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Elliott Daingerfield

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Elliott Daingerfield
(Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), 1859 - 1932, New York, New York)

Elliott Daingerfield experienced the tragedy of the Civil War as a child, and his subsequent depictions of rural North Carolina evoke his spiritual belief in nature as a powerful force for healing and personal reconciliation. Daingerfield’s father was in charge of a Confederate arsenal in Fayetteville, North Carolina, when Union troops evacuated and then burned their home. During Reconstruction, the family, like most others, possessed few resources and survived as best they could. A journal kept by Daingerfield as a youth records these harrowing times, as well as his realization that he wanted to be an artist. Perceiving that he had little chance of learning to be a professional artist in North Carolina, he traveled to New York in 1880. (1) Daingerfield’s training began with an apprenticeship in the studio of painter/illustrator Walter Satterlee (1844–1908); he also enrolled in classes at the Art Students League. His most important association, however, arose through luck. In 1884 he rented space at the Holbein Studios on West Fifty-fifth Street, where artists such as J. Alden Weir (1852–1919), Homer Dodge Martin (1836–1897), and George Inness (1825–1894) also worked. Daingerfield formed a fast friendship with Inness, one of the great landscape painters of the era, who mentored the younger man and taught him the technique of glazing canvases by applying thin washes of varnish between layers of paint. (2) This practice was critical to Daingerfield’s development of a personal style, contributing to the evocative, tonal mood that defines his later work. While Daingerfield’s technique reflects the influence of Inness, his subject matter and sensibility show the equally strong impact of the work of Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847–1917). Ryder’s small, idiosyncratic landscapes represented a move away from the Hudson River School’s heroic depictions of the American wilderness. Ryder’s more personal, introspective view of nature was allied with the ideas of the Barbizon School in France. When Daingerfield’s first wife passed away in 1891, the spiritual component of his work began to evolve as he sought the means to express both the trauma of his childhood and his current grief. Daingerfield secured his reputation when he was elected to membership in the Society of American Artists (1903) and the National Academy of Design (1906). Having thus established himself professionally in New York, Daingerfield began regularly returning to North Carolina, residing in various summer homes near Blowing Rock, an area in the Great Smoky Mountains. There he painted landscapes that summarize his vision of nature as a sublime paradise and wellspring of spiritual sustenance.

(1) . Estill Curtis Pennington et al., Victorian Visionary: The Art of Elliott Daingerfield (Augusta, GA: Morris Museum of Art, 1994), p. 12.

(2) Inness reportedly sent collectors to Daingerfield, telling them, “Why pay such exorbitant prices for my paintings when you can acquire works by this young artist for a fraction of the cost?” See Robert Hobbs, Elliott Daingerfield: Retrospective Exhibition (Charlotte, NC: Mint Museum of Art, 1971), p. 14. 3. Pennington et al., p. 30.

American Paintings from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, 2006, cat. no. 38

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