Philip Evergood (1998)

artdesigncafé - art | 11 March 2010
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Philip Evergood

Only eight years younger than Grosz, Philip Evergood was born in 1901 in New York, the only child of parents of diverse backgrounds. Flora, his mother, was a well-educated English woman of considerable privilege. His father was an artist from an Australian-Jewish family. Both parents were cut off financially from and by their families when they married out of religion. (Philip’s father legally changed his name to Evergood-Blashki in reaction to the severed ties. Philip’s mother established strained ties, and although she received a token $2500 annually, she was removed from her affluent father’s will.) After marriage, the couple moved from London to New York as Meyer Evergood-Blashki was offered a job as an illustrator for a newspaper. An artist of some success as a landscape painter, Meyer became close friends with many notable American artists such as Albert Pinkham Ryder, J. Alden Weir and Ralph Blakelock. The young Evergood showed a great ability in music and painting which was encouraged by his cultivated parents.

From 6-8 years old, he was enrolled at Ethical Culture School which promoted the belief in the ultimate worth and dignity of each individual, and the ability and responsibility of each individual, to direct his life effectively and with decency. This philosophy was very much in keeping with the Evergood family, and in his later life he acknowledged its significant impact on his consciousness. Pressure from Flora’s family convinces his parents that Philip should be provided a proper English boarding school education; his mothers’ family finances his education directly. Flora plans for Philip to have a career in the British Navy and tries to enroll him in Osbourne, the naval academy. However, an unenthusiastic response to the application reveals objections to their “foreign sounding” family name, Blashki. Meyer Evergood-Blashki changes his name again to Miles Evergood. The first of many medical disasters prevents Philip from going to the Naval Academy, thereby squelching any possibility of a future career as an officer. As an alternative, his mother convinces a headmaster/tutor, chosen by chance, to sponsor and accept her son at Eton. The tutor becomes a significant model and actively encourages all of young Evergood’s artistic interests— poetry, music and art. Eton, serving as a feeder school to Cambridge, leads to Evergood’s acceptance there. Academic rigor reveals Evergood to be a disinterested student and he ultimately withdraws from Cambridge. His father arranges a portfolio review at the Slade School of Art, University College London, where he is accepted. There he learns the principles of sound draughtsmanship. (He met there Clare Leighton, who would become a close friend in the last years of his life.) The Evergood family however returns to New York in 1923.

Philip Evergood begins to take classes at Art Students League with George Luks, whom Miles Evergood heartily approves of as a human with spirit and passion for life. There Philip is stimulated to observe everyday life. With further studies at the Educational Alliance, he meets Chaim Gross and Moses Soyer, artists that will remain lifelong friends.

As Philip Evergood had not lived at home since he was eight, father-son conflicts create a hostile home environment which is elevated by Flora organizing an expedition for Philip to illustrate writer Melville Chater’s canoe tour of the Belgian canal system. Evergood abandons the project and departs Belgium for Paris. Studying briefly at the Academie Julian and then with Andre L’hote, Evergood became frustrated. Dropping out, he taught himself to model simple geometric forms by working on still lifes before he could tackle the complexity of human forms. He begins serious self study of artistic treasures by travelling extensively through Italy and France.

In 1931, he marries dancer Julia Cross, whom he had met in Paris. The newlyweds moved frequently to find suitable apartments for dance and painting studios for each of them. Although Evergood had a small one-man exhibition, there were no sales so the couple needed to supplement their income by taking odd jobs. Julia’s mother hired both of them for her gallery of American Indian art. Philip did carpentry and Julia bookkeeping. Through the gallery they met and became very close friends with Dolly and John Sloan. Sloan was instrumental in helping Evergood launch his career, purchasing paintings and encouraging museums to buy as well. As the 1930s progressed, additional one-man shows produced excellent reviews and appreciation of other New York artists.

