James Daugherty c. 1956

James Daugherty Biography

James Daugherty (1887-1974) was a distinguished American artist renowned for his many illustrated books, murals, and paintings.  Born in Asheville, North Carolina, he spent his childhood in Indiana and Ohio.  As a youth he studied at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and from 1905-07 at the London School of Art in England.  Returning to America in 1907, he took up residence in New Jersey and New York City.  By 1913 he had begun to respond to new ideas in art, applying a “futurist” style to his drawings and paintings.  In 1915 he met Arthur B. Frost, Jr., who occupied an adjoining studio on 14th Street in New York.  Frost had studied for seven years in Paris, learning modernist color principles from Matisse and from Robert and Sonia Delaunay.  Frost taught these principles to Daugherty, who eagerly adopted these concepts and began his use of bold colors and their contrasting interactions.  Daugherty thus became one of the first American artists to paint abstract and near-abstract compositions based upon the power of color relationships.

Starting in 1920, Daugherty played an important role as a muralist in America.  After creating daring, original modernist murals for Loew’s State Theatre in Cleveland and for a Loew’s Theatre in Newark (now demolished), Daugherty then painted many public murals under the federal government’s New Deal projects, 1934-39.   He was one of the first to paint large-scale murals in the realist style with American themes and heroic imagery.  These murals show Daugherty’s strong color sense as well as his command of formal organization, characterization and draftsmanship.

Daugherty’s greatest fame in his lifetime was in the field of illustrated books.  His virtuoso skills as an artist served him well in the 103 published books which he illustrated or authored.  In 1940 he received the John Newbery Medal for his Daniel Boone, selected as the year’s most distinguished contribution to American literature for children, and twice he won Caldecott Honor Medals.

Beginning in 1953, Daugherty returned to painting and drawing in a nonobjective abstract style, sometimes reflecting new developments of the postwar “New York School”.  He is the only notable painter of the first generation of American abstract artists of the era of World War I to have lived long enough to paint along with the generation of Rothko, Pollock and de Kooning after World War II.

The art remaining in the estate of James Daugherty is held by the Friends of James Daugherty Foundation, Inc., a 401(c)(3) organization, at 10 Bobwhite Drive, Westport, CT 06880.

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