"Mountain Crags", Colorado,1941 | 11"x14" Watercolor and mixed media on paper
This watercolor is from Robinsons mid-career at Colorado Springs Fine Art Center. This work would be likened to a sketch compared to his other watercolor paintings. Here he has emphasized line and shadow to create the minimal composition of the mountains with a cowboy on his galloping horse in the foreground.
"Midnight, Central City", Colorado, 1932 | 11"x14" Lithographic print on paper
When Robinson became director of the Broadmoor Art Academy in 1931, he developed a lithography department. Midnight, Central City is one of his first Colorado lithographs depicting Central City which was one of the wealthiest mining towns in the 19th century. The view is of Spruce Street with a staircase that leads up to the St. Aloysius Academy. On the right is St. Mary of the Assumption, one of the oldest Catholic Churches in Colorado.
The son of a sea captain who had fought as a second lieutenant with the First Massachusetts Volunteers at the Battle of Gettysburg, Robinson studied at the Massachusetts Normal Art School in Boston under E. Wilbur Dean Hamilton for three years beginning in 1894. Boston art patrons Hannah Parker Kimball and Mrs. Henry Kimball sponsored his first trip to Europe in 1898-99 during which he attended the Académie Colarossi, also visiting the Académie Julian and Léon Gérôme’s class at the École des Beaux-Arts. In Paris, Robinson was influenced by the political cartoons of Honoré Daumier and the work of Jean-Louis Forain and Théophile Steinlen. On his first trip to Paris, he met his future wife, San Franciscan Sally Senter Whitney, who was studying at the time with sculptor Auguste Rodin. She and Robinson were married in Paris in 1903.
With Arthur Putnam, he attempted to establish the San Francisco Art Students League in 1901. Three years later he abandoned his New York studio in Fort Washington Park inUpper Manhattan to take a job as a field worker for the Association for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor. In 1906-07 he was art editor of Vogue Magazine, followed by positions as an illustrator on the Morning Telegraph and editorial cartoonist on the New York Tribune (1910-14). He also worked as a free-lance illustrator for some New York-based magazines, including Collier’s, Harper’s Weekly, Puck, Leslie’s Weekly and Scribner’s.
After the outbreak of World War I, Metropolitan Magazine selected him in 1915 as a war correspondent on the Eastern Front with John Reed, the American journalist, poet and socialist activist best remember for Ten Days That Shook the World, his first-hand account of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. He wrote about his experiences and those of Robinson traveling through Serbia, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Russia in The War in Eastern Europe published in 1916 and illustrated by Robinson. Under the auspices of the Pond, Lecture Bureau Robinson lectured on his experiences on the Eastern Front.
In 1916 he began contributing to the socialist monthly The Masses, followed two years later by the Liberator with which he was associated until 1922. During that time he also taught drawing and pictorial design at the Art Students League in New York. Prominent American writer and political activist Max Eastman, the editor of The Masses and a leading patron of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote: “The art of drawing rarely rose higher in my opinion than in Boardman Robinson’s cartoons of the period. If America has pride of culture, they will never be lost.”
Robinson also illustrated Prosper Mérimée’s Colomba (1916), followed by Elizabeth Sage’s Rhymes of If and Why (1927), Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov (1933) and The Idiot (1935), and Shakespeare’s King Lear (1938). He likewise did illustrations for American literary classics including Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology (1942), Herbert Melville’s Moby Dick (1943) and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1944).
In 1924 he resumed teaching at the Art Students League where he remained until 1930. While there he did more than a dozen lithographs, his first effort in that medium. Edgar J. Kaufmann – who engaged Frank Lloyd Wright to design his residence Fallingwater -- commissioned Robinson in 1927 to paint ten murals depicting The History of Commerce for his flagship department store in downtown Pittsburgh. Three years later they earned Robinson a gold medal from the Architectural League of New York. Their style, like that of his friend Thomas Hart Benton, prefigures the hundreds of murals painted the during Depression era in post offices, municipal buildings and courthouses throughout the United States, Removed from the store in a 1950s renovation, Robinson’s murals were acquired four decades later by the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.
Their new museum home is appropriate because Robinson directed the Art Department at the Fountain Valley School in Colorado Springs from 1930 to 1944. He had been offered the position by Elizabeth Sage Hare, who helped found the school modeled on Eastern-style boarding schools for her sons’ education. Headmaster Froelicher likewise sought out Robinson as a “man who could give to the students….an appreciation of character and its nature as revealed in work and the personality of the worker.” In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Robinson designed costumes, stage sets, and posters for Fountain Valley student theatricals. After his first year at the school, he used dry pigment on wet plaster to paint three frescoes for the portal and reception hall of the First House showing Colorado mountain scenes designed in almost abstract shapes.
