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 Will Henry Stevens  (1881 - 1949)

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Lived/Active: Louisiana/Indiana      Known for: modernist views, botanic to non objective

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Ad Code: 3
Will Henry Stevens
from Auction House Records.
Abstract - Birds
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from Blue Spiral 1:

During his career, Stevens captured the spirit of the Southern landscape from the highlands of Appalachia to the lowlands and deltas of Louisiana. His faithful commune with nature began in early boyhood and lasted his entire life, providing the inspiration for thousands of exquisite paintings. Proficient in a variety of media, Stevens poetic vision is reflected in oil, tempera, watercolor and pastels that he crafted by hand. His quiet intelligence, keen vision, modernist disposition and technical mastery are seen throughout his body of work.

Stevens drew and painted simultaneously in two styles -- one abstract, influenced by Klee and Kandinsky, and the other a lyrical body of work that is more traditional. He was a pioneer of modernism in the American South, and his representational work and objective abstractions reflect his deep love of nature, particularly the bayou and mountains. The geometry he found in nature was easily translated by him into non-objective abstractions as well.

Stevens was born in Vevay, Indiana in 1881. As a young painter he studied at the Cincinnati Art Academy and the Art Students League in New York City. While living briefly in New York, he had several one-man shows at the New Gallery where he was befriended by such artists as Albert Pinkam Ryder. In 1921 Stevens moved to New Orleans, where he became a professor of art at Sophie Newcomb College, now part of Tulane University. He traveled to the mountains in the summers, where he painted primarily in east Tennessee and western North Carolina.

Stevens died in 1949 after retiring and moving back to Vevay. The work of Will Henry Stevens is represented in major museum collections including the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, DC), Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, MA), Ogden Museum of Southern Art (New Orleans, LA), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (CA), Louisiana Arts and Science Center (Baton Rouge), Greenville County Museum of Art (SC), Hunter Museum of American Art (Chattanooga, TN) and Morris Museum of Art (Augusta, GA).

Biography from Neal Auction Company:
Will Henry Stevens was born in Vevay, Indiana near the Ohio River. After his father recognized and indulged Sevens' passion for art, the young artist studied at the Cincinnati Art Academy as well as the Art students League in New York. Later Stevens studied under Jonas Lie and Dearing Perrine in New York. The artist eventually moved to New Orleans where he took on a job at the Sophie Newcomb College of Art, now Tulane University. He remained at this position until his retirement in 1948 at which point he moved back to his birthplace of Vevay, Indiana.

Will Henry Stevens was an abstract artist with a passion for nature and considered part of the second generation of American modernists. While working towards new ideas in abstract art, Stevens also kept to his deeply rooted love of nature, painting more realistic landscapes alongside his abstracts. The artist worked in these two styles throughout his career. During the summers, Stevens painted in the mountains of Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee.

The work of Will Henry Stevens is included in museums and galleries around the country. Some of these include the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Louisiana Arts and Science Center, Greenville County Museum of Art, Hunter Museum of American Art and Morris Museum of Art.


Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:
Will Henry Stevens was born in 1881 in Vevay, Indiana, near the Kentucky border. His father, an apothecary, taught him chemistry, which later enabled him to experiment with various media. At sixteen he enrolled at the Cincinnati Art Academy, where he studied for three years under Frank Duveneck, Lucien Henry Meakin and Vincent Nowittny.

During what would have been his fourth and final year of study he went to work for a tile designer at Cincinnati's famous Rookwood Pottery. In 1901 he went to New York to study at the Art Students League but soon left because he disliked William Merritt Chase's teaching methods. He became acquainted with the latest developments in international art at the New Gallery on 30th Street, where at age twenty he had a one-man show. There he met artists including Albert Pinkham Ryder and Van Dearing Perrine.

Leaving New York for Vevay, where he was to live until 1920, Stevens passed through Washington DC and visited the Freer Gallery where he became acquainted with and entranced by Sung Dynasty painting in particular, and by Oriental art in general. He delved into Oriental, especially Taoist, philosophy, and fused it with his own views and with advice given him by Ryder and others. He resolved not merely to observe nature but also to understand its underlying principles which might not be visible. To comprehend the "Universal Order" meant constant seeking. There was no one path, perhaps no one reality.

He subscribed to the Taoist idea that through contact with the world the artist constructs his own subjective version of reality. Traditional realism in art was one path, but only one, towards spiritual understanding. Art itself was a means of seeking, but this did not mean striving to attain an accepted standard of excellence. There was no such single, immutable truth in his philosophy.

As part of this "seeking," Stevens began to experiment with various media, including many of his own invention. He developed a special chalk for his pastels. He combined various emulsions. He began to apply blots of color to pre-moistened paper, letting the softly radiating areas serve as focal points that dictated his remaining composition.

During several visits to Louisiana, Stevens came to love the bayou country and in 1921 he accepted an appointment as instructor of art at Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans, where he remained until his retirement in 1948. He was integrated quickly into the artistic, literary and intellectual life of that city.

The summer following his appointment, he found the small hamlet of Valley Town, near Murphy, North Carolina and built a studio there. The following year he visited Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which became one of his favorite painting sports until the development of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park brought in streams of visitors. He then went to a more remote part of the Smokies, which he came to know as well as any living man. By the end of his life he had painted in Indiana, New York, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Alabama and Mississippi.

During his years at Sophie Newcomb College, Stevens made frequent visits to New York City, where he renewed his acquaintance with Robert Henri, George Bellows and other artists. He kept abreast of modernist developments in art and on one trip in the 1930s he was influenced by an exhibition of abstract works by Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky at the Guggenheim.

As the logical outcome of Stevens' artistic philosophy, he began "non-objective" painting, but he did not stop painting from nature. Each was a path. In 1940 he began exhibiting at two galleries, one for his works derived from observation of nature, and the other for his abstractions of the underlying Universal Order.

Stevens died in 1949. A retrospective of his work was held at the Asheville Art Museum in North Carolina in 1967.


THE SOUTH ON PAPER: LINE, COLOR AND LIGHT; Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc., Spartanburg, South Carolina, 1985, p. 59.

Biography from The Johnson Collection:
An abiding love of nature?especially as borne out in the Southern landscape?informed the life and work of painter, poet and teacher Will Henry Stevens. Born in Vevay, Indiana, Stevens enrolled at the Cincinnati Art Academy in 1901 where his teachers included Frank Duveneck and Lewis Henry Meakin. In 1904, he won a design competition sponsored by Cincinnati's famous Rookwood Pottery and was subsequently hired as a tile designer. Two years later, Stevens undertook studies at the Art Students League in New York with William Merritt Chase and developed associations with Van Dearing Perrine and Jonas Lie in the city. His first one-man show was held at the New Gallery in 1907. Over the course of his career, Stevens' expansive intellectual curiosity and interest in experimental art forms led him to work in varied media and innovative styles, producing both realist and abstract expressions.

In 1921, Stevens became a member of the faculty at Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans, teaching there until his retirement in 1948. He plumbed the lush Louisiana landscape for subject matter during the school year, while the summers were reserved for travels to the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. Stevens was a popular teacher at several art colonies in the South, including Black Mountain, North Carolina. Throughout his career, he maintained friendships with Robert Henri, George Bellows,and other artists, and closely followed the modernist scene in New York. His work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Morris Museum of Art, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

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