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 Vaughan Trowbridge  (1869 - 1945)

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Lived/Active: New York / France      Known for: Parisien street scene etchings and aquatints, landscape painting

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Vaughan Trowbridge
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information is from John Arbeeny, Lakewood, Washington.  He is the author of Biography of Vaughan Trowbridge, 1869-1945, American Artist, Etching/Aquatint.

First, let me clear up the controversy about the spelling of Mr. Trowbridge's first name. His first name may be found variously as either "Vaughan" or "Vaughn" depending upon source document. I have used the spelling "Vaughan", which is consistent with the spelling by a dear friend, Edward I. Horsman, Jr., in his summer journals of 1899-1901 (unpublished), which chronicled their time together in Europe. These journals, with their many startling photographs provide a wonderful glimpse into the end of the Victorian age and present a fine portrait in word and photograph of Vaughan Trowbridge as a man and artist. It is through these journals, which I found discarded in 1964, that I have come to know Vaughan personally not only as an artist but as a friend just a century removed!

This spelling is also found in the credits of the book Paris and the Social Revolution by Alvan Sanborn (1905), which Vaughan illustrated as well as on numerous prints in "Book Lover Magazine" of similar vintage. He typically signed his works "V. Trowbridge" and often included a "T over V" monogram enclosed in a triangle somewhere near the bottom of the print.

Miner Trowbridge, Vaughan's father, was born Sept. 12, 1840, in New York City. He attended Trinity School in New York City for a year, then was sent to Flushing Institute, where he remained until he entered Columbia College (University, today) in 1858. On Dec. 10, 1861, with the Civil War underway, he received an appointment as master's mate on board the USS Monticello at Fort Monroe, and after serving a year and a day in the Navy, Miner resigned his commission on Dec. 12, 1862. He became a clerk with the Wall Street banking firm of De Launay, Iselin & Clark. Miner married Charlotte Fox Tiffany on Oct. 23, 1863, in New York City. She was the daughter of Francis Alphonso Tiffany and Mary Lydia (Fox) Tiffany, and Charlotte had been born Sept. 1, 1843, at Fox Corners, West Farms, NY. Miner and Charlotte had nine children. Vaughan was their third child, born Dec. 3, 1869 in Astoria, Queens, New York.

Vaughan attended Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, New York, studied banking, and graduated in 1889. He then worked as a clerk for the Susquehanna Railroad, where he remained from 1889 to 1897. In 1897, he "left business life" to study art in Paris under the tutelage of Jean Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant. There is no indication of what prompted the career change, although Edward I. Horsman provides in his 13 July 1899 journal entry some indication of Vaughan's artistic bent, dedication and abode at 99 rue Vaugirard, Paris:

"It is (his abode) a cozy little box, opening directly from the pavement of the courtyard and serves as bedroom, dining room, kitchen and studio all in one. It is the most extremely Bohemian abode that I have ever heard of. There is nothing overhead so that a portion of the roof is glazed and utilized as a skylight. There are glass windows and a transom over the doors but all these are lined within with black cambric to exclude the light which therefore comes wholly from above. On the wall are sketches and framed canvases of his own and some choice and highly prized copies of masterpieces; on shelves and brackets a cast or so. The bed is in one corner; converted during the day into a broad divan and covered with a stout timber canopy with hangings. A rude ladder gives access above this framework and reveals a space given to storing a trunk and other matters. Every inch in the studio is made to count. A tiny iron stove occupies another corner and the pantry takes up a third. In the remaining corner, well screened from sight, one can wash and be clean. It is such a place as the American Artist who has not traveled does not conceive of. His work of the last twelve months shows it seems to me, steady advance, offers indeed, one or two bits of work that are really fine. The dear old boy looks well and hardy and he's just the same combination of artistic delicacy, analytical instinct, and untiring method. Of course he does all his own house work, cooks, washes dishes, makes his bed, sweeps, scrubs and all the rest of it. One must love one's art with singleness of heart to live in Paris on four hundred a year. The studio costs seventy five dollars and he manages some how on the rest."

