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*N.A. designates National Academy

ohn Edward Costigan is best known for thick impasto oiI paintings of figures and livestock in the landscape such as Fall Plowing (1930), Spring Landscape (ca. 1940), and Earl;, Sp ring, Wo o d Inre rio r (19 50). These pastoral subjecs and the impressionistic depiction of natural lighr re-

sult in the frequent comparison of Costigan to the 19th-century French painrer Jean-FranEois Millet, whose chosen home and subject was his beloved Barbizon and surrounding region sourheasr ofparis. The critic Ernest W. Warson remarked, "Like Millet he [Costigan] has pictured the quiet beauty ofrural life, the everyday happenings of life on rhe farm, sunlight and shadow in the woods. Like Millet he invites us to the peace ofisolated pastoral exisrence. ...[Howeverl Costigan's message, unlike Millet's, is essenrially a song ofjoy.... He shows us rhe feliciries rarher rhan the fatigues offarm 1ife."l Indeed, despire personal and financial difficulties during his life, Cosrigan created heartening images that suggesr a resolute faith and quier pleasure in human exisrence. 'Jack" Costigan was born in 1888 of Irish-American descent in Providence, Rhode Island. Orphaned while still in grade school, Costigan's Aunt Ne1lie and Uncle Jerry Cohan (parents of the legendary George M. Cohan) brought rhe young man to New York City in 1903 and provided him with ajob as flyboy at the H.C. Miner Lithographing Company, which special-

in theater and, later, film posters. Costigan commenced his training as an arrisr in 1905 with rwo ized

short-lived periods of enrollment ar rhe Arr Students League under George Bridgman and William Merritt Chase. His primary education, however, was achieved as a member of New York's Kit Kat Club, which provided informal life-drawing sessions and studio space for established and emerging artisrs.2 A promotion to chore boy in the art department at Minor Lithographing provided rhe circumstances for Costigan to meet and work directly for

severa.l years

with the rebellious young arrisr George Luks. Luks and fellow artist-reporrers Robert Henri,John Sloan,

William Glackens, and Everett Shinn, known as rhe 'Ashcan" painters, transformed the subject matter of American art with their depicrions of urban workingclass life. In the years ofCostigan's acquaincance with

Luks, these arrisrs joined three other like-minded painters: Arthur B. Davies, Ernesr Lawson, and

Maurice Prendergasr. This group, collecrively known as "The Eighr," staged a series of mutinous exhibitions in defiance ofthe restrictive standards and elirist attitudes of the ubiquitous Narional Academy of Design. Their "rebellion" direcrly mory Show of 1913.

inspired the Ar-

Although Costigan's attendance ar rhe exhibition it is unlikely the artisr would have missed the controversial show in which so many of his acquaintances parricipated. He was certainly familiar wirh the location of the exhibition, for upon his aris uncertain,s

rival in New York in 1903, the young Cosrigan resided in a boarding house on 25th Street, across rhe srreer from the planned location of the armory building.

Costigan made a sketch of the site when construcrion of the building commenced irL 1904. Nine years later the srrucrure would house paintings and sculptures by many oF Europe's early modern masrers as well as works by emerging American artists discounted by the academy system. Likely it was rhe revolutionary spirit of rhose involved with the Armory Show that most influenced the aspiring young Cosrigan. Having painted seriously for several years, Costigan joined with orher arrisrs in 1915 ro lease space made available by Robert Henri at New York's MacDowell Club. The following year, Cosrigan was accepted into ajuried exhibition ar rhe Corcoran Gallery ofArt in Washingron, D.C. \X/hile serving for two years in the infantry during World War I, rhe artist exhibited paintings in annual shows at the Narional Academy of Design and again at the Corcoran. After returning from the war and resuming his position as poster designer ar Minor Lithographing, Costigan married Ida Blessin, whom he had met while she worked as a cosrume model at the Kit Kat CIub prior to rhe war. An oil painting from 1918 enrirled Ida-Artist's Wife, reveals rhe colorisric qualiries and ski11ful draughtsmanship typical of his commercial work. Ida was an arrisr as welI, working in c1ay. The

two set up home and studio in rhe small town of Orangeburg, just twenry-five miles north ofNewyork City. Costigan had firsr discovered rhis haven and rented a small cottage there with fellow arrists from the Kit Kat Club several years earlier. It was here that the young artist first fek unconstrained both person-

ally and artistically. The couple larer purchased a nearby eleven-acre farm thar would remain home for them and their five children for the rest oftheir lives. Life on the Orangeburg farm was Cosrigan's main source ofinspiration, with his family, surrounding landscape, and livestock serving as subjecrs. peeling Apples (7919) is an early work depicting Ida at the task as her brother looks on. The oil adeptly caprures the effect oflight filtered through dense foliage and displays rhe young arrisr's artenriveness ro creating fluid and fresh brushwork. Costigan's studies as a painter included numerous visits to New York's Merropolitan Museum of Arr where, in particular, he admired John Singer Sargent's painring, The Hermit (1908). In addition to Sargent's masterful handling of paint, Costigan was apparenrly intrigued by the subject of this woodland scene. The Hermit deprcts a male figure reclining on the forest floor, his form and those of two small deer visually merging wirh the parrerned play o[dappled lighr on surrounding vegeration, suggesting the spiritual communion ofman and nature. Costigan's major works from the 1920s evoke a similar reverent mood rhrough depictions of 69ures wandering or seared in lush forest landscapes. Costigan enjoyed grear success wirh his pastoral images, receiving numerous awards in the early 1920s.

