Welcome to Translucent Visions:
Frederic Whitaker & Eileen Monaghan Whitaker | A Retrospective in
The goal of this exhibition was to share the lifetime accomplishments of Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker with a new and global audience, affording the viewer a more intimate and informative view of their work.
The exhibition reveals the bold vision and creative passion the Whitakers brought to their lives and their art, that made them masters of the most American of mediums, the American Watercolor. The images chosen were done so in the hopes that they reflect an overall understanding of the Whitaker's art and their unique relationship.
Included are essays from the latest book on the Whitakers “Contrasts that Complement” by Jan Jennings : Donelson Hoopes, museum professional and art historian, sheds light on the Whitaker’s place and importance in the history of American Watercolor; Theodore F. Wolff, author and art critic shares his keen insight into Frederic’s working style; and art critic Robert L. Pincus allows us to see and understand Eileen’s creative spirit so evident in her art. As
the curator, I strove to examine their respective styles, and how through the fluid vitality of watercolor, they captured the essential spirit of their subjects. Presented in two parts, showcasing each painter, we hope you enjoy this tribute to two extraordinary talented and complementary artists, Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker.
Barbara Cox, Director and Curator, The Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Foundation
'Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker:
Masters of the American Medium' by Donelson Hoopes
For much of the twentieth century, the course of western art was marked by an ever-changing
succession of styles that came upon one another with a rapidity and assertiveness not previously
manifested so spectacularly in its history. As early as 1913 representational art tended
to become eclipsed by the more avant-garde applications, such as abstraction and cubism.
With the event of the landmark Armory Show in New York that year, modern art, as practiced
in Europe, and revealed in depth here for the first time, was introduced to America. Despite
this development, many American artists persisted in their allegiance to the native luministrealist
tradition, which had long dominated the nation’s art. As one critic of twentieth-century
American art, Clement Greenberg, saw it, “The visionary overtones [of major American painters
of the realist persuasion] move us all the more because they echo facts. This is perhaps the
most American note of all.”
Out of this time-honored tradition, the art of Eileen Monaghan Whitaker and Frederic
Whitaker has drawn its nourishment and special appeal. Monaghan’s early background as
a fashion illustrator and commercial art director was the impetus for her subsequent allegiance
to a realist mode for conceptualizing the world in terms of art. She has said that from childhood
she “always had a terrific urge to paint.” In the 1940s, she finally turned from the commercial
aspect of her career, devoting herself fully to easel painting. Not coincidentally, it was
during this time that she met and married Frederic Whitaker. A designer, businessman, and
entrepreneur, Whitaker was already an established artist, known for his mastery of watercolor.
This was the medium in which he created elaborately detailed designs for ecclesiastical
metalware for such prestigious enterprises as the Gorham Company and Tiffany, as well as
for his own multiple business ventures. Watercolor was the natural medium of expression
for Whitaker’s easel paintings. His example proved to be a formative influence on Monaghan,
herself an avid practitioner in the medium. To their credit, however, while carving out an intimate
life together, Monaghan and Whitaker firmly retained their own individuality in terms
of their styles of painting, each working in a distinctly personal manner.
In the New York art scene of the post–World War II era, perhaps no entity more resolutely
defended conservative values in art than the National Academy of Design. Founded in
1825, the academy included on its roster of members almost
every American artist of note since its inception. Whitaker was
among their number; moreover, from 1949 through 1957, he
served as president of the American Watercolor Society, which
was closely identified with the academy. Monaghan also became
a member of both these organizations during this period. Together
they saw the tectonic shift that American art underwent
in the late 1940s as traditional values rapidly gave way to radical
change, especially in the form of abstract expressionism. Suddenly,
the relevance of representational forms of art seemed to
be called into question.
For Monaghan and Whitaker, however, this was never
an issue. They continued steadfastly down the path they championed:
painting fine, traditional, representational artworks.
As Whitaker called it: “understandable art . . . art that is recognizable
to the viewer.” This, it seems, they were destined to do,
whether working at the center of artistic innovation in New
York City, or in the increasingly more receptive and open cultural
milieu of Southern California.