Vaughan lived, even relished the simple, laid back yet intellectually, artistically and politically invigorating environment of Paris, the Left Bank and Latin Quarter at the turn of the century. He spoke French fluently and was well known among the Parisian artist community with whom he associated even at this early stage of his artistic career. Perhaps, as Edward I. Horsman, Jr. observed elsewhere in the journals, he fit best into this more open less structured "Latin" society than the more ordered, disciplined "Anglo Saxon" society he left in the United States.

Vaughan would remain an ex-patriot American in Paris for the rest of his life. He exhibited in Paris salons from about 1900 and on into the 1920s. Occasionally he traveled back to the United States for family visits and exhibitions. He exhibited colored etchings at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904 and at the Klackner Gallery, New York, Nov. 19- Dec. 1 1904. His work was reviewed in its early stages (1901) by The New York Times, the New York Herald (1904) and later in The International Studio (June 1916) where examples of his work can be seen. He was listed in the 1908-1909 Who's Who in American Art edition, and remained in subsequent editions through 1941, though apparently he did no updating of the listing after about the late 1920s.

He was listed initially with a New York address, 834 President Street, Brooklyn, New York (thought to be his parents home) though later, in the 1920s, it is listed as 842 President Street, Brooklyn, New York. His Paris studio in 1899 was located at 99 rue Vaugirard and in 1908 at 65 rue Lepic. By 1920, his address had changed to 15 Ave.. Libert, Draveil, Seine et Oise, France, and by 1923, the street number changed to 21 Av. Libert. Vaughan disappears from the Who's Who listings in 1942-43. Vaughan apparently died in Paris in 1945.

Vaughan Trowbridge was still a listed, if obscure, artist as late as the 1960's- 1980's in Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers (1965), Dictionnaire Des Peintres Sculpteurs Dessinateurs et Graveurs (1976), and Who Was Who in American Art (1985).

Vaughan Trowbridge is best known for his etchings and aquatints of Parisian street scenes, provincial French towns and country sides and similar scenes of surrounding countries, primarily Italy and Spain. Although he was also a painter, his greatest success was as an etcher. Vaughan was an impressionist, and I find surprising his departure from what I have seen of the works by his "mentors" Benjamin Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens. There is a simplicity yet "warmth" in his work and a technical approach to producing the prints that creates the impression of almost a base relief in terms of line as well as contrasting colors: there is depth to his etchings and aquatints.

His aquatint color process creates a unique blending and shading within each of his prints even within the same series: each is unique. They fairly glow with warm shades and a muted intensity of transparent color through the otherwise stark black contrast of the etchers line: a juxtaposition most pleasing. It is clear from his works that he spent considerable time in Italy and Spain through the 1920's and at least in his early career frequently visited London with Edward I. Horsman, Jr. Although I have not seen any etchings of England.

Vaughan was also an illustrator, most notably of the book "Paris and the Social Revolution" by Alvan Sanborn, Hutchinson and Co., 1905, which contains some 70+ of Vaughans earliest black and white etchings dating back to 1900. His colored aquatints were also featured illustrations in Book Lover Magazine during these early years. Not everyone was fully appreciative of his early artistic talent as seen in the following excerpted New York Times review, May 13, 1901, Page 6:

THE ART STUDENT'S RETURN
Oils, Water Colors, and Etchings by Vaughan Trowbridge

The return of an artist from a stay abroad may not profoundly interest a nation or even a city, but it is a matter of no little moment to himself and his circle of friends. It is like the launching of a graduate of college into the real world after years passed in the microcosm where professors and youths of prodigious promise play their several parts unknown to the outer world. Will he succeed in attracting notice? And if he does not, will he find one of those by paths of endeavor which lead gradually to some measure of success? Or will he retire disheartened from a field that seems overstocked with applicants and turn his hand to anything that gives him a livelihood?