Critics reviewing the artist's firsr one-man show at

achieving the level oFsuccess he had attained

New York's Rehn Gallery in 1924 made stylisric comparisons to painters such as Sargent, Millet, Turner, and Monet, and noted thematic paral1els to literary figures such as Wordsworth, Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman. For Costigan, his credrbiiiryas an arrisrwas most clearly established by his election as fu1l academician to the National Academy of Design in 1928.

1920s, Costigan continued his active exhibition record, most notably in group shows at the Whitney Museum of American Arr and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and continued to receive at least one major award nearly every year for the rest of his 1ife. At the age ofeighty, the artist was honored by a retrospective exhibition organizedby the Paine Art Center in Oshkosh, \X/isconsin, and toured nationally by the Smithsonian io 1968 and 1970. The last thirry years ofthe artist's life provided suFficient sales, prizes, instruction fees, and illustration work to supporr Costigan and his family until his death of pneurnonia in 1972. From his first visit to the countryside west of the Hudson fuver where he would esrablish his own "Barbizonj'John Costigan assumed with passion the "disciple[ship] of the American soil" for which he was noted in 1938 along with American Scene painters Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood.s Critics and viewers make frequent comparisons to the work of

I{is Self-Portrair Q921, submitted in application to the academy, tesdfies to Costigan's facility with paint, notwithstanding his lack of formal educarion and without the srudy abroad that was pracrically srandard for the institution's members. In this painting, as

in many of his

oi1s, Costigan applied pure color

masterfully, using a palette knife to creare a rich impasto. When viewed at the appropriate disrance, the resulting surface "scinrillares and sparkles like so many jewels," as it was described by Costigan's friend and fellow painter George Pearse Ennis.a This innovative and intricate handling ofpaint places Cosrigan's work firm1y in the twentieth century, as artisrs became increasingly involved with rhe two-dimensional surface. Costigan recreated his happy domestic life in many oils including,/ack, Ida, and Danny (ca. 1930) and With the Three Children (1927); the latter, winner of the Altman Prize at the National Academy in 1927, is unusual in that the artisr included himself in the family scene. Many paintings and prints created by Costigan after 1930 assume a more serious social tone and attest to the economic deprivarion of the Great Depression. Images of dislocated families and struggling farmers prevail in etchings such as 7fie Homeless (1930) and Hungry and Homeless (1946), emphasizing the heroic will to survive. Women, in particular, are given venerable status as in the lithograph, Mother and Child (1930), an overt reference ro .he Madonna and Chrisr Child. Despite a 1ull in sales, Costigan's work received continuous recognition during the 1930s, most no-

rably in one-man exhibitions ar rhe Smirhsonian (1937) and the Corcoran Gallery of Art (1941), the former featuring prints and the latter featuring watercolors. The plates for many of his etchings were purchased by Associated American Artists to be reproduced at their discretion on note cards and calendars. Frs.herman Thrce (1938), considered to be Costigan's most famous print, was featured in the Book of the Month Club's advertisement for Simon and Schuster's A Treasury of American Prints (1.939), which includes three of the artist's etchings. A brief stint as instructor at the Art Srudents League in the summers of 1936 and 7937 confirmed the artist's dislike for classroom teaching; he preferred to work with

individual students at his home. In the late 1930s, Costigan completed several murals of familial subjects for the Federal Arts Project as well as serving on irs advisory committee. Unfortunately, the commissions served only as a temporary reprieve from financial hardship that forced the artist to work for a briefperiod as a machinist in a defense plant beginning in 1942.By the end of 1943, however, Costigan returned to commercial art, initiating a long-rerm association with McCall's Bluebook as an illustrator. While never

in the

more renowned artists, yet Costigan's oeuvre remains independent from much twentieth-century painting. As his friend George Ennis once said, "fCostigan's] world is uniquely that of the artist, a world where color is dominant, where it fills the air in a sparkle of spring rain."6 Quiet in their subject matter yet bold in their technique, Costigan's paintings and prinrs are celebrations ofthe unpretentious rural life he sincerely loved. JOSEPHTNE