In 1965 Monaghan and Whitaker departed the New York
scene, relocating in La Jolla, California. For decades, California
had sustained a thriving art tradition of landscape and figurative
painting. Furthermore, many of the state’s leading artists specialized
in watercolor painting and were notably prominent in major
national venues, such as the American Watercolor Society. Significantly,
California was not the cultural desert that many Easterners
Long before their resettlement in La Jolla, the Whitakers
had traveled extensively in the American Southwest and Mexico,
accruing inspiration for their paintings. With their move to
California, they were afforded the luxury of proximity and
could concentrate fully upon subjects associated with this new
living environment. The result was an outpouring of work that
reflected their fascination with Native American and Hispanic
peoples and the street scenes they inhabited. As their art had
been invigorated during earlier travels throughout Europe, particularly
Spain, so it was stimulated by these exotic prospects
of the Southwest.
A major statement in the art of both Monaghan and
Whitaker is that they reject the commonly held notion
that watercolor must be spontaneous, that brilliance of technique
should be a primary ambition for the serious painter
of watercolors. Not so, they aver, and most convincingly.
A great achievement of their art is that it conceals the effort
of creation; it seems immediately realized and instinctive.
For both artists, in exceedingly different and individual ways,
a great amount of thoughtful preparation and execution lies
at the core of each picture.
In the nineteenth century, writers frequently referred to
watercolor as “the American medium,” largely because of the
sheer number of artists who embraced the medium and the
important place it had assumed in exhibitions and among an
avid public. Although art in our time has shifted into a variety
of expressive means that would have been unimaginable then,
watercolor yet claims the allegiance of many important American
artists working today. It is a tribute to Frederic Whitaker
and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker that their formidable talent
has enabled them to create watercolors of such unique and
personal vision. Each is truly an exemplary advocate for “the
American medium". From: Jennings, Jan Noreus. 2004, "Contrasts that complement: Eileen Monaghan Whitaker & Frederic Whitaker", Marquand Books, the University of California.
Frederic Whitaker (1891-1980)
Frederick Whitaker won more than 150 awards for his representational watercolors. He was an Academician in the National Academy of Design. He served as president of the American Watercolor Society from 1949-1956, revamping its format to involve more member participation and upgrading the status of annual exhibitions. In 1943, he organized Audubon Artists, Inc., an art society designed to represent all voices in the visual arts. He served as officer/board member of numerous other national and regional art societies and was listed in a number of Who’s Whos. In addition to his painting and leadership contributions in the visual arts, Whitaker wrote two books on watercolor, “Whitaker on Watercolor” and “A Guide to Painting Better Pictures”, and a third, “The Artist and the Real World,” random reflections on the art world. He is the subject of a biography, Frederic Whitaker, by artist/author Janice Lovoos. He wrote more than 90 articles on artists for American Artist magazine, and was a contributor to The Artist of London and Today’s Art, New York. Whitaker’s watercolors are meticulously designed on a small scale, where he would “think” his way through each detail. When pleased with the overall design, he transferred it to the full sheet, confident in exactly what he wanted to do. Ideas for his paintings came from things/people/circumstances he observed, usually picking out the “unusual.” Whitaker often found beauty in architectural scenes, but he handled every challenge: the human figure, landscapes, seascapes, city scenes, country scenes, night scenes, details of trees, whimsical dolls, and variations of doorway or archway depictions. Frederic Whitaker was born in Providence, R.I., Jan. 9, 1891, and quit school at age 14 to go to work. What he missed in formal schooling, he picked up on the job at the W. J. Feeley Co., manufacturer of ecclesiastical metalware, where he started as an apprentice to the designer at age 16. By age 23, Whitaker was head of design at Feeley. After that came work as a designer at Gorham, Tiffany, the Mangan Company which he co-owned, and finally two companies he bought and built up, Foley and Dugan in Providence and the G. H. Seffert Company in New York, both dealing in phases of design, manufacture, and distribution of religious goods. He juggled skills as salesman and designer, as adept in the business end as in the creative side meanwhile painting watercolors, actively participating in art societies, and entering competitive exhibitions. On Valentines Day, 1943, artist Frederic Whitaker met artist Eileen Monaghan, who was to become Eileen Monaghan Whitaker, at a one-man exhibit of his work at Ferargil Galleries in New York City. In 1949, Whitaker retired from business to devote himself to painting, writing, and serving in varying leadership capacities for art societies. In 1965, the Whitakers moved to La Jolla, Calif. He died in his home March 9, 1980. Businessman, entrepreneur, artist, self-made man, Frederic Whitaker rose, as his 1974 Horatio Alger Award states, from humble beginnings to make a significant contribution to society. Frederic Whitaker’s 159 awards include: Allied Artists of America, American Artists Professional League, American Watercolor Society, Audubon Artists, Inc. Baltimore Watercolor Society, Horatio Alger Award, National Arts Club, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Society of Western Artists, Springville Museum of Art, Washington Watercolor Society, Watercolor U.S.A.
