Will Hicok Low


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Painter. An important figure in the American Renaissance, he is remembered for classicizing allegorical and mythological subjects, particularly murals. Early in his career he produced genre paintings and tried his hand at literary themes. He also wrote art criticism for major New York magazines and published two memoirs, A Chronicle of Friendships: 1873–1900 (1908) and A Painter's Progress (1910). Born in Albany, he was introduced to art by Erastus Dow Palmer, father of school friend Walter Launt Palmer. In 1871 he moved to New York to work as an illustrator but the following year departed for five years in Paris. There he studied relatively briefly with Jean-Léon Gérôme and, for a longer period, with Émile-Auguste Carolus-Duran. During four summers he worked at Barbizon, where he benefited from Jean-François Millet's example and advice. After returning to New York late in 1877, he participated in the aesthetic movement decorative projects that attracted many progressive young artists, designed stained glass windows and book illustrations, and numbered among the earliest members of the Society of American Artists. Emphasizing sentiment and decorative embellishment, his small, domestic genre scenes of these years display precise but atmospheric treatment of undramatic moments. In the summer of 1886 he sailed a second time for Europe, where he visited Paris and Barbizon, then traveled in Italy and England for several months. In later years, he again returned to Europe, sometimes for extended sojourns. For nearly three decades after 1892, when he secured his first major commission, he counted among the nation's foremost muralists. After completing the reception rooms (destroyed) that year in New York's old Waldorf-Astoria hotel, he was called upon to decorate numerous public and private spaces, culminating in a cycle of thirty-two scenes for the New York State Education Building in Albany (1913–18). However, even as he worked on this series, he lamented that his devotion to a tradition of ideal beauty now seemed old-fashioned. From 1896 he lived in a New York suburb frequented by artists, the newly established community of Bronxville, where he died. He spent many summers in Milton, near Boston. In 1909 he married Mary MacMonnies.

Subjects: Art.

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