Mussuv Sruorss PnocRAM


1 Ernest W. Watson,'John E. Coscigml'in Twenqt Paintmd How They Worl (New York: Watson-Guprill, 1950), 38. 2 Biographical inlormation for this essay was derived From m unpublished biography written by the artist's son, Daniel M. Costigm, entitled IIe Trials md Triumphs of an Anerican Artist: The Story ofJohn E. Costign (@1970).The author wishes to thank Daniel M. Costigan, Leland G. Howard, and fuchard L. Pope For sharing their research md documentation. Jennifer Casserly compiled some of this inlormation in her initial research For this exhibition. 3 Interview by the author with Daniel M. Cosrigan, ers

December 12, L995. 4 George Pierce Ennis, 'John E. Costigan," The Anterican Ar r S ttrdent and C ommercial Arr (October 3 1, 192 5): 9. 5 "Life in the United States...Painringl' Scribner's Magazin e (D ecemb er 19 38) : 39 - 42.

6 Ennis.9.

qcknowledgemenfs This exhibition and brochure are presented through the museum studies program at the Ceorgia Museum ofArt. We would like to acknowledge the generosity of the lenders to the exhibition as well as, in particular, the gracious assistance of Mr. Leland C. Howard, Mr. Kirby Kooluris, Ms. Andr6e Ruellan, Mrs. Elizabeth Costigan Dick, Mr. Richard Pope, and Mr. Daniel M. Costigan. lalsowanttothankthescaff especiallyAnnelies Mondi, Bonnie Ramsey,

support JenniferDePrima,andPeggySorrellsforhelpingmeteachmuseumpracticesthroughthisexhibirion.Partial forthe exhibition was generously provided by Director's Circle membersJohn A. and Miriam Harland Conant. Final16 Rhonda Reymond andJennifer Casserly helped to initiate this project, which was so ably carried to fruition by the associate curators Carol Ross andJosephine Bloodgood. Wrluma U. Eruuo Drnecron

checklist of the exhibition

JoxH E. Cosnorur, N.A. t. Ida Artisr's Wife, tgts

The Homeles,s, 1930 (printed '1940s) Handcolored etching 11 314x9 3/4 inches (image) Collection ofHarvey and Elizabeth Costigan Dick

Oil on canvas 36 x 30 inches Collection of Daniel M. and Dorothy Costigan


Study for lda-Artist's



73l4x53l4inches Collection of Daniel M. and Dorothy Costigan


Peeling Apples, tete


Oil on canvas 36 1/4 x 30 inches Collection of Harvey and Elizabeth Costigan Dick


Portrait of a Man, tol9








Collection of Mr and Mrs. Richard L. Pope 15

Fall Plowing, tozo


Oil on canvas

141/2x17inches Collection ofRuth and Frank Friedman

At the Brook,

ca. 1940

Early Spring. Wood [nterior, tgso Oil on board 20 x24 inches Collection of Harvey and Elizabeth Costigan Dick

Oil on canvas 39 x 44 1 /2 inches Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Leland C. Howard


ca. 1g4o

20 x 20 inches Collecrion of Mn and Mrs. Richard I . Pope

30 x 36 inches

Jack, Ida, and Danny,ca.1930

Spring Landscape,


Oil on canvas

Oil on canvas


Mr and Mrs. Richard L.

Oil on canvas 35 l12x42incl'es Collection of Mr and Mrs. Leland C. Howard

Oil on canvas 30 1/8x25 1/8 inches National Academy of Design, New York

Mother and Child with Goats,teze

inches (image)

Colleccion of

NewYork 19'19

Private col lection


Fisherman Three, llza 9x11718

lnscribed: A Mon Ami Calusi


Mother and Child,tgto





Lithograph 1 4 1 /2 x 17 inches (image) Collection of Mn and Mrs. Richard L. Pope

Oil on canvas


Hungry and Homeless,

Etching 12 x 14 3/4 inches (image) Collection of Harvey and Elizabeth Costigan Dick

Pencil and tempera

Sketch for Large Painting (woodland oance), Oil on board 9 x21 1 /2 inches Collection of Mn and Mrs. Richard L. Pope

ca. 1950

Cover: Checklisr Number Six (Detail)

Geoncrn Museuv oF ART Prnronvrxc AND Vrsunl Anrs Covplrx Partial support for the exhibitions and progrdi6l:, for the Arts through appropriations ofthe C portion of the museum's general operating s Services, a federal agency that offers general and corporations provide additional support gia Museum ofArt's hours are 10 a.m. to 5 Fridayl and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday

&91$i$1M,9!!um ofArt is provided by the Ceorgia Council eral,Alsarnbfvrand the National Endowment for the Arts. A n provided through the lnstitute of Museum nation's museums. lndividuals, foundations, University of Ceorgia Foundation. The Ceorttthursday, and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on

The Modernist Urge: John Edward Costigan, N.A.  

This brochure accompanied the exhibition of the same name, on view at the Georgia Museum of Art Dec. 7, 1996-Jan. 26, 1997, and features an...

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