'Discipline, Communication, and Creativity: The Art of Frederic Whitaker' by Theodore F. Wolff
When it came to painting, Frederic Whitaker knew exactly what he was doing. As a consummate
master of the watercolor medium, he had no difficulty in producing the precise effects he
wanted. But that was only the skilled craftsman’s side of his creativity. Of much greater importance
was what he could communicate to others through his art. After all, he had written: “The
purpose of art is to create a thing of beauty, to convey a thought or message of some kind, or
to provide inspiration to someone.” Whitaker’s wide, respectful, and affectionate acceptance as
a creative individual of substance, not only by his fellow artists and art professionals, but also
by the general public, proved conclusively that he practiced what he preached.
He was most emphatic in his insistence that art should not be dependent upon gimmickry
or fashion. An artist, he believed, should always be himself and paint what he knew and felt.
Modernism, with all its isms, did not impress him, especially when it required extensive explanations.
“Art that cannot explain itself had better be left undone,” was how he put it. At the
same time, he was opposed to photographically exact renderings. Nature was the artist’s raw
material, the source from which he drew his inspiration. It was to be sensitively and intelligently
interpreted and transformed into art, not mindlessly replicated. In short, he had a vision of art
that was poetic and mildly romantic, one that demanded he look beyond the surface appearances
of things to those deeper qualities and attributes of nature that help illuminate the meaning
of life and give art its significance as well.
To realize this vision, especially in a medium as temperamental as watercolor, Whitaker
had to be crystal clear about his objectives and totally in control of the steps necessary for
their actualization. Proof that he succeeded on both counts can be found in the hundreds of
impressive watercolors – thousands, if one counts his sketches and color studies – he produced
during his highly productive career. Any painting leaving his studio was certain to be honest,
direct, structurally sound, technically accomplished, and an effective argument for how seriously
watercolor deserved to be taken.
His range of subjects was remarkable. Nothing was too humble or too difficult for him
to tackle. He was as interested in the minutiae of nature – insects and flowers, for instance –
as he was in windswept seascapes, complex urban vistas, and depictions of human character. Animals, architectural details, and foreign people and places – to
say nothing of female nudes – also received his careful attention.
For someone who spent the early years of his working life
as a successful silversmith, Whitaker was wonderfully free and
spontaneous in his watercolors. Or so it seemed. In actuality,
the path from initial sketch and color study through detailed
preparatory drawing to final application of paint was as carefully
planned and executed as a military campaign – except that
Whitaker did not want it to appear that way. As he said, “My
aim in watercolor is to make something that looks absolutely
effortless, as if I had left it wet and it had accidentally dried into
a perfect picture.”
To Whitaker’s perception of art, nothing was more important
than good design and composition. If achieved, they helped
fulfill an artist’s grandest intentions. If not, the work produced
remained a weak reflection of nature or shapelessly incomplete.