Mr. Vaughan Trowbridge has been working in Brittany on the shores of Finisterre, and shows at one of the Holbein studios in West Fifty-fifth Street the results of his studies in oils, water colors and etching. He has also a few monotypes or "single prints" in which he has given strength to the print by using a stub instead of a brush when applying the medium to the smooth plate. Nightfall is a little landscape in which reeds and grasses are put in with much boldness. Mr. Trowbridge excels in etching. Stormy Night, La Clarte is a finely dramatic landscape; Venice is a view down one of the small canals with a gondola containing two girls coming forward at a lively gait. Old Street, Rouen and Spire of Cathedral, Rouen are very pleasing bits of the old town on the Seine. Study of Nice is another good bit. The monotypes and etchings seem to argue that Mr. Trowbridge will do well in black and white as an illustrator of books.

In his oil paintings there is generally but little atmosphere, with the exception of a small Sunset, Senlise, France, which has nice feeling. Pardon of La Clarte', Brittany, is a careful sketch for a Salon picture. Return of the Fishing Boats, Audierne, is a memorandum in paint, while some townscapes made in Paris are scarcely more. A portrait of young Mr. Sanborn, and another of a pretty young Irish girl are beginner's work. More attractive are the water colors which Mr. Trowbridge heightens with white, gaining in strength, but losing in transparency. Here is one of the avenues of tall trees in the park of St. Cloud, one rank brilliant in sunlight, and a yellow sky at the end of the vista; there, a Valley of Troyrot, Brittany, strange and out of the world in its bareness; yonder a cleft in the rocks on the Breton shore with a lilac ocean beyond. One of the best water colors is Bay of Douarnenez, Finisterre, seen through a screen of trees, with a white city on a promontory reflecting itself in the smooth water. The Paris views are done with less spirit and pleasure. Pont Alexandre II, Jardin des Tuileries, Colonne de la Bastille and Avenue des Champs Elysses.


Several years later he returned to the United States with better credentials and reviews. The following is an excerpt of a pamphlet for the 1904 Klackner Gallery exhibition, which details Vaughan's technique:

"Mr. Vaughan Trowbridge an American artist who has won distinction in Paris and whose work, notably his novel Color etchings, have attracted much attention in art circles in New York last winter. As Mr. Trowbridges peculiar work is so entirely unusual, new not only to art lovers, but to most artists, in this country, a brief description of his method, which appeared in a recent issue of the New York Herald, may be interesting:

"While result have been somewhat similar, Mr. Trowbridge's method of producing the unique and beautiful color prints which have awakened such an interest here, differs materially from that employed in the production of other French color etchings, properly called aquatint. It is only after having seen the results from the two different processes that one can fully appreciate the difference, and such comparison is brought easily within reach, for Mr. Trowbridge, himself, works in the aquatint as well in the straightway line etching, the only variation of the latter being in his individual and exception way of producing a proof in color. It is almost impossible to convey by simple description of an idea of Mr. Trowbridge's etchings. They are not, as one might imagine by the term, colored etchings, prints in which colored lines have simply been substituted for the black ones of the conventional etching, but the entire print is colored, as in a painting, only that the effect is entirely distinct from that of an oil, water color, pastel or any other variety of color work, the lusterless finish giving the wonderful effect of softness.

In the aquatint process, that employed by Mr. Trowbridge, as well as by the most noted French etchers of the day, the plate is specially prepared by the direct application of acid for the reception of the colors with which it is to be treated, the intensely rapid action of the acid making careful work impossible, and since the effects produced may be said to be almost the result of accidents: the plate turns out good or bad, as it happens. As it is impossible to work out of doors with the acids these plates must be prepared indoors from sketches, instead of from the original scenes.

