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J. Frank Currier (aka Joseph Frank Currier)

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J. Frank Currier
(Boston, Massachusetts, 1843 - 1909, Boston, Massachusetts)

Although not as well known today as some of the other American painters associated with the Munich School, J. Frank Currier was a distinctive talent who produced unusually experimental, expressive landscapes. Along with William Merritt Chase (1849–1916) and Frank Duveneck (1848–1919), Currier was an early arrival at the Munich Royal Academy. These three artists became mentors to the younger men who began to arrive about eight years later, transmitting the Munich tradition to subsequent generations of American painters.

Born in Boston, Currier studied initially with Samuel Gerry (1813–1891), George Fuller (1822–1884), and probably William Morris Hunt (1824–1879). He traveled to Europe in 1869 and first attended the Royal Academy in Antwerp, intending to study in Paris beginning in 1870. However, the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in July led him to Munich instead. He enrolled at the Royal Academy in January 1871 and studied painting under Georg Raab (1821–1885) and Alexander von Wagner (1838–1919). He quickly joined the American circle, and he and Duveneck became leaders of the group. (1) Although Currier did not teach formal classes as Duveneck did, he was likewise widely admired by the other Americans, and he welcomed them to landscape sites such as Polling, Bavaria. This group of Americans, sometimes called “Duveneck’s Boys,” spent the summers in an old monastery in Polling, where they worked collegially, sharing ideas and personal theories of art. Currier, a primary inspiration for the students in painting landscape, encouraged an emotional response to the natural environment.

Currier’s approach, like that of the other American members of the Munich School, was based on a love for the process of painting and a desire to maintain the fresh, spontaneous power of the artist’s touch. When Currier first arrived in Munich, the most influential of the German teachers was Wilhelm Liebl (1844–1900), who promoted the technique of painting alla prima, that is, blending strokes of paint directly on the canvas while the surface remained wet. As one author has noted, Currier’s “flowing brushstrokes capture a dynamic, emotional vision which was a full generation ahead of its time.” (2)

Currier remained in Munich for almost thirty years, but he never achieved the recognition enjoyed by artists such as Chase and Duveneck, primarily because of his unwillingness to promote his art or seek exhibition opportunities. He married and settled in Schleissheim, where he worked and tutored students. He began to paint in watercolors as well as oils in around 1878, and in the early 1880s he exhibited these works in New York at the Society of American Artists and the American Watercolor Society. Eventually Currier also experimented with pastels, etching, and photography. Unfortunately, his sensitive nature did not serve him well in later life as he suffered personal misfortune and tragedy. He never recovered emotionally from a stroke he suffered in 1888, and he retreated unhappily to Boston in 1898. Finally, economic reverses led to a mental depression from which the artist never recovered, and he took his own life in 1907. (3)

(1) John Driscoll and Michael St. Clair, J. Frank Currier: A Solitary Vision (New York: Babcock Galleries, 1994), and Richard V. West, Munich and American Realism in the Nineteenth Century (Sacramento, CA: E. B. Crocker Art Gallery, 1978), pp. 41–42.

(2) See Michael Quick, “Munich and American Realism” in West, p. 29.

(3) See Driscoll and St. Clair, n.p.

Excerpted from "American Paintings from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts," p. 68, catalogue number 18.

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