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: The Gift of Mrs. Florence M. Shirlaw


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Walter Shirlaw was one of the epoch makers in the history of American Art. He was one of the group of the then younger generation who in 1876, protested against the actions of the National Academicians by which the latter endeavored to secure themselves the first choice of place in their exhibition, and which resulted in the formation of the “Society of American Artists,” of which Shirlaw became the first president. He had already become a most important factor in the education of art students. The Art Students’ League was organized in 1875 by the students seceding from the school of the National Academy, taking their teacher, Lemuel Wilmarth, with them. In the following year, the latter was prevailed upon to try and get the students back into the old fold, but they refused, and selected Walter Shirlaw as their teacher. He proved the most helpful, most encouraging instructor one could well imagine. Though in Munich he had been a fellow student, in New York he became my teacher and friend. He had a most delightful way of gaining a student’s confidence, for he would invariably begin his criticism by finding something praiseworthy in every student’s work; if nothing calling for direct praise could be found, he would begin by saying: “Yes, there is a good intention; the only thing is—,” and he would begin to point out one short-coming after another, so that in the end the student would fairly wonder where even his “good intention” might come in!Shirlaw was an indefatigable worker and an artist of greatest versatility in the most complimentary sense of the word. In his easel pictures he showed a mastery of detail without giving thereto undue prominence, while in his mural paintings his breadth and freedom of handling were equally remarkable. His numerous illustrations were characterized by a most fascinating quality of picturesqueness. He was one of the leaders of his time in his branch of art, and his services were in constant demand among the foremost publishers, so that at times he felt constrained to seek refuge in foreign travel in order to find time to devote himself to painting, which after all he loved best.“The Toning of the Bell” was the first ambitious picture on which his fame as a painter rests. It was first exhibited at the Kunst-Verein at Munich in 1874 (or ’75) and formed the centre of attraction there. Curiously enough, the picture brought him fame but no money. One of his most important canvasses, “Sheepshearing in Bavaria,” is now owned by the City Art Museum at St. Louis.At the time of his death, which occurred at Madrid on the twenty-sixth day of December, 1909, he was in the seventy-second year of his age. He left an astonishing amount of work in finished pictures and especially in studies, which his widow, Mrs. Florence M. Shirlaw—acting in complete sympathy with the generous spirit of the departed—has decided to distribute among some of the leading art museum of the country. Mrs. Shirlaw has been especially generous in her donations to our Institute, the pictures, studies and sketches sent us numbering no less than eighty-one. A complete list is given on this page of the Bulletin. One of the studies in oil, “Viaduct near Duluth,” besides being especially characteristic of Shirlaw’s style, has an added interest to us because of its being a bit of Minnesota landscape. One of his larger water colors dates from his student days and represents a picturesque corner of the famous old city of Rothenburg, which carefully studies to preserve the characteristic architectural appearance of the fifteenth century to this day. Of special interest to our students are the numerous leaves from Shirlaw’s sketchbooks, notably those made on the Crow and Cheyenne Indian reservations, where he was sent by the Government for the purpose of making some observations. While there, there was a murder of a white boy, which reads like an old Spartan tale. The Century Magazine induced Shirlaw to write the story and illustrate it.We also have a number of sketches made for the “Sheepshearing” and a preliminary study for the “Toning of the Bell.”Mrs. Shirlaw may feel assured of our profound gratitude for her generous donation. It will ever be cherished as a monument to the memory of one of America’s leading artists of whom his friend Frederick McMonnies has so very appropriately said: “There are some men who go through life as though they had eternity before them. They pass along calmly, quietly, casually. Never too hurried to be careless of other people’s feelings, not too absorbed in their own interests to be indifferent to other people’s undertakings. They do not allow their disappointments to embitter their philosophy, nor to tear down their standards. If they happen to be artists, the joy of the work compensates them for the labor of its production, and they leave to posterity the task of fixing its inevitable value. Walter Shirlaw was one of these rare spirits. He was loved and honored by all. His distinguished life and noble personality are glories of his generation, while American Art owes him a debt of gratitude for his influence, his ideals and his work.”The Walter Shirlaw CollectionSketches in Oil1. Duluth Viaduct
2. On the Terrace (sketch for decoration)
3. Artist Sketching
4. Tuscany Girl
5. Study of Sheep
6. Indian Dance (sketch)Water Color7. Girl with Doves (decorative panel)
8. In the Orchard (decorative panel)
9. Street Scene in Rothenburg
10. From Indian Reservation, Mont.
11. From Indian Reservation, Mont.
12. From Indian Reservation, Mont.
13. A Window at Polling, Bavaria
14. Landscape Sketch (Spring)
15. Landscape Sketch
16. Landscape Sketch (with hay wagon)
17. Study of Saddled Horse
18. Decorative FigurePencil Sketches19. The Church at Polling, Bavaria
20. Study of Peasant’s Horse
21. Study of Cow
22. Ox Team (tinted)
23. Study of Chickens
24. Study of Hen with Chicks
25. At the Cab-Stand
26. Study of Cab
27. Studies for “Sheepshearing”
28. Studies for “Sheepshearing” (both sides of paper)
Studies in Charcoal and Other Mediums29. Study for “Toning of the Bell”
30. Two Peacocks
31. Well in a Barnyard
32. Three-horse Team
33. Man Carrying Sack
34. Tree Study (red chalk)
35. Landscape Sketch (pen and ink)
36. Psyche (Photogravure)Pencil Sketches37 to 69. Sketches made on Indian Reservation, Montana
70 to 81. Studies of Indian Riding.
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Source: "The Gift of Mrs. Florence M. Shirlaw," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 3, no. 2 (February, 1914) 19-21.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009