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 Hubert Vos  (1855 - 1935)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: portrait, still life, interior

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Ad Code: 3
Hubert  Vos
An example of work by Hubert Vos
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Maastricht, Holland, Hubert Vos was a portrait painter, known for idealized exotic subjects that included Orientals and aboriginal races including pre-Westernized Hawaiians. In Holland, he became a court painter, after studying and painting throughout Europe.

He was the first westerner to paint a portrait of the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi of China. He also did interiors and still lifes, many of them of Chinese porcelains.

He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium and Corman in Paris and exhibited widely in Europe including Amsterdam, Paris and Munich. He came to the United States in 1892 as commissioner representing Holland at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.

He created a touring gallery of portraits of exotic people, which he exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC and other venues across the country. Among his subjects were Hawaiians whom he painted when he first traveled to Hawaii in the late 1890s with his Hawaiian-born wife, Eleanor Coney Graham, whom he met on the mainland when she was accompanying the dethroned Queen Liliuokalani. Eleanor was from a royal family in Hilo.

David W. Forbes, "Encounters With Paradise"
The following biography is based on "Moccasins and Wooden Shoes: American Indians and Dutch artists", a manuscript-in-progress by Pieter Hovens, Curator of the North American Department, National Museum of Ethnology, P.O. Box 212, 2300 AE - Leiden, the Netherlands. Any information about Barnouw and his work is appreciated by the author.

HUBERT VOS (1855-1935)

Hubert Vos was born on February 15, 1855 in Maastricht, the Netherlands. In his native city he began to draw and paint, but the premature death of his father prevented him from pursuing an art education at the time. Instead he trained as a printer, publisher and book salesman, and established his own printing and publishing firm in Brussels with a subsidiary in Maastricht. He soon sold the firm with a good profit and began studying at the Academie Royal de l'Art in Brussels under Portaels. Subsequently he studied in Paris under Fr. Cormon, and then to Rome. Back in Brussels he trained with Blanc-Garin at the art academy, and at the university took courses in anatomy.

Vos worked in oils, pastels and watercolors, and produced house interiors with people, and portraits and full figures, most painted in rural areas (Brittany, Zuydersea, Galway) and showing destitute and working class people: poor people in an almshouse, a Spanish beggar, evicted Irishmen, and Dutch and Flemish fishermen.

In the late eighties he began to win prizes for his works (Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Munich, Dresden). At the Paris Salon of 1886 he won a gold medal with "A Room in a Brussels Almshouse". This was subsequently shown in Brussels, New York, Chicago and London, after which Vos donated it to his native city of Maastricht. He won another gold medal in Amsterdam in 1887 with "En Bretagne". It was purchased by a firm which loaned it to the Ryksmuseum. When the firm went bank the picture was sold to a dealer who cut it up in several parts to make more money, much to the dismay of the painter.

Vos married a woman from the Watteau family of Maastricht with whom he had a son Marius (later to become a sculptor), and a daughter Isolde. Apparently his growing international recognition emboldened him to move to London in 1887 where he established a teaching studio. It quickly became a success and he opened two others, one for ladies. Vos befriended James Whistler and was a co-founder of the Society of British Portrait Painters and the Society of Pastellists. For ten years he remained in London, and established a reputation as a portraitist. Among his major works were portraits of Queen Wilhelmina, and Staal, the Russian ambassador in London. He continued to paint the poor in the almshouses of Brussels, London, and Northampton, as well as painted portraits of mental patients in asylums in Belgium and England. During the summers he made sketching trips through the Netherlands.

In 1892 he was appointed deputy commissioner representing the Netherlands at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. Commissioner Willem Mesdag selected the artworks and Vos organized the most successful show of Dutch art abroad at that occasion. For his efforts he was never paid but knighted instead (the cheap Dutch way!). He liked life and opportunities in the United States, decided to stay and sold the London studios. Eventually he obtained American citizenship.

In the U.S. he married Eleanor Kaikilani Graham, a most beautiful Hawaiian woman of noble descent and often referred to as a princess. This union became somewhat of a scandal as he was still married to his first wife at the time. However, he was forgiven for this transgression by his family. The couple had a daughter Marguerite (Oostende).

At Chicago's World Fair he was inspired by the ethnic types from around the globe, and decided on a lifelong project to paint pure ethnic types that would take him across the United States, to Hawaii, Japan, China, Korea, Java. He visited the Dakotas and stayed at the Fort Totten Indian reservation to sketch and paint Sioux and Chippewa Indians. This was followed by a painting of a Native American from British Guyana. In Hawaii he painted fishermen and a flower girl. Vos regarded the Japanese as too much of an ethnic mixture.

On the Indonesian island of Jave he was able to paint several noble persons of the sultan's court at Djokjakarta. In China he painted in Hongkong, Macao, Shanghai, Tientsien, and Peking. He was allowed to paint several portraits of people at the emperor's court, including Prince Ching, the supreme ruler's uncle and political advisor. In Mongolia he painted a Buriat, and a Tibetan. In Korea the emperor ordered Vos to paint his portrait. In Asia Vos also encountered what he regarded as pure types of a Sikh and a Punjabi. When the Chinese empress dowager Tzu Hsi saw the portrait Vos had done of her husband's uncle, she ordered the artist to return to Peking to paint her portrait. In the dacades around 1900 Vos travelled through the United States showing his portrait gallery of exotic types, also in the capitol at the Corcoran Gallery. He also painted still lifes, and Chinese porcelain was a favorite subject. In 1904 he was a member of the jury at the International Exhibition in St. Louis, and co organized a second Dutch art show in America at this occasion.

In the U.S. Vos continued painting portraits, receiving numerous commissions from diplomats, businessmen and wealthy northeastern families, notably from New York City and Newport, Connecticut, where he went to live and work is his studio "Zeerust" (Searest). Amongst others he portrayed Mrs. Jay Gould

Vos must have been a socially adept man, as he was equally at home among the common folk of many countries whom he painted, as well at courts in East and West and in the salons of the upper classes in Europe. He received many decorations and was Officer of the Order of Orange Nassau (the Netherlands), Officer of the Legion of Honour (Korea), Commander of the Order of Isabella the Catholic (Spain), and bearer of the Grand Sash of the Double Dragon (China). Hubert Vos died on January 8, 1935 in his "Zeerust"-residence in Newport, Connecticut. Vos was honored by memorial exhibitions at the Holland House Corporation in New York City (1944), the Stamford Museum (Stamfort, CT, 1979), the Bonnefanten Museum (Maastricht, Netherlands, 1979), the Art Association of Newport (1981), and the National Museum of Modern Art in Seoul (1982).

Works by Vos are curated at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, DC), Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the Chicago Historical Society and Chicago Public Library, the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the U.S. State Department (Washington, DC), the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University (Cambridge, MS), the Palais de Luxembourg (Paris), and the Bonnefantenmuseum of Maastricht (the Netherlands).

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Hubert Vos is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Artists who painted Hawaii

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