His approach to composition was simplicity itself. He first
looked for a design pattern in his chosen subject. Once that had
been found, he broke down what lay before him into strategically
placed spots, shapes, and directional indicators that conformed
to his perceived pattern but minimized the realistic
aspects of his subject. The placement of these formal elements,
while suggested by the scene, was dictated primarily by the need
to establish the broad outline and structure of the painting he
was about to commence. Once these elements were in place –
but not before – the more detailed business of shaping a work
of art could begin.
Careful, concentrated effort still lay ahead in the studio.
The original small pencil sketch with notations of color, mood,
and details made in the field had to be translated into a color
study showing exactly the colors, values, and relationship of parts
as they would appear in the finished work. After that would
come the drawing on a full-sheet, three-hundred-pound, coldpress,
handmade, 100-percent rag paper. Following that, the
actual painting would begin. Slowly, his subject would come
to life. A blob of green would become foliage, a wash of brown,
a bridge, and a narrow vertical daub, a man walking in the distance.
Total time from start to finish: anywhere from five hours
to three days.
Once completed, the painting would find its way into
one of Whitaker’s East or West Coast galleries or into any one
of the numerous exhibitions, competitive and otherwise, that
he entered or to which he was invited. He was about as far from
being an ivory-tower artist as one can be, not only because he
saw himself as an active participant in the practical world of
creating art for an appreciative audience, but also because he
wanted to give back to the world “something more than it has
so generously given me.”
Whitaker fulfilled the responsibility he felt toward the
world, not only as a watercolorist who gave pleasure to the many
who bought his paintings or saw them in museums or galleries,
but also as a writer who contributed articles on other artists to
various art magazines. He was the author of a number of books
on art, most notably The Artist and the Real World, in which he
discussed his working methods and gave his frank, unvarnished
opinions on art, the art world, and what it meant to be an artist.
As if that were not enough, he held prominent positions in a
number of America’s most prestigious art organizations.
But it was as a watercolor painter that he was best
known and for which he most deserves to be celebrated. Despite
such outstanding advocates as Winslow Homer, John Singer
Sargent, John Marin, and Charles Burchfield, watercolor painting
has never been regarded as highly in American art circles
as works on canvas have. Perhaps this is because of its smaller
size and greater informality, or possibly because watercolor is
generally executed on paper. Whatever the reason, it was an unfortunate prejudice that Whitaker did his best to counter
by demonstrating repeatedly that watercolor was capable of
depth and monumentality as well as brilliant virtuoso effects.
Of course, he did not set out to raise the art world’s opinion
of his chosen medium. His objectives were more purely
aesthetic and communicative. He wanted to produce handsome,
well-designed, easily understood paintings that conveyed a feeling
or an idea in a pleasurable, no-nonsense, and occasionally
mildly inspirational manner. As an artist he stood firm. Nothing,
neither the desire to impress nor the need for a quick sale, would
ever be permitted to divert him from expressing himself as clearly,
fully, and honestly as possible.
Seen in this light and from the perspective of modernist
theory, his goals, while worthy, may appear unduly modest. But
that fails to take the works themselves into account. Even a brief
survey of his paintings will reveal not only that he remained true
to his intentions but also that he produced an impressive number
of watercolors that do honor to the medium by fulfilling
its highest standards and ideals. No more can be expected of
any artist. From: Jennings, Jan Noreus. 2004, "Contrasts that complement: Eileen Monaghan Whitaker & Frederic Whitaker", Marquand Books, the University of California.
