It is always a pleasure to stumble upon breathtaking artwork. Luckily, my boss, Linda Wehrli shared with me a Facebook post about American Artist, William Sergeant Kendall, that had been shared by a librarian from Italy. We were smitten with the beauty of his work and had to learn more. Linda put me on assignment to research what I could find about this remarkable artist. Here is what I have found, to date.
William Sergeant Kendall was born in Spuyten Duyvil, a neighborhood of the Bronx, New York in 1869. Back in the day, it was a picturesque village of tree-lined streets by the Harlem River.
At the age of 12, Kendall began creating his first paintings. He enrolled at the Brooklyn Art Guild when he was fourteen. His timing could not have been better. American realist painter, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator, Thomas Eakins, who had begun teaching there the previous year, became Kendall’s first teacher and a great influence on his choice of subject. When Eakins returned to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1884, Kendall continued there with him. “Eakins came in today and criticized my work. He said my work ‘was not bad’ which as you know is good praise for him!,” he wrote his parents from Philadelphia in 1885.
In 1886, Kendall returned to New York to study at the Art Students League with teachers who were trained in France. With their encouragement, Kendall studied in France at various ateliers.
Most summers he spent in Brittany at Concarneau or Le Pouldu. Sometimes he shared a summer studio with fellow students, among them William Henry Hyde, John Humphreys Johnston, Henry McCarter, Wilton Lockwood, and John Lambert.
In the summer of 1891 Kendall traveled to Madrid to study the work of Spanish painter, Diego Velazquez, who was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age. Kendall considered Velazquez to be the first great modern painter.
Those summer painting excursions paid off. At the Paris Salon of 1891, one of Kendall’s Breton paintings won an honorable mention. Back in the day, acceptance at the Salon was still the world-wide standard of success. His award brought Kendall letters of congratulation form American collectors as well as an offer to teach at the Cooper Union in New York City.
In 1892, Kendal took a studio in the University Building on Washington Square in NYC. At the Cooper Union, he taught a women’s painting class from 1892 to 1895. One of his students was Margaret Weston Stickney, whom he married in 1896. Their first child, Elisabeth, was born that fall on Gerrish Island off the coast of Maine. With Elisabeth’s birth, Kendall found his favorite subject matter: his family. Beatrice was born in 1902 and Alison in 1907, so for about 25 years there was always a Kendall daughter to paint.
Like may artists of the period, Kendall relied on portraits for part of his income. His sitters included Helen Huntington (later Mrs. Vincent Astor), and President William Howard Taft. However, posing for Kendall was no easy task. Helen Huntington sat 24 times before Kendall considered her full-length portrait finished. His usual fee for a full-length portrait was $4,000; a head alone was $1,500; head and hands, $2,000; and a half length portrait, $3,000.
Over the years, Kendall won numerous prizes, including a medal at the Carnegie Institute in 1900, a medal at the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900, the Shaw Prize of the Society of American Artists in 1901, and the Shaw Fund Purchase Prize in 1903. In 1901 he was elected an associate of, and in 1905, an academician of the National Academy of Design.
It is interesting to note that Kendall primarily painted the child’s head in the center and his wife’s is in profile.
When his painting “Alison” was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1910, it won the Potter Palmer gold medal and $1,000 and was bought by the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy/Albright Art Gallery.
We hope some of his work might be on exhibit at The Getty or LACMA at some point, so we may view it in person. If it ever does, you can be sure we will blog about it. It is inspiring to learn about this great American painter who stood out during an era known mostly for works by French painters.
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For more on Pastimes for a Lifetime’s Art Curriculum, or Linda Wehrli, visit the website or Facebook page. For more information on fine artist and Pastimes blogger, Jessica Lee Sanders, please visit her Facebook page.