Painter. Remembered as a vigorous defender of classicism in its waning days, he numbered among major figures of the American Renaissance. French academic standards inform his allegorical or literary murals and easel paintings, which present idealized, nearly always female figures as embodiments of ennobling concepts. An important teacher at the Art Students League for twenty-five years, he also wrote and lectured extensively, in time becoming noted as the preeminent voice of reactionary traditionalism during a period of increasing artistic experimentalism. Not completely immune to progressive tendencies, however, he painted broadly conceived, lyric landscapes and a few unassuming genre scenes. He also appreciated the work of such friends as William Merritt Chase and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Both appear in his best-known portrait (Metropolitan Museum, 1908), which shows Saint-Gaudens in his studio, at work on a relief depicting Chase. A native of Warren, Ohio, Cox enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts following preliminary training in Cincinnati, where he studied for a time with Frank Duveneck. After a year in Philadelphia, he arrived in Paris in the fall of 1877. There he studied with Émile-Auguste Carolus-Duran for about a year and a half before entering the École des Beaux-Arts, where Jean-Léon Gérôme became his principal teacher. He returned to Ohio in 1882 but settled permanently in New York the following year. The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago provided his first major opportunity to work as a muralist. Subsequently, he numbered among those who embellished the new Library of Congress (1896), and he remained in demand until the final years of his life for decorations in numerous public buildings, including the state capitols of Minnesota (1904), Iowa (1906), and Wisconsin (1912–15). Motivated by a humanistic belief in the social utility of art, Cox sought in his murals to symbolize universal ideas in beautiful form accessible to the general public. He revered antique and Renaissance precedents, but strong draftsmanship, slightly flattened forms, and pale tonal harmonies reveal his admiration for contemporary French decorative painting, particularly the work of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. From the late 1890s, Cox generally summered in the vicinity of Cornish, New Hampshire, a popular artists' destination. Among his publications, The Classic Point of View (1911) presents the most systematic statement of his ideas, with examples drawn from the history of painting since the Renaissance. His other books include Old Masters and New (1905), Painters and Sculptors (1907), Artist and Public (1914), and Concerning Painting (1917).
Painter Louise Cox (1865–1945) became his wife in 1892. Born in San Francisco, Louise Howland King enrolled at the National Academy of Design in 1881 and two years later transferred to the Art Students League, where she studied with Thomas Dewing and her future husband. She painted still lifes, ideal figures, and portraits, becoming especially known for her likenesses of children. After her husband's death she lived in Italy and Hawaii, as well as in north suburban New York. She died in Windham, Connecticut. Their son, painter Allyn Cox (1896–1982), specialized in murals. Born in New York, he trained at the National Academy and the Art Students League before spending several years in Rome on a fellowship at the American Academy. His murals generally present historical themes, rather than allegorical abstractions. At the U.S. Capitol, he completed Constantino Brumidi's rotunda frieze in the early 1950s and spent much of the next thirty years adorning additional areas of the building. He died in Washington.