A class of his own

Here’s a photo taken in one of WR Watkins’ art classes at the Maryland Institute of Art from the 1930s.

WR Watkins art class 1930s

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Same model, different palette?

Two WR Watkins watercolors are up for auction on eBay this week, here and here. The style and palette are different — the body seems more solid in one, more sketchy and blocked out in the other — but we think the model (check the hair), pose (crossed legs) and props (draped ottoman) indicates the same sitting. Which makes sense since they are both dated to the 1930s.

WR Watkins dark-haired woman sitting c.1930sWR Watkins  dark-haired woman sitting c.1930s

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The shadow of Watkins II

We recently posted about Watkins’ dramatic use of shadow in several of his paintings, speculating that this was an extension of his use of photographic lighting. Here is a negative by Watkins from the 1930’s showing his interest in the cast shadow. We think the model and shadow effect are similar to this painting which we’ve also highlighted here.

WR Watkins nude with shadow negativeWR Watkins nude with shadow photo WR Watkins nude with shadow (cropped)

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Watkins back to back

WR Watkins’ nudes are frequently distinguished by his attention to the character of each model’s face, but we’ll admit the guy also had a knack for backs. We highlighted several in a previous post. Add to the list these two paintings from the 1940’s and 50’s, and we’ll keep looking.

WR Watkins nude back c.1950sWR Watkins nude back c.1940s

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The shadow of Watkins

We’ve noticed some interesting and dramatic use of shadow in several of WR Watkins’ nudes. From an earlier post we know he was photographing models since the 1920s to supplement his live sessions, so perhaps this was a natural extension of his photographic lighting effects.

WR Watkins nude with shadowWR Watkins nude with shadowWR Watkins woman with shadow

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Nude in the studio

A rare look into a corner of WR Watkins’ studio, with a model contemplating a work-in-progress. The photo is from the early 1960s. We are trying to locate an image of the painting.

WR Watkins' studio with nude model c.1960

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Odd Watkins

Here’s an unusual and ornate WR Watkins watercolor from the 1930’s. The heavy background, boudoir palette and enervated pose suggest a languorous Bloomsbury Group ennui or an early twentieth-century Vienna School psychosexual daydream. Perhaps a bit of old-world longing from the English-born Watkins?

WR Watkins decorative nude standing c.1930s

Also rare that he doesn’t show the face of the model. The painting is offered for sale by Kingfisher Gallery.

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Watkins gets second look on Figure Drawing website

We noted in an earlier post that the website Figure Drawing has a good article about WR Watkins and his work. Since then, they’ve included a link back to our site. (Thumbs up!)

We just noticed a second article about his use of foreshortening.

Figure Drawing foreshortening article

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In a mono mood

Something about this model inspired a narrow color response, a muted tonal torpor in WR Watkins. He was an inspired colorist so this restraint is interesting, producing a flatter field and shallow depth for him.

WR Watkins nude sitting c1950sWR Watkins nude sitting c1950s

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Medium nude

WR Watkins worked primarily in watercolor and oil, but also experimented with other mediums. Here are three paintings of the same model and pose done in watercolor, pastel stick, and a very rare crayon drawing. These paintings date from the late 1930s.

WR Watkins nude with cane (watercolor)WR Watkins nude with cane (pastel)WR Watkins nude with cane (crayon)

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Elementary, Watkins

It’s hard to find photographs of WR Watkins. We’ve seen a few studio portraits from the 1960’s, including the one with cigar that we’re using on this site. But here is the earliest photo we’ve come across so far, with the artist looking very British.

William Reginald Watkins in 1937Look magazine from September 14, 1937

The picture can be dated based on the magazine Watkins is reading. Our assumption that it was the popular LOOK magazine turned out to be correct. A bit of research revealed that the typestyle of the cropped K in the corner was used only in the late 1930s before LOOK switched to a thinner serif font. We located the exact issue by matching the oval shape in the cover’s background (some kind of exercise wheel) thanks to this online ephemera resource. Snap, elementary!

The date of September 14, 1937 appears just beneath the 10-cent price, which puts WR Watkins’ age two months short of 47 when the photo was taken.

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Watkins the photographer

WR Watkins frequently photographed his models to complement his figure painting. We came across this slide taken by him in the early 1960s, part of a series from the late 50s-60s. The quality of his lighting seems very painterly, and the pose is reminiscent of a Watkins painting of a sitting blonde woman from the same period.

WR Watkins slide of nude sittingWR Watkins blonde sitting c.1960

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Watkins does the Coliseum

Art : USA : 59 at New York’s Coliseum in 1959 was the largest exhibition of modern art ever held in the city, attracting both crowds and controversy.

New York's Coliseum

Art was kicked (a Louise Nevelson) and arrests were threatened, all in the attempt to “introduce Mr. Citizen to Mr. Fine Arts” as the catalog for the show proclaimed. WR Watkins was the only artist from outside New York invited to give a painting demonstration to the attending audience.

Here’s a Coliseum flyer listing Watkins and an article from the April 5, 1959 New York Times:

“The show, Art: USA: 59, is perhaps the largest, most varied and most representative exhibition yet seen of work being produced by the country’s leading artists.”

Art : USA : '59 in New York Times (April 5, 1959)WR Watkins in Art : USA : 59

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Tiny Watkins

A small 1930’s oil painting of a Chesapeake Bay wharf by WR Watkins is up for auction on Ebay right now. At 5 x 7 inches, it’s the smallest painting we’ve come across by him.

