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 Augustus Vincent Tack  (1870 - 1949)

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Lived/Active: New York/Massachusetts      Known for: figure-genre, landscape and religious painting

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Augustus Vincent Tack
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Augustus Vincent Tack, a painter of portraits, murals and abstractions, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1870.  From 1923 until his death in 1949, he produced approximately seventy-eight abstract paintings.  He has been described as "a Symbolist artist who entertained Romantic concepts about the relationship of man, God, and nature." (Isaacs)

His family was Roman Catholic, and Tack attended the Jesuit School St. Francis Xavier in New York City, graduating with an A.B. degree in 1890.  He then began to study art in New York under H. Siddons Mowbray, John Twachtman and John La Farge.  This program of working with individual artists whose work he admired developed his talent so quickly that a painting he, age 19, sent to the Society of American Artists in 1889 received the highest rating and a place of honor.  In the early 1890s, Tack made a trip to Europe to tour and to study in Paris under Luc-Olivier Merson at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.  He also visited Claude Monet's studio at Giverny.

Exploring much diversity of subjects and styles, he did wide-ranging painting that from Realism to complete Abstraction.

Beginning in the 1920s, he painted murals for various Catholic churches and government buildings, including the New Parliament Building, Winnipeg, Canada (1920); and the Nebraska State Capitol at Lincoln, Nebraska (1928).  During this time he was much sought after by religious and civic institutions for mural commissions.

He also became respected for his skills at portraiture.  After World War II, he painted many of the significant military figures including General George C. Marshall.  This portrait, circa 1949, is in the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

Tack's portraits and murals were traditional in style, but during the inter-war years, he also painted a number of mystical landscapes and abstract works on the themes of religion and creation.  "They evoke, through faceted slabs of color, suggestions of timelessness and spirituality in the tradition of Albert Pinkham Ryder, Georgia O'Keeffe and Clyfford Still."  (Isaacs)

Inspired by what he saw on his many trips to the Western United States, "Tack also based his compositions on photographs of the Western terrain, blowing them up ten to fifteen times their original size and tracing from them, applying the image to the canvas through the traditional mural technique of pouncing (Isaacs)."

As a Symbolist artist he was inspired by Christian theology and mysticism, Oriental art and philosophy, and other influences including Medieval stained glass and paintings by James Whistler. 

According to Duncan Phillips, critic and patron of the arts, the artist had two sources for his ideas: "God and the Eastern ideas of serenity and storm-opposing elements that transcend time and place in eternal balance."  Tack developed a friendship with Duncan Phillips, most likely when Phillips came to New York in 1914.  By 1920 Tack was on the board of the newly incorporated Phillips Memorial Art Gallery, and in 1921 he was Vice-President.  Phillips, who collected many paintings by Tack, was the major critical and financial supporter of the artist, especially during his years of abstract painting.  Many of these works are housed in the Phillips Collection in Washington DC.  At the time of his death in 1949, the Phillips Memorial Gallery owned thirty-five paintings by the artist, twenty-two of which were fully abstract works.

It is said that Tack inspired Morris Louis and other DC abstract painters.

Augustus Tack died in 1949 in New York City.

Written by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier

J. Susan Isaacs, "Cosmic Landscapes, The Abstract Paintings of Augustus Vincent Tack" American Art Review, Spring 1993

Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art

Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art

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