Max Weber (April 18, 1881 – October 4, 1961) was a Jewish-American painter and one of the first American Cubist painters who, in later life, turned to more figurative Jewish themes in his art. He is best known today for Chinese Restaurant (1915),in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, "the finest canvas of his Cubist phase," in the words of art historian Avis Berman.
Born in the Polish city of Białystok, then part of the Russian Empire, Weber emigrated to the United States and settled in Brooklyn with his Orthodox Jewish parents at the age of ten. He studied art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn under Arthur Wesley Dow. Dow was a fortunate early influence on Weber as he was an "enlightened and vital teacher" in a time of conservative art instruction, a man who was interested in new approaches to creating art. Dow had met Paul Gauguin in Pont-Aven, was a devoted student of Japanese art, and defended the advanced modernist painting and sculpture he saw at the Armory Show in New York in 1913.
In 1905, after teaching in Virginia and Minnesota, Weber had saved enough money to travel to Europe, where he studied at the Académie Julianin Paris and acquainted himself with the work of such modernists as Henri Rousseau (who became a good friend), Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and other members of the School of Paris. His friends among fellow Americans included some equally adventurous young painters, such as Abraham Walkowitz, H. Lyman Sayen, and Patrick Henry Bruce. Avant-garde France in the years immediately before World War I was fertile and welcoming territory for Weber, then in his early twenties. He arrived in Paris in time to see a major Cézanne exhibition, meet the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, frequent Gertrude Stein's salon, and enroll in classes in Matisse's private "Academie." Rousseau gave him some of his works; others, Weber purchased. He was responsible for Rousseau's first exhibition in the United States.
In 1909 he returned to New York and helped to introduce Cubism to America. He is now considered one of the most significant early American Cubists, but the reception his work received in New York at the time was profoundly discouraging. Critical response to his paintings in a 1911 show at the 291 gallery, run by Alfred Stieglitz, was an occasion for "one of the most merciless critical whippings that any artist has received in America."The reviews were "of an almost hysterical violence." He was attacked for his "brutal, vulgar, and unnecessary art license." Even a critic who usually tried to be sympathetic to new art, James Gibbons Huneker, protested that the artist's clever technique had left viewers with no real picture and made use of the adage, "The operation was successful, but the patient died." As art historian Sam Hunter wrote, "Weber's wistful, tentative Cubism provided the philistine press with their first solid target prior to the Armory Show."
Weber was sustained by the respect of some eminent peers, such as photographers Alvin Langdon Coburn and Clarence White, and museum director John Cotton Dana, who saw to it that Weber was the subject of a one-man exhibition at the Newark Museum in 1913, the first modernist exhibition in an American museum. For a few years, Weber enjoyed a productive if rocky relationship with Stieglitz, and he published two essays in Stieglitz's journal Camera Work . (He also wrote Cubist poems and published a book, Essays on Art, in 1916.) So poor was Weber in these years that he camped out for some weeks in Stieglitz's gallery.Weber was also closely acquainted with Wilhelmina Weber Furlong and Thomas Furlong, whom he met at the Art Students League, where he taught from 1919 to 1921 and 1926 to 1927. Weber died in Great Neck, New York in 1961. He was the subject of a major retrospective at the Jewish Museum in 1982.
Weber evidently was a prickly personality even with his allies. He and Stieglitz had a falling-out, and Weber was not represented in the famous Armory Show because his friend, Arthur B. Davies, one of the show's organizers, had only allotted him space for two paintings. In a fit of pique at Davies, he withdrew entirely from the exhibition.Other artists in the Stieglitz circle kept their distance, especially after Weber told people that there were only three indisputably great modern painters: Cézanne, Rousseau, and himself. "Almost without exception, they found him obnoxious: opinionated, rude, intolerant."
In time, Weber's work found more adherents, including Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the first director of the Museum of Modern Art. In 1930, the Museum of Modern Art held a retrospective of his work, the first solo exhibition at that museum of an American artist. He was praised as a "pioneer of modern art in America" in a 1945 Life magazine article. In 1948, Look magazine reported on a survey among art experts to determine the greatest living American artists; Weber was rated second, behind only John Marin.He was the subject of a major traveling retrospective in 1949. He became more popular in the 1940s and 1950s for his figurative work, often expressionist renderings of Jewish families, rabbis, and Talmudic scholars, than for the early modernist work he had abandoned circa 1920 and on which his current reputation is founded.
Not everyone believed that Weber fulfilled his early potential as he became a more representational and expressionist painter post-World War I. Critic Hilton Kramer wrote of him that, in light of the remarkable beginning of his career, "Weber proved instead to be one of the great disappointments of twentieth-century American art."Others however, because of his bold "Cubist decade," hold him in the same high regard as other native modernists like John Marin, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, and Charles Demuth.