He likewise served as director of the art school at the Broadmoor Art Academy for three years, beginning in 1933. When it was expanded and rebranded as the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center in 1936, he guided it to become one of the nation’s most respected art schools at that time until health forced his retirement in 1946. According to Archie Musick’s article in the Magazine of Art (1936), Robinson sought to “resuscitate that high standard of excellence in Renaissance craftsmanship.” He fostered the “technical secrets of the Old Masters at a time when most painters regarded artisanship as unimportant.”
As director of the art school in Colorado Springs, he brought to the Fine Arts Center visiting teachers and guest artists from various parts of the country: Kenneth Adams, Thomas Hart Benton, George Biddle, Edgar Britton, Arnold Blanch, Paul Burlin, Warren Chappell, Andrew Dasburg, Adolf Dehn, Lamar Dodd, Ernest Fiene, Doris Lee, Charles Locke, Ward Lockwood, Peppino Mangravite, Frank Mechau, Willard Nash, Oscar Ogg, Henry Varnum Poor and Frederick Shane. Arnold Blanch, who had studied with Robinson at the Art Students League, noted that “Robinson’s relationship was never the conventional teacher-student relationship but rather the attitude of a friendly fellow-artist.
In addition to his demanding schedule as a teacher and school director in Colorado Springs, Robinson found time to pursue his art. In 1932 he completed a mural for Radio City Music Hall in New York (now painted over), four years later the façade of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (later repainted), followed up in 1938 with a multi-panel tempera “Great Events and Figures of Law” for the Department of Justice Buildingin Washington, DC. In 1940 the Treasury Section of Fine Arts awarded him the commission to paint his Colorado Stock Sale mural for the post office in Englewood, Colorado, where it can still be seen.
He also did a number of paintings in oil and watercolor, including Mountain Crags (1941). Reproduced in Albert Christ-Janer’s book, Boardman Robinson (University of Chicago Press, 1946), it is a loosely drawn rugged mountain landscape with the indistinct figures of a horse and rider in the lower right corner. The watercolor illustrates his emphasis on form, the balance of dark and light, and the emotional content of the shapes which, according to Arnold Blanch, he used with his students in composition classes at the Fine Arts Center.
While affiliated with the Center, Robinson produced lithographs on Colorado subjects, notably Midnight, Central City (1932), regarded by many as his finest print. By the early 1930s, the state’s old mining towns became a popular genre for artists because they were easily accessible and their architectural components provided a welcome break from the nineteenth-century panoramic landscape tradition and the overwrought cowboy-and-Indian subject matter of the previous generation.
His connection with Central City resulted from the family’s maintaining a home there in 1932-33. His wife and younger son, Bartlett, an actor, lived in the town during the annual summer arts festival when the Central City Association presented revival plays under the direction of Robert Edmond Jones in the newly-restored opera house, a National Historic Landmark dating from 1878. Using the rich tonal effects of the lithography medium, Robinson’s print shows a view of Spruce Street - on the left is St. Aloysius Academy (torn down in 1936), while visible on the right is the tower of St. Mary’s Catholic Church which still exists.
During his lifetime Robinson’s life and work were the subject of two books: Boardman Robinson, Ninety-three Drawings, intro. George Biddle (1937), and Albert Christ-Janer, Boardman Robinson (1946). In 1952 the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York organized a memorial exhibition of his paintings, drawings, and lithographs.
Solo Exhibitions: Thumb Box Gallery, New York (1916); Knoedler Galleries, New York (1919); Dunster House, Cambridge, MA (1924); E. Weyhe Gallery, New York (1924); Art Students League (murals), New York (1929); Delphic Studios, New York (1930). Denver Art Museum (1931); Brownell-Lambertson Gallery, New York (1932); Walker Galleries, New York (1940); Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (1943); “Retrospective,” C.W. Kraushaar Art Galleries, New York (1946); “Memorial Exhibition,” American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York (1952-53); “”Boardman Robinson: American Muralist & Illustrator, 1876-1952,” Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (1996-97).
Group Exhibitions: Armory Show, New York (1913); Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco (1915); Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1926, 1939, 1944, 1950); Broadmoor Art Academy, Colorado Springs (1930-36); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1933-1947); “Artists West of the Mississippi,” Colorado Springs (1935-38, 1940-41, 1945); Denver Art Museum (1939-41); “Twenty-Second International Exhibition of Watercolors,” Art Institute of Chicago (1942); Corcoran Gallery Biennials, Washington, DC (1947, 1949).
Collections: Metropolitan Museum of Art; Whitney Museum of American Art; New York University; College Art Gallery, State University of New York at New Paltz; Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, New York; Fogg Museum of Art, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Massachusetts; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College; Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Gallery of Art, National Portrait Gallery and Library of Congress, all in Washington, DC; Norton Gallery of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida; Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, Athens; Everhart Museum, Scranton, Pennsylvania; Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio; Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio; Art Institute of Chicago; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota; Wichita Art Museum, Kansas; Dallas Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California; Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; Fountain Valley School, Colorado Springs; Denver Public Library Western Art Collection; Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver, Colorado.