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hile an able draughtsman and printmaker, ")ack" Taylor preferred to be called


painter rather than rhe

more general designation of artist. Such a predilection reveals much about a painter's self-concept, whereby one's creative life is viewed

in relation to


tradition spanning centuries in the Western world. With pride, Taylor assumed rhe role ofpropagaror and disseminator of ideologies and methods passed down

and reinvestigated through generations.l John Williams Taylor was born in Balrimore in 1897. His father's career as a hydraulic engineer required che family to move frequently. While Taylor was a teenager, the family settled for a number ofyears

in Texas, spending summers along the Gulf coasr and the Mississippi fuver basin. After serving briefly in World War I,Taylor obtained a job selling adverrisements for The Los Angeles Times rn 1916. After meering the photographer Edward'W'eston and others in the arts, Taylor developed an avid inreresa in painting. He began his studies with the academic painrerJ. Francis Smith. \n L922, he and several ocher derermined young men approached Stanton Macdonald-

Wright, asking him to provide instrucdon. Having studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and che Acad6mie Julian in Paris and, informally, the work of modern masters such as Picasso at Gertrude Stein's sa1on, Macdonald-Wright was well versed in recent artistic theories in Europe. \n l9l2 while working in Paris,

he and another American artisc, Morgan Russel1, founded Synchromism, an avant-garde painting movement based on che potential for pure color to suggest volume.z Taylor began studying six nights a week with Macdonald-Wright and was significantly influenced by the older arcist, remarking in an interview of 1972,"1 still set up my palette according co principles I learned from him."3

In 1923 Taylor moved to New York Cicy and began work as a theatrical scene painter for Paramount Scudios while continuing his studies at the Arr Students League under Boardman Robinson and John Sloan. In the late 1920s Taylor and some friends rented studio space in Brooklyn Heights. Their neighbor, rhe French painter Jules Pascin, held informal drawing sessions ac his home. Taylor regularly atcended these evenings of drawing from live models as well as Pascin's many parties. Taylor reahzed a long-cime wish to study abroad when he joined several friends craveling to Europe wirh Pascin in late 1928. There Taylor received inspi ration and edificacion from masterpieces in the museums of Germany, Holland, Belgium, and France. In Paris the following year, on the v/ay to an opening of a show ofPascin's work, Taylor met anocher young Americal painter, Andr6e Ruellan. After three months,

the two married and began sharing a studio in Montparnasse on the rue Vercing6torix. During this

period, Taylor completed a series oflithographs, including New 7o wn (ca. 1931) ar.d Southern Port (ca. 1931), while working under the master printmaker

Georges Desjobert. Disturbing events foreshadowing the impending war convinced the young couple to give up their Paris studio in 1931 and establish their home and career on a small farm in Shady, New York.

Upon the suggestion offriends in 1926,Tay1or had purchased the unpainted farmhouse and fifty acres in the little upstate town for $2,500. Nearby Woodstock was a well-known haven for arrists since the founding there of the Byrdcliffe Colony, an experimental community of artists and crafcspeople, in 1902. Shortly thereafter, the Art Students League initiated a summer program in che area and in 1922, the 'nVoodstock Artists Association opened its gallery doors. The town grew to be a 1ive1y art center, attracting such diverse figures as Milcon Avery, Konrad Cramer, George Bellows, Andrew Dasburg, Philip Guston, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Bradley Walker Tomlin to live and practice their art.a

While enjoying his rural retreat surrounded by the Cacskill Mountains, Taylor began a productive career with regular solo exhibitions at New York's Macbeth Gallery. Ruellan recalls the four-hour ride in their drafcy old Ford, sometimes in freezing cold weather without hear, along Route 9'W'to attend openings for their exhibitions in NewYork City. In the mid1930s, Taylor and Ruellan received several commis-

sions through the Federal'ff/orks Project Administration. Taylor produced several prints in addition to a

mural for the post office in Richfield Springs, New York. This period aiso marks the beginning of many summers spent traveling throughout the Southeast, with extended scays in Charleston, South Carolina; Savannah and Lawrenceville, Georgia; and, eventually, New Orleans. Harbor towns were a favorite subject for Taylor. In 1958, the artist commented, "This may be an influence from my youth,"s referring to his family's visits to the Gulf of Mexico. During their excursions, Taylor and Ruellan frequently sketched city and landscape scenes from their car. Paintings slach as Georgia Landscape (1938-39), Savannah Nver Landing (19 4L), and Tidewater (1946), affirm Taylor's interest in the region. However, these works are not mere imitations of a scene; rather they reflect the observation of the landscape's inherent design, the search for a formal ideal. In the words of his former teacher Stanton Macdonald-Wright, ". . . subject is merely an inspiration to the end of making awork ofarc. . . an ordered and harmonious canvas."6 In discussion of the painting enticled The Tower (ca-. 1946) in the bo ok, How Painrings Happen, published in 195L, Taylor writes: "It is my practice'on location' co make detaiied drawings of the terrain chac interests me . . . in pencil or conte crayon. It is from these that I develop compositional ideas, imaginatively and by transposition, in a series of small pen and ink drawings. It is from these latter that the picture itselfdevelopsi'7 Taylor's paintings from the 1930s and 1940s suggesc a variety of influences. While he retains a realis-