While lecturing at the Clarence H. White School for Photography, Weber wrote his Cubist Poems that were to be published in 1914.In 1926, the artist released another collection entitled Primitives: Poems and Woodcuts." Weber designed the modernist-style binding for the book, as well as providing eleven woodcuts for the illustrations. First published by Spiral Press in a run of 350 copies, original editions are now rare.
Cubes, cubes, cubes, cubes,
High, low and high, and higher, higher,
Far, far out, out, far..
Billions of things upon things
This for the eye, the eye of being,
At the edge of the Hudson,
Flowing timeless, endless,
On, on, on, on....
<small>Excerpt from The Eye Moment, a Weber poem published in 1914<ref>Princeton education website </ref></small>
Collections containing Weber's work include:
The Armory Show, also known as the International Exhibition of Modern Art, was a show organized by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors in 1913. It was the first large exhibition of modern art in America, as well as one of the many exhibitions that have been held in the vast spaces of U.S. National Guard armories.
Henri Julien Félix Rousseau was a French post-impressionist painter in the Naïve or Primitive manner. He was also known as Le Douanier, a humorous description of his occupation as a toll and tax collector. He started painting seriously in his early forties; by age 49, he retired from his job to work on his art full-time.
Stuart Davis, was an early American modernist painter. He was well known for his jazz-influenced, proto-pop art paintings of the 1940s and 1950s, bold, brash, and colorful, as well as his Ashcan School pictures in the early years of the 20th century. With the belief that his work could influence the sociopolitical environment of America, Davis' political message was apparent in all of his pieces from the most abstract to the clearest. Contrary to most modernist artists, Davis was aware of his political objectives and allegiances and did not waver in loyalty via artwork during the course of his career. By the 1930s, Davis was already a famous American painter, but that did not save him from feeling the negative effects of the Great Depression, which led to his being one of the first artists to apply for the Federal Art Project. Under the project, Davis created some seemingly Marxist works; however, he was too independent to fully support Marxist ideals and philosophies. Despite several works that appear to reflect the class struggle, Davis' roots in American optimism is apparent throughout his lifetime.
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Marsden Hartley was an American Modernist painter, poet, and essayist. Hartley developed his painting abilities by observing Cubist artists in Paris and Berlin.
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Walter Francis Kuhn was an American painter and an organizer of the famous Armory Show of 1913, which was America's first large-scale introduction to European Modernism.
Arthur Bowen Davies was an avant-garde American artist and influential advocate of modern art in the United States c. 1910–1928.
John Marin was an early American modernist artist. He is known for his abstract landscapes and watercolors.
American modernism, much like the modernism movement in general, is a trend of philosophical thought arising from the widespread changes in culture and society in the age of modernity. American modernism is an artistic and cultural movement in the United States beginning at the turn of the 20th century, with a core period between World War I and World War II. Like its European counterpart, American modernism stemmed from a rejection of Enlightenment thinking, seeking to better represent reality in a new, more industrialized world.
John D. Graham was a Ukrainian born American Modernist / figurative painter, collector and mentor of modernist artists in New York City.
Edward Middleton Manigault was a Canadian-born American Modernist painter.
Florine Stettheimer was an American modernist painter, feminist, theatrical designer, poet, and salonnière.
Abraham Walkowitz was an Russian-American painter grouped in with early American Modernists working in the Modernist style. While never attaining the same level of fame as his contemporaries, Walkowitz' close relationship with the 291 Gallery and Alfred Stieglitz placed him at the center of the modernist movement. His early abstract cityscapes and collection of over 5,000 drawings of Isadora Duncan also remain significant art historical records.
Andrew Michael Dasburg was an American modernist painter and "one of America's leading early exponents of cubism".
Wilhelmina Weber Furlong (1878–1962) was a German American artist and teacher.
La Femme aux Phlox, also known as Woman with Phlox or Woman with Flowers, is an oil painting created in 1910 by the French artist and theorist Albert Gleizes (1881–1953). The painting was exhibited in Room 41 at the Salon des Indépendants in the Spring of 1911 ; the exhibition that introduced Cubism as a group manifestation to the general public for the first time. The complex collection of geometric masses in restrained colors exhibited in Room 41 created a scandal from which Cubism spread throughout Paris, France, Europe and the rest of the world. It was from the preview of the works by Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Henri Le Fauconnier, Robert Delaunay, and Fernand Léger at the 1911 Indépendants that the term 'Cubism' can be dated. La Femme aux Phlox was again exhibited the following year at the Salon de la Section d'Or, Galerie La Boétie, 1912. La Femme aux Phlox was reproduced in The Cubist Painters, Aesthetic Meditations by Guillaume Apollinaire, published in 1913. The same year, the painting was again revealed to the general public, this time in the United States, at the International Exhibition of Modern Art, New York, Chicago, and Boston. The work is now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Gift of the Esther Florence Whinery Goodrich Foundation in 1965.
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Bernard Karfiol, was an American painter and watercolorist. His work was indebted to French modernism and wished to synthesize Hellenic classical painting and modernist abstract concerns.
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