On the other hand, Mr. Trowbridge designs directly from nature, taking his waxed plates into the open air, and there drawing the scene he wishes to reproduce. Afterward the plate is treated with acid, as in the legitimate process of etching, the resultant plate being a conventional one, from which simply black and white prints may be obtained whenever desired, as perfect in outline and detail as if intended solely for simple etchings. "The color effects of Mr. Trowbridge's etchings are produced solely by the printing process which he employs. Taking his etched plate, he first applies the crude color tones which he wishes to employ. The plate is then run through the press, cleaned and treated with a neutral tone, when a second printing takes place, after which comes a final washing and treatment of the plate of the extreme darks, the third printing concluding the process.

By this method the artist is left at liberty to treat his plates as he chooses, and the same subject may be colored to represent a sunset, twilight, midday, gray, misty or night scene, or he may simply repeat the same tonal effect each time, though the fact will be appreciated that, each print being separately colored as well as submitted to three tonations, each must be more or less variant, and no two exactly the same tone or key.

Without lessening the technical quality of the work, this covering adds a r which must be seen to be realized. This is a form of art that will never become a commercial process, as too much depends upon the judgment of the artist and too little upon the mechanical process, even if the fact of the individual printing of each copy and the length of time required for the drying, etc., of prints and plates between processes were not of such importance. Mr. Trowbridge also prepares his own colors, which are in the nature of an oil ink, after an original process. (Mr. Trowbridge has for the last five years exhibited regularly, both in painting and etching, at the Paris Salon, and is well represented at the St. Louis Exposition)."

In the June 1916 edition of The International Studio, we have the last known glimpse into Vaughan's life and art. The following is an excerpt of Etchings by Vaughan Trowbridge by E. A. Taylor:

It is in the rue Lepic, close to the old mill, that Vaughan Trowbridge is to be found busy with his etching in line and colour. Trowbridge is an American born in New York, but one might almost call him a Parisian.

To some etchers Trowbridge's work may not appeal, though amongst the genuine, who have followed his output, I have found none who have not recognized his sincerity and the artist behind the work; and if amongst his many plates there is found anything with which one might quibble on technical or other grounds, the artist will be the first to forestall criticism by pointing it out himself. His method of work is simple, and though he has attained a unique success with his colour etchings, all his plates have in the first place been produced without any thought of painting in colour. His first and only desire is to obtain a good black and white print, which in line is not only more rare but more difficult. He is an emphatic worker from nature, taking always his waxed plates with him into the open, and he seldom, if ever works from pencil sketches. (Biographer's Note: This is confirmed through the journals as Vaughan's method of operation. In point of fact, the accompanying photo of Vaughan shows his waxed etching plates under his arm and chemical box slung over his shoulder).

The prints he has produced have had an uncommon success, as is shown by the eagerness with which they were claimed by various collectors from a special exhibition of them some few years age in the Klackner Gallery, New York, and also the interest they excited when shown in Messrs. Tooth's galleries in Paris.

Amidst the whirring noise of watchful aeroplanes hovering over the sunlit city his quaint old studio was a rare haven of peace in which to spend a few fugitive hours away from the turmoil of war and sadness. There one could turn over virile little prints of places devastated by great guns and be glad that they had not found out other haunts of artist and country lover. There was one of that delightful ancient church St. Trophime, Arles, evoking memories of the charming old town and that eccentric artist, Vincent van Gogh; other an varied memories would be aroused, by prints such as the peacefully designed C'oeur dAlbane, Rouen, The Ancient Chapel of the Chartreuse, Avignon, the Storm, Champagne sur Seine, reminding one of gorgeous July storms that sweep over the city and country and then lastly his colour-print Bassin du Dragon, Versailles, which in its play of sunlight and shadow brought forcibly to mind the sad associations of military glory and the human wreckage of war with which the place is now haunted.

Vaughan continued to produce original works through the 1920s, with some of these reproduced as "Reproofs" or reprints still later. However the trail runs faint after this productive part of his career with little further information on his life available past the mid 1920's. Thus, for the time being, do I gently close the door on the life, the art and times of an American artist and friend, Vaughan Trowbridge.


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