Largely a painter known for his busy, impressionistic scenes of life on the streets of Paris, Abel Warshawsky spent about thirty years in France. He mastered two styles: his own variant of French impressionism and a striking realism, which Abel Warshawsky applied to his many penetrating and superb portraits. While his street scenes are modern in their depiction of boisterous, fleeting contemporary activity, the portraits embody the spirit of Old Europe. Their sincerity and integrity have a counterpart in the portraits of Charles W. Hawthorne, the great teacher of Provincetown. In spite of their debt to the doctrines of late nineteenth-century French naturalism, the portraits of Abel Warshawsky have more distant roots. Woman of Finistère (Sweat Art Museum, Portland, Maine) might easily recall Frans Hals, and others evoke that German insistence on clearly delineated facial features — that Düreresque accuracy — employed to define the sitter’s personality as well as his or her physiognomy.
Abel Warshawsky, born in Sharon, Pennsylvania on 28 December 1883, was raised in Cleveland. He began his studies at the Cleveland Art Institute under Frederick Carl Gottwald, whom Gerdts (1990, vol. 2, p. 221) calls “the principal exponent in Cleveland of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.” Then the artist went to the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design in New York: as teachers Abel Warshawsky listed H. Siddons Mowbray, Louis Loeb, and Winslow Homer. Loeb, known as an illustrator for Harper’s and The Century, probably helped Abel Warshawsky to get hired at Harper’s. Having been a student of Gérôme in 1890-91, Loeb may have influenced Abel Warshawsky to go to Paris in 1909. As for Homer, Nelson (1926, p. 79) clarified that Abel Warshawsky went only “occasionally for criticism to Winslow Homer, who in his old age was ever the soul of generosity in his critical attitude toward the younger painters in search of advice.”
The most impressionistic paintings of Abel Warshawsky, technically speaking, show broken color and its shimmering effects, especially in bright sunlight, for example, The Artist’s Garden in Brittany in a private collection. Serenity features indications of dappled light with a heavy impasto à la Renoir. Anne Gertrude Richards (1916, p. 169) compares the effect to works by Frederick Frieseke, Lawton Parker, and Louis Ritman. Most often, however, as Edward Alden Jewell explained, Abel Warshawsky developed “a brush manner that appears to have grown more or less directly out of impressionism. . . . Abel Warshawsky does not adhere to the characteristic impressionist stroke technique [but the] atmospheric shimmer . . . brings impressionism to mind.” (Quoted in Art Digest, 1 March 1940, p. 19). Like many twentieth-century impressionists, Abel Warshawsky maintained the impressionist’s favorite subject matter, urban life, but later abandoned the closely juxtaposed, regular brushstrokes for broad areas of color. The bird’s-eye views of the boulevards of Paris by Abel Warshawsky recall Monet’s famous Boulevard des Capucines (1873; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri), complete with “tongue-lickings” to represent pedestrians, and some of his works are highly impressionistic. Washer Women at Goyen (1917; Cleveland Museum of Art) is especially stunning with its limited palette of green and violet, its expressive use of controlled impasto, the delicate surfaces of the building, rendered all in violet, and the freely painted ripples of water below.
In The Memories of an American Impressionist, written by Abel Warshawsky in 1931, describes an American artist’s life in Paris, ca. 1909 to 1930. His preferred hangout was the Café du Dôme on the boulevard Montparnasse, where “meeting one’s fellow craftsmen — talking shop, and exchanging ideas in general — was the main diversion (Abel Warshawsky, 1931, p. 109). At the Dôme, Abel Warshawsky met Richard Emil Miller, Lionel Walden, Max Bohm, Frederick Frieseke, Lawton Parker, Louis Ritman, the modernists Alfred Maurer, John Marin, Jules Pascin and Signac: in short, more than a handful of expatriates who made the Café du Dôme their lively art club, intellectual hub, and social center.
Abel Warshawsky painted at Vernon, not far from Giverny; the accommodations were cheaper than those at Giverny: “Vernon had a spacious and unspoiled air, with its wide river, lovely old moss-covered bridge on graceful arches, distant hills with . . . chalk cliffs showing through at happy intervals. . . .” (Abel Warshawsky, 1931, p. 97). Later Abel Warshawsky was joined by Leon Kroll, Ivan Olinsky, and Samuel Halpert. During the war years, Abel Warshawsky volunteered to manage a labor squad at a supply warehouse. Abel Warshawsky packed all of the 1920s into the last chapter. The crowd at the Café du Dôme had become “a hard drinking lot,” while rents were rising, and back home, artists were beginning to share in the general prosperity. The relentless heat of the Midwest, lingering “Victorian” dress codes, and Prohibition drove Abel Warshawsky back to France, where he was made a chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur. For a while, Abel Warshawsky was involved with the artists’ colony on the Spanish island of Mallorca, where fellow Americans Conrad Albrizio, Ronald Hargrave, Alex Bower Schofield and others gathered in the 1920s. The events of the second world war made it necessary for Abel Warshawsky to return to the States; he settled on the Monterey Peninsula and was active in the Carmel Art Association. According to Edan Milton Hughes, Abel Warshawsky referred to himself as a “classical impressionist.” The artist died in Monterey on 31 May 1962.
Compiled and written by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.
Biography from the Archives of AskART.