WR Watkins Chesapeake Bay Boat Wharf c.1930s

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Watkins, Hopper & the melancholy nude

WR Watkins painted across a sixty-year span so it’s natural that his style would evolve over the decades. His brushwork was quite gestural in the 1920s and 30s, became more finished in the 1940s and 50s, and loosened up again in the 1960s. But one constant we’ve noticed is a psychological acuity — a sense of melancholy and discomfort that he consistently captured in his models.

It makes us think of the classic images of his contemporary, Edward Hopper, another painter whose sensibility developed out of the Great Depression.

Edward Hopper morning sunEdward Hopper standing nudeEdward Hopper woman sitting alone

Hopper used spatial isolation to make his point, while WR Watkins relied primarily on facial expression and posture.

WR Watkins woman with bottleWR Watkins nude in kitchenWR Watkins nude against wallWR Watkins woman turning away

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Watkins & Allen

Albert Arthur Allen was an influential photographer of nudes in the 1920s. His work was more direct and intimate than his San Francisco peers Edward Weston and Imogene Cunningham, and therefore appealed to a smaller group of collectors in boudoir photography.

WR Watkins was among this group — several Allen prints from Watkins’ estate have sold recently on Ebay. We think this superb 1930s watercolor by WR Watkins was influenced by this Albert Arthur Allen pose from his personal collection.

WR Watkins curled nude 1930sAlbert Arthur Allen curled nude 1920s

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Backs to Watkins

WR Watkins’ nudes have great specificity — he’s as interested in capturing the face as he is in genre issues of mass, light or pose. But lately we’ve noticed a few faceless paintings in the mix. The lack of identity from behind allowed Watkins to play with more formal concerns.

For instance, these two paintings from the 1960’s seem to be about contrasting each model’s broad flat expanse of back against their dark hair and the surrounding textures.

long-haired woman sitting (back)long-haired woman sitting (back)

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Watkins — pipe vs. cigar

This one’s just for fun.

WR Watkins with pipeWR Watkins with cigar

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Watkins lost and found

We highlighted a photo of WR Watkins’ 1920s studio in an earlier post. Check the background and you’ll see a small portrait pinned to the wall. Incredibly, that portrait has surfaced almost ninety years later for auction on Ebay this week.

W Watkins studio c1920spastel portrait c1920s

It’s listed as an oil pastel, but that would be a very early use of the medium (which was invented in Japan for schoolchildren in 1921). More likely it is traditional soft pastel, repopularized in the late nineteenth century by Degas.

The thick pastel stick seems to have imposed a soft-focus romanticism on Watkins, in contrast to the sharper realism we associate with his watercolors.

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WR Watkins’ blue period

The 1930’s suffered the Great Depression, so it seems only natural that WR Watkins would favor a sparse washed-out palette during that decade. Or he may have simply enjoyed playing off the cool blues against his models’ red hair. Either way, these ghostly nudes balance looseness and precision, producing a sketchier feel than much of his later work.

WR Watkins 30's nudeWR Watkins 30's nudeWR Watkins 30's nudeWR Watkins 30's nudeWR Watkins 30's nudeWR Watkins 30's nudeWR Watkins 30's nude

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Watkins & Kroll

Turns out WR Watkins taught painting at the Maryland Institute of Art contemporary with Leon Kroll during the 1920s and 30s. This may explain the synchronicity of their work. From the Maryland Art Source:

“Leon Kroll taught at the Maryland Institute College of Art … [where] he was a visiting critic at MICA from 1919-1923, and again for a period in the 1930s … In the late 1930s after he returned to Baltimore, he gave “how to paint” lectures at The Baltimore Museum of Art in the adult education program.”

Perhaps they shared coffee and linseed oil? Here’s a Watkins/Kroll side-by-side sampler:

Leon Kroll » nude on couchWR Watkins » nude asleepLeon Kroll » nude in red chairWR Watkins » nude on bedLeon Kroll » reposing womanWR Watkins » woman sitting on blanketLeon Kroll » woman in red hatWR Watkins » woman in black hat

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Old Watkins

WR Watkins graduated from The Maryland Institute in 1914 or 1915 and began teaching there in 1919. This painting dated 1915 is the oldest we’ve found by him. Probably a Baltimore-area landscape.

Autumn 1915WR Watkins signature 1915

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Update: mystery prop solved

In a previous post we highlighted a prop that WR Watkins included in several paintings from the 1930s and 1950s, but we weren’t sure what it was:

props in 3 Watkins paintings

The mystery is solved — it’s an apple, similar to the one pictured here (possibly Roseville) but glossier.

apple potteryapple pottery

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Watkins x 2

These two paintings of the same model are clearly from the same sitting — the pose and background are identical, only the angle of view has changed. It’s interesting to see how efficiently WR Watkins must have painted each study in order to accommodate a standard sitting time.

curly-haired woman sittingcurly-haired woman sitting

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Watkins and the zeitgeist

Two items for sale on ebay this week capture a social and artistic vogue of the 1920s. It’s the convergence of French and Hollywood Orientalism — Delacroix, Gerome and Ingres meet DeMille, Valentino and Theda Bara.

WR Watkins deco maidenAlbert Arthur Allen harem series

This painting by WR Watkins (c.1920s) and this photograph by Albert Arthur Allen (1929) each invoke the era’s erotic/exotic zeitgeist.

The roaring twenties’ cultural fascination with the archetypes of Sheik and Vamp, as well as the historical figures of Cleopatra and Salome, which extended from Hollywood to the Ballet Russes (Najinski/Scheherazade) were a convenient way of simultaneously displacing and embracing the disruptive sexual freedoms of the decade. WR Watkins was no doubt also referencing the flesh-vs-flat-pattern sexual/visual anxieties of Gustav Klimt.

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