Russell Cowles (1887-1979)
Russell Cowles was born in 1887 in Algona, Iowa. He took an interest in painting from a very young age and used to watch his mother paint. In 1909, Cowles graduated from Dartmouth College and left for Paris, where he shared the experience of most artists, and remained there until he ran out of money. He came back to the US to New York and was working at the Art Student’s League and the National Academy of Design. He worked with Douglas Volk and Barry Faulkner, assisting both men in mural painting. In 1915, he won in open competition the Prix de Rome.
In 1917, Cowles’ studies at the Academy were interrupted by the US’s entry into war, and Cowles had a special assignment in the Intelligence Department of the US Navy in Italy. He finished his painting studies through a fellowship at the American Academy of Rome and proceeded to travel Europe. Due to his disciplined, academic training in Italy, Cowles became aware of both the abstract and practical value of formal study.
In the 1920s, Cowles went back to Paris to work for a while. He then decided to make a general study tour and work-journey to the Orient, which led to prolonged stays in Java and Bali, China, and Egypt. He returned to America in 1928. During his absence, in 1925, he had been awarded the Norman Waite Harris Medal and Prize at the Art Institute of Chicago. Once back in the US, the 1930s proved to be a productive period for Cowles. He lived in Santa Fe and became affiliated with the New Mexican group of painters. He produced beautiful oil landscapes of the Southwest.
Cowles attitude toward painting is that of the artist who has full command of his technical facility along with conceptual control of his subject. Much of the deeply hidden emotional content of Cowles’ paintings arises from his exquisite adjustment between these two factors. In addition to landscapes, Cowles painted nudes, animals, flower compositions, and studies in abstraction.
Cowles has had over forty one-person shows, and won many awards including a prize in the 1938 World's Fair in New York and a medal in 1925 from the Art Institute of Chicago.
He was featured in Life Magazine February 9, 1948, pg.74 (article and images of artwork; artist photography by Arnold Newman). Also in "Cowles at his best in ten new exhibits," Art Digest April 1, 1944; Magazine of Art August/September 1941; Art Digest May 1, 1946 (image and article); Art Digest November 15, 1939 (article and image "Autumn Wind").
Cowles died in 1979 in New York City. His work can be found in numerous private and public collections including the Denver Art Museum, LACMA, PAFA and murals on the Register and Tribune building in Des Moines, Iowa