tic, three-dimensional


the faceted planes in

these and later images reflect a knowledge

ofthe Post-

impressionist experimentations of Paul C6.zante to which Taylor was most likely originally introduced by Sranton Macdonald-Wright. Conremporary crirics responding to the regionalist flavor ofhis subjecrs bestowed Taylor with the title "romanric realist." These psychologically dark and desolace images suggest a Surrealist influence. The diminutive, anonymous figures and deserted structures depicted in Taylor's Tfie Tower and Abandoned Shore (1940s) echo che early "metaphysical" paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, mosc nocably The PinkTowerandTheJoys and Enigmas of a Strange Hour, both from 1913. Taylor's seemingly apocalyptic works attain metaphoric climax in Promontory (1946-47), depicting Chrisr's crucifixion on a debris-strewn ridge jutting ouc toward what appears to be a burning barge. The ravaged vessel, as well as smoke stacks in the discance, spew filth into the acidyellow sky. The 1940s brought several significanc honors for Taylor including a citation and $ 1,000 grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a gold medal of honor from the American Wacercolor Society, and a purchase award from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. These and other awards resulted in critical actention in publications such as ArrNelvs and particularly Art Digesc Taylor's painting, The Guld appearc on the fronc cover ofthe latter's issue ofOctober 1, 1948. That same year, Taylor began teaching at the Art Studencs League's summer school in Woodstock. In the following decades, Taylor held teaching positions at several major institutions including the Penn-

sylvania State University, Michigan State University, the University ofFlorida, and the University of Washington. According to Ruellan, Taylor was a shy but dedi cated teacher who spent many hours preparing for his courses. As an instructor, he was no doubt inspired by Boardman Robinson and John Sloan, both of whom he recalled as "great enthusiasts and communicators."8 Taylor read extensively, becoming well versed in art history as well as contemporary theory. In painting classes, Taylor believed in addressing the individual talents ofhis students, never asking thac they emulate his work. Rather, he emphasized the 'traft" of art and encouraged students to find and develop their own personal styie and themes. In 1956, the sculpcor George fuckey invited Taylor to teach graduate painting at the Sophie Newcomb School ofArt, now part ofTulane University. Taylor and Ruellan welcomed the opportunity to live parttime in New Orleans and quickly became immersed in the lively atmosphere of rhe French quarrer. The balcony

oftheir apartment located on

St. Peter's Street

behind St. Louis Cathedral overlooked the costumed parades celebrating Mardi Gras each year. The historic structure, completed in 1851, became a favorite subject for Taylor. A gouache paincing, Cathedral (St. Louis in New Orleans) (1950s), and accompanying studies provide direct evidence ofche artist's method ofdeveloping a composition as discussed earlier. In between visiting professorships, Taylor and Ruellan returned to Europe, traveling and working in France and Icaly in 1950 and 195 1 and, again in France


1963 and 1964. Throughout his career, Taylor was honored with a number of museum purchases including those made by the Metropolitan Museum of Arr, the Whitney Museum ofAmerican Art, the Library of Congress, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and received aJohn Simon GuggenheimMemorial Fellow-

ship in 1954 as we1l. The last decades of Taylor's life were simple yet productive. He continued his involvement ac the Woodstock Artists Association, serving as director and, eventually, as a member of che board of trustees. No longer accepdng teaching positions and freed from the restraints oFcommercial represenrarion with the closing of the Milch Gallery in 1963, Taylor approached painting with renewed enthusiasm arid vision. Later gouache paintings ar e characterizedby flattened, collage-like shapes, cheir arrangement apparently inspired by patterns in nacure. Dark Lake (7970s) recreates the play ofreflected light on rippling water. Gray Abstraction (1970s) adorns the living room of the old farmhouse in Shady (home still for Ruellan over ten years after Taylor's death in 1983). There the painting hangs in winter adjacent to a similiarly-sized window that frames a display of vertical saplings and horizontal shadow on a snow-covered hill. One can imagine thac, perhaps on a similar winter aFternoon, Taylor himselfconceived this painting, maybe unconsciously, yet profoundly inspired by the cool, neurral shades he saw just beyond the frosted glass. JOSEPHTNE


