give her clay to play with and that
is when she developed her abstract landscapes. I have one of her pieces
and a few of her sketches and there is also one of her pieces on my
|** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.|