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Biography of the Artist

by Roger Green

During a long and spectacularly productive career, spanning most of the present century, Frederic Taubes achieved success in a number of fields. As a painter and printmaker he won critical acclaim, particularly for his technical virtuosity: major museums purchased his works, which were shown in more one-man exhibitions that were staged for any other living artist in the United States.

As a writer, he published more than 40 authoritative books about art, many of which became standard texts and bestsellers. Turning his energies to scientific research, he discovered and approximated the painting media used by Flemish masters of the 14th and 15th centuries. In what remained of his time, he was a tireless lecturer and teacher.

The current, retrospective exhibition of Taubes' paintings is the record of more than 50 years' creative activity, the artistic outcome of researches, revisions and responses to the world, by an energetic, exacting personality. Not surprisingly, the earliest paintings on view differ dramatically in appearance from those created in recent years, documenting an evolutionary progression. What we discover, condensed in the artist's oeuvre, is the record of his self-assigned mission in life, to continue historical traditions of artistic excellence while remaining utterly

Frederic Taubes

and unquestionably of his own time.

As a middle-aged man, Taubes said, "A regeneration of art is possible only when we first anchor art in sound craftsmanship and follow the principles established in the workshops of the old masters."' However, before arriving at this position he needed first to experience much, both as a student of art and a student of life.

Taubes, who was born in Lwow, Poland in 1900, has been correctly described as exemplifying "the young European artist caught up in the political and esthetic chaos of the first half of the 20th century."' The outbreak of World War I, the conflict that triggered the chaos, found the unsuspecting Taubes vacationing with his prosperous parents at a Czechoslovakian spa. Unable to return to Russian occupied Poland, the family packed its bags and moved to Vienna, where the elder Taubes, a clever banker, immediately began amassing a second fortune.

Young Frederic, who had received private art lessons in Poland, continued his studies in Vienna, eventually becoming a student at the city's Academy of Art. There, and at the Imperial Museum — islands of unruffled tradition in war–ravaged Europe — Taubes began his life-long love affair with classical antiquity, and with paintings by Baroque and Renaissance masters. As a mature artist, Taubes described his favorite works at the museum as having been "the Brueghels, the Velasquezes and Rubens' The Little Fur.”

Following the war, Taubes continued his art education at the Academy in Munich, studying under Franz von Stuck, the celebrated jugendstil painter, and Prof. Max Doerner, at the time the world's leading authority on painting methodology and techniques. Mired in tradition at the Munich Academy, Taubes was nevertheless deeply affected by his adopted city, whose avant-garde artists were boldly experimenting with the newest, most daringly iconoclastic "isms." Recognizing that Central Europe had been catapulted into the 20th century by the war, Taubes became fascinated by experimental art, which he romantically perceived (as did many Europeans at the time) as a response to new problems faced by modernity. After a year, he quit the Munich Academy, enrolling at the experimental art school par excellence, the Bauhaus in Weimar.

During the year 1920 at the Bauhaus, he completed the Basic Course taught by Johannes ltten, whose theories about color were to influence Taubes throughout his career. Remaining from the Bauhaus experience are many creditable drawings in the Cubist manner, picturing still–life objects and female nudes, reduced to elegant arrangements of geometric shapes.

During the 1920s, Taubes experimented with a number of styles, including (besides Cubism), dada, Expressionism and the New Objectivity. The painters who influenced him at this time — far from old masters — were Paul Cezanne, Giorgio de Chirico, Otto Dix and George Grosz. Moreover, for some years he worked as an itinerant portrait painter, traveling east across Europe to the Black Sea, then north to Warsaw.

In 1930 Taubes sailed for New York where, after four return trips to Europe, he determined to settle permanently. Conditions in the depression stricken city were anything but auspicious for a young, foreign artist eager to make his way. However, mustering the strength that had served him in Europe, Taubes eventually found a gallery interested in handling his work, in particular his realistic portraits.

