Manigault, Edward Middleton – Canadian/American Artist


p4A ItemID A019716
An 1916 oil on canvas painting of a nude black woman in a tropical mountain landscape by the American artist Edward Middleton Manigault

p4A ItemID B199882
An oil on canvas painting by Edward Middleton Manigault, Still Life with Lemons

p4A ItemID D9921994
Mrs Nathaniel Russell Middleton (Anna E DeWolf); Oil on Canvas Painting, signed 1847, Landscape

p4A ItemID F7946000

Edward Middleton Manigault (1887-1922)

Painter E. Middleton Manigault was born in Canada in 1887, and raised there, but was also associated with Charleston, South Carolina where his great-grandfather Joseph Manigault lived, building the Joseph Manigault House, which is still used by the Charleston Museum. Middleton Manigault moved to New York as an eighteen-year-old. Encouraged by his parents in his art pursuits, he studied with Robert Henri and Kenneth Hayes Miller, who became his friend, at the New York School of Art. Fellow students included Edward Hopper and George Bellows. Manigault used some of Bellows’ old canvases which now have both artists’ signatures on the back. He began exhibiting in 1906 at the age of nineteen. In 1912, he was influenced by the old masters during a European trip. He would eventually work in several styles and media, his oil paintings varying from early stylized, decorative, pointillist-expressionist landscapes, buildings and still-lifes–nearly visionary in concept, including religious subject matter (Christ appearing to Mary)–to later, more broadly-painted works related to Cezanne’s applications of patches of color. He also worked with crafts and decorative arts in addition to fine art.

Manigault was a reclusive, emotionally unstable and idealistic artist searching for an art that would more intensely represent his desires for self-expression and give meaning to his life. He suffered from chronic depression and repeated breakdowns. He sought fulfillment of his idealism for a period of time in the utopian Oneida Community, in New York. Toward the end of his life, in an effort to see colors more intensely, “colors not perceptible to the physical eye,” he lived an ascetic lifestyle, fasting so extensively in an attempt to purify himself–that he literally died of starvation in 1922. He was only thirty-five years old. In this state of depression shortly before his death, he destroyed approximately two hundred of his paintings. He had destroyed others as early as 1909. A writer for “American Art Review” magazine stated that “What remains of his output clearly ranks him among the more fascinating and idiosyncratic of early Modern artists”.

Manigault exhibited in the 1913 New York Armory Show. His painting “The Clown”, was purchased from the exhibition by Arthur Jerome Eddy and J. Paul Getty, major avant-garde art collectors. Manigault also showed a painting titled “Adagio”. “The Clown”, 1912, is a frontal figure in gold-brown costume with a skull-like face white with makeup and the saddest, most hopeless expression. He sits before a stylized, nearly brown-black forest where one of the trees has eyes like a giant owl. A yellow sky, dark clouds and trees, and the darkness of the setting create a disconsolate, threatening environment and atmosphere. Some critics found this painting terrifying. In a somewhat strange series of events, Manigault married his wife, Gertrude in April 1915 and only two days later volunteered for service as an ambulance driver for the British in World War I France. Five months later, in September, the military termed him “incapacitated for further service,” apparently because of a nervous breakdown resulting from a wall collapsing on him. He was forever changed by his War experience. Always a steady, disciplined worker, Manigault now had difficulty realizing his vision. Finishing only four paintings in 1916, he commented, “Painting is worse than war.” It was at this time that he and Gertrude began spending summers in Colebrook, New Hampshire, at her family’s vacation home, and in upstate New York, where Kenneth Hayes Miller introduced him to the Oneida Community. They moved to Los Angeles in 1919, futilely hoping the warmer weather would help Manigault.

Near the end of his life, moving to San Francisco without his wife, the artist began the ascetic life of meditation and fasting which would kill him. He was very thin when she last saw him, but he believed he had found the way. She described him as suffering from “the sort of unconscious bodily torture that the great sages and prophets have undergone.” Many critics praised his work during his lifetime, but because Manigault died young, destroyed his own work, and did not live in New York, the museums that create modernist art reputations forgot him as an artist, though his wife and sister faithfully continued to contact galleries and museums after his death. The Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio, which in 1931 acquired its first Manigault, “The Procession”, provided the venue in 2002 for the artist’s first one-man exhibition in eighty-six years. “The Procession” was also the first Manigault to enter a public collection. The Columbus Museum owns several works, including “The Clown”. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, has a watercolor. The Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida has at least four Manigault paintings in its collection. Though he explored a variety of modernist styles, Manigault had a unique vision. According to Nannette V. Maciejunes, Senior Curator of the Columbus Museum of Art, “What comes to mind when you close your eyes and think of Middleton Manigault is a lot of specific pictures, not a signature style.” The exhibition, “Middleton Manigault, Visionary Modernist”, was seen at the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio, January 15-March 31, 2002; Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York, May 21-July 19, 2002; University Gallery, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware, September 5-October 25, 2002; and Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina, November 22, 2002-March 23, 2003. An accompanying exhibition catalogue with forty-eight color plates, published by Hollis Taggart Galleries, is the first major publication exploring Manigault’s life and work. It includes a detailed essay by Beth Venn, former Whitney Museum of American Art curator, and a Manigault biographer who guest-curated the exhibition. The catalogue also includes essays by Nannette Maciejunes, and Angela Mack, Curator of Collection of the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Information courtesy of Charlton Hall Galleries Inc.

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