Muspur"r Sruorss Pnocnau ENDNOTES 1 The author is indebted to Andr6e Ruellan for sharing personal recollections in an interview conducted at the artist's home in December 1995. Specific biographical details were compared with Donald D. Keyes, Andrâ‚Źe Ruellen, exhib. cat. (Athens, Georgia: GeorgiaMuseum ofArt, 1993).Jenn1fer Casserly completed the initial research for this exhibition. 2 PaulJ. Karlstrom, Turning rhe Tide: Exly Los Angeles Modernists, 1920-1955 (Santa Barbara: Smta Barbara

Museum ofArt, 1990), 89. 3 Quoted in Tom Wolf , Woodstock's Art Herirage, the Permanent Collection of the Woodstock Artists Association (Woodscock, New York: Overlook Press, 1987), 134.

4 For a thorough history of the rt colony see Wolf, passim. 5 Quoted in Harold Rubin, "A Greeting Can Be Art," Dxie (December 14, 1958): 15. 6 Karlstrom,9L. 7 Ray Bethers, How Paintings Happen (New York: Norton,1951), 135. 8 Wolf, 15.

This exhibition and brochure are presented through the museum studies program atthe Ceorgia Museum ofArt. We would like to acknowledge the generosity of the lenders to the exhibition as well as, in parcicular, 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. Coscigan. lalsowantto thankthe staff, especiallyAnnelies Mondi, Bonnie Ramsey, Jennifer DePrima, and PeggySorrells for helping me teach museum practices through this exhibition. Partial supPort forthe exhibition was generously provided by Director's Circle membersJohn A. and Miriam Harlan Conant. Finally, Reymond andJenniferCasserly helped to initiate this project, which was so ablycarried to fruition bythe associate curators Carol Ross andJosephine Bloodgood.

Wrlunv U. EruNo Drnecron

checklist of the exhibition JoxH Wru-nMs




ca. 1931 Lithograph on chine col16 ^trerv

Collection of Andr6e




Shoreline with Jetties, ts+os Couache on paper mounted on board

Road ofSt. Anne,ca.193l

Collection of Andr6e Ruellan




lnscribed: To Lucile IBlanch] for her Birchday Dec. 31 , 1932 Private collection




Oil on canvas 30 x 40 inches Collection of Andr6e Ruellan



Private collection

Lithograph on chine colld


Ruel lan

Oil on canvas 18 3/4 x34 31 4 inches Collection of Andr6e Ruellan

Southern Pott,ca. lg3l Lithograph on chine colld 123/4x17 5/8 inches (image)


ca. 1946

25 x 32 inches


Woodstock Artists Association Permanent Collection


The Tower, Oil on canvas

Savannah Nver


tudy for Cathedral,



Wate rco lo r 8 1 I 2 x 6'1 /2 inches (sheet) Collection of Andr6e Ruellan



20 x 30 inches Woodstock Artists Association Permanent Collection

Tidewater, tl+a

Srudy for Carhedral, ttso, lnk on paper 8 1/2x6 1/2 inches (sheet) Collection of Andrde Ruellan

Oil on canvas


Dark Lake,tetos Couache on paper mounted on board

Oil on canvas 11

Cathedral (St. Louis in New orleans),1950s Couache on paper mounted on board 24 1 /2 x 18 1 12 inches Collecrion of Andree Ruellan


241/4x14inches Woodstock Artists Association Permanent Collection

Collection of Andrâ‚Źe Ruellan '15.

Abandoned Shore,1940s


ray Abstraction,


97 os

Couache on paper mounted on board

Oil on canvas 22 3/8 x30 inches Collection of Andrde Ruellan

23314x16inches Collection of Andr6e Ruellan

Cover: Checklist Number Five (Detail)

Gronctn Musruv oF ART PeRroRvtuc AND Vtsunl Anrs Covprcx Partial support for the exhibitions and progr for the Arts through appropriations of che portion ofthe museum's general operating su Services, a federal agency that offers general and corporations provide additional support gia Museum ofArt's hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p. Friday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

m of Art is provided by the Ceorgia Council and the National Endowment forthe Arts. A n provided through the lnstitute of Museum nalion's museums. lndividuals, foundations, University of Ceorgia Foundation. The Ceorfhursday, and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on

The Modernist Urge: John Williams Taylor  

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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