Eileen Monaghan Whitaker, N.A
Eileen Monaghan Whitaker, Academician in the National Academy of Design (NAD) was a member of the American Watercolor Society (AWS), listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in American Art, and throughout her career was a frequent juror for competitive art exhibitions nationwide. In 1948, she won an award in her first competitive exhibition and then went on to receive 87 major awards for her paintings. She was elected to membership in AWS in 1953, and in 1957 to associate membership in the NAD, where she was elected full Academician in 1978. Whitaker painted representational watercolors that reflected the diversity of her many interests. People were always a major source of inspiration, as well as nature, architecture, still life, and the cultures of the Southwest, Mexico and Guatemala. An emotional artist, Whitaker once said she “feels” her way through each painting. Born in Holyoke, Mass., Nov. 22, 1911, Eileen Monaghan studied at the Massachusetts College of Art and then worked in New York City as an artist and art director. On Valentine’s Day 1943, she met watercolor artist Frederic Whitaker at a one-man exhibit of his works at New York’s Farargil Galleries. Their partnership was both personal and creative resulting in numerous two-person shows in San Diego, La Jolla, and Rancho Santa Fe, California during their nearly 40-year relationship and marriage. The rich extent of their lives and their work is featured in the book, Contrasts That Complement—Eileen Monaghan Whitaker and Frederic Whitaker, written by Jan Noreus Jennings, and published by Marquand Books in 2004 Frederic Whitaker died in 1980. Eileen Monahan Whitaker continued to paint prolifically. In 1982 she was commissioned by Copley Press to paint San Diego County. She explored the county for nearly four years, sketching, drawing, and photographing before completing the paintings in her La Jolla studio. The book, Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Paints San Diego, was published in 1986. After extensive travels to Guatemala in the 80s, in 1990, Eileen Monaghan Whitaker had a one-person exhibit Eileen Monaghan Whitaker: Watercolors of Guatemala and Mexico at the Charles and Emma Frye Art Museum in Seattle, Washington. Eileen Monaghan Whitaker painted regularly until she was in her mid-90s and continued as the head of the Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Foundation up until her death in 2005. Eileen's 87 awards included: Allied Artists of America, American Watercolor Society, California Watercolor Society (now the National Watercolor Society), California National Academy of Design (Ranger Fund Show), New York City Providence Watercolor Club, Rhode Island San Diego Watercolor Society, California Society of Western Artists, Springville Museum of Art.
'Precise Design and Deep Delight
The Art of Eileen Monaghan Whitaker' by Robert L. Pincus
Eileen Monaghan Whitaker, Academician in the National Academy of Design (NAD) was a member of the American Watercolor Society (AWS), listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in American Art, and throughout her career was a frequent juror for competitive art exhibitions nationwide. In 1948, she won an award in her first competitive exhibition and then went on to receive 87 major awards for her paintings. She was elected to membership in AWS in 1953, and in 1957 to associate membership in the NAD, where she was elected full Academician in 1978. Whitaker painted representational watercolors that reflected the diversity of her many interests. People were always a major source of inspiration, as well as nature, architecture, still life, and the cultures of the Southwest, Mexico and Guatemala. An emotional artist, Whitaker once said she “feels” her way through each painting. Born in Holyoke, Mass., Nov. 22, 1911, Eileen Monaghan studied at the Massachusetts College of Art and then worked in New York City as an artist and art director. On Valentine’s Day 1943, she met watercolor artist Frederic Whitaker at a one-man exhibit of his works at New York’s Farargil Galleries. Their partnership was both personal and creative resulting in numerous two-person shows in San Diego, La Jolla, and Rancho Santa Fe, California during their nearly 40-year relationship and marriage. The rich extent of their lives and their work is featured in the book, Contrasts That Complement—Eileen Monaghan Whitaker and Frederic Whitaker, written by Jan Noreus Jennings, and published by Marquand Books in 2004. Frederic Whitaker died in 1980. Eileen Monahan Whitaker continued to paint prolifically. In 1982 she was commissioned by Copley Press to paint San Diego County. She explored the county for nearly four years, sketching, drawing, and photographing before completing the paintings in her La Jolla studio. The book, Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Paints San Diego, was published in 1986. After extensive travels to Guatemala in the 80s, in 1990, Eileen Monaghan Whitaker had a one-person exhibit Eileen Monaghan Whitaker: Watercolors of Guatemala and Mexico at the Charles and Emma Frye Art Museum in Seattle, Washington. Eileen Monaghan Whitaker painted regularly until she was in her mid-90s and continued as the head of the Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Foundation up until her death in 2005. From: Jennings, Jan Noreus. 2004, "Contrasts that complement: Eileen Monaghan Whitaker & Frederic Whitaker", Marquand Books, the University of California.