During the following few years in America, Taubes became a successful society portraitist, creating likenesses of such monied and influential personalities as Claire Booth Luce, Baron von Romberg and Mrs. William Randolph Hearst. After ten years in the United States, Taubes had become an important artist. Critics applauded his work, while connoisseurs expressed the most sincere approval by purchasing it. Prestigious colleges and institutions invited the ascending art superstar to lecture and teach.

Taubes' fame peaked in the mid-1940s, when his groundbreaking scientific research, followed by the appearance of several successful books, greatly increased his prestige. He spent 1942 as the Carnegie visiting professor of art and resident painter at the University of Illinois in Urbana, where he discovered and approximated the painting media used in 14th and 15th century Flemish paintings, world-renowned for their mysterious durability.

Following up his Urbana researches, Taubes formulated his well-known line of painting media and varnishes, which became commercially available in 1942. He also published his findings in The Mastery of Oil Painting, which was printed in numerous editions, both here and abroad. The publication of the book in England brought Taubes invitations to lecture at Oxford University and the Royal Society of Art, of which he was elected a fellow.

In 1944, Taubes published Oil Painting for the Beginner, which became the standard art students' text for ten years, and which remains in print to this day.

Between 1943 and 1962, he published a regular column, "The Taubes Page," in American Artist magazine. In his writing for the page, which over the years became increasingly controversial, he continually championed the craft techniques of the old masters. After 1955, Taubes all but ceased showing his work, although he never stopped painting, energetically altering and developing his art until his death in 1981.

—  Excerpted from a review by Roger Green. Written on the occassion of a memorial retrospective of Taubes’ work, organized and exhibited by the Butler Institute of American Art in 1983.

Chronological History of the Artist’s Life

1900   Born Lvov, Poland.

1908   After showing artistic talent is given private painting lessons by local masters.

1914   Outbreak of World War I displaces family to Vienna.

1918   Attends Academy of Munich. Studies with Franz von Stuck.

1920   Travels to Weimar, studies color theory with Johannes Itten at the Bauhaus.

1923   Marries Lili Jacobson, designer at the Weiner Werkstatte.

1929   Travels to the Middle East. Paints in Jerusalem and Syria.

1930   Travels to New York and begins American career.

1931   Joins Dudensing Gallery. Makes a living as a society portrait painter. Paints Mrs. William Randolph Hearst Jr., Mrs. Morgan Belmont, Baron von Romberg, etc.

1936   Joins Midtown Gallery.

1938   Given full color feature in Life Magazine

1939   Teaches summer session at Mills College. Other staff members include Darius Milhaud, Norman Thomas, and Martha Graham.

1941   Publishes first book, The Technique of Oil Painting.

1941   Joins Associated American Artists Group.

1941   Carnegie Visiting Professor, University of Illinois. Develops Copal painting medium that is manufactured by Permanent Pigments until the mid 1970's.

1942   Joins editorial staff of American Artist Magazine. Writes the monthly, "Taubes Page,"  that will appear until 1961.

1944   Publishes Oil Painting for the Beginner. Book will be revised three times and go through 14 printings.

1945   Included in American Artist Group Monographs. Others included are Thomas Hart Benton, Edward Hopper, John Sloan, Raphael Soyer, etc.

1948   Elected Fellow, Royal Society of Art.

1950   Joins staff of University of Alberta, Canada.

1955   Last exhibition at Associated American Artists Gallery. Will not show his work in public again until 1963.

1956   Opens his own painting school in Provincetown, MA. School will operate until 1972.

1981   Exhibits at the Marbella Gallery, NYC,  after a public absence of 16 years.

1981   Publishes 40th and final book, A Judgment of Art: Fact and Fiction.

1981   Frederic Taubes dies in Nyack, NY.

Obituary · The New York Times

June 21, 1981


of the

History of
the Artist’s


Self Portrait


oil on canvas

30 x 42 in.


in his studio

Three Graces


oil on canvas

30 x 26 in.

The Frederic Taubes GallerY                    Info@FredericTaubes.com