Philip Evergood’s Marxist leaning appear in the content of his work. He became increasingly involved in activities with the John Reed and Pierre Degeyter Clubs. The John Reed Club for Artists and Writers’ philosophy was that the strengthening of the working class was required for the establishment of a new society. Artists and culture could serve to inform the working class both politically and aesthetically, and therefore were weapons against capitalism. The Pierre Degeyter Club was the musicians counterpart. The John Reed Club provided a venue for artists to exhibit and Evergood participated with entries such as Mine Disaster.

John Sloan interceded again on Evergood’s behalf with Juliana Force, Director of the Whitney Studio Club and Regional Director of Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), resulting in Evergood being one of the first artists to be invited to join the Project. Evergood was gaining notoriety and winning awards. Much of his work stirred controversy such as his prize-winning painting at the Art Institute of Chicago Annual Exhibition which was considered obscene, indecent and grotesque by Institute patrons and local art critics. Due to his high level of education, Evergood was often drafted as a spokesperson for artists’ rights and artists political initiatives.

His high profile and artistic success led him to be offered a mural commission and teaching position at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, which Philip Evergood accepted and the couple moved. Although Philip was busy and happy to be treated like a celebrity, his wife did not like Kalamazoo and longed to return to New York and resume her dancing career. The couple returned to the east in the summer, only to learn that Evergood needed surgery to have a tumor removed from his intestine. His recuperation was long and his fever mysteriously remained. Further tests revealed a surgical pillow left in his intestine necessitating additional surgery. Still slow in recuperating, Evergood developed additional complications. Evergood’s recovery took an additional four months, during that time Julia suffered a miscarriage. Over a year since Evergood began a Kalamazoo mural, he returned to complete it in less than six months.

Excused from military service during World War II due to weak health, Philip Evergood supported himself teaching at Muhlenburg College, and privately in Philadelphia and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Anxious to serve his country, Evergood was thrilled to be asked to join American troops in North Africa to make pictorial records of the war, only to have the invitation withdrawn along with those of Anton Refregier and William Gropper. The reason given was that the artists were too radical having signed petitions and participated in peace parades. At the bottom of his career, jobless and desperate, Evergood was introduced to the eccentric collector Joseph Hirshhorn who would become Evergood’s supporter. Having bought ten paintings for $3500 on their first meeting, Evergood was for the first time financially sound.

As Philip Evergood received cash awards, Hirshhorn would advise Evergood on how to invest the money. With these funds he purchased real estate in Greenwich Village and on Long Island. He and his wife loved their West Village home, until a released convict broke into the house while the couple were on vacation. A neighbor noticed activity in the house and called the police. The policeman answering the call was shot and killed by the convict with a pistol that Evergood owned without a license. Thus Evergood was implicated, ultimately acquitted on the charge and testified against the convict. However Evergood became deeply depressed by the ordeal particularly when it was learned that the convict had been stalking Evergood with the intention of killing him. Evergood was emotionally unable to return to that home and moved to Connecticut. Julia refused to go with him wanting to stay in New York. By the early 1950s their relationship was rocky. Julia asked for a separation, agreeing to remain married but lived separately.

In 1951, Herman Baron, the owner of ACA Gallery and Philip Evergood’s dealer, came under the attack of Senator George A. Dondero, the conservative congressman from Michigan, during the McCarthy era. The gallery was considered by Dondero to be a “hotbed of Communist inspired impulses and thinly veiled propaganda and a gathering place for Marxists in art”. Over the next seven years, Evergood was in the thick of the assault. By 1959, Evergood and Ben Shahn were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. The results were profound: Evergood was asked to withdraw after being invited to jury the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts 1959 exhibition; sales began to decline; requests for him to lecture stopped; collectors removed his paintings from their walls for fear of being implicated. Evergood’s last years were a cycle of successes and blows. The situation was mitigated by the news that John I.H. Baur, Assistant Director of the Whitney Museum wished to do a retrospective there. Baur’s preparations were followed by the news that Evergood was elected to the prestigious National Institute of Arts and Letters. Following a critically well-received retrospective at the Whitney Museum, his dear friend and dealer Herman Baron died. With little reason to leave Connecticut for visits to Manhattan, Evergood became physically, emotionally and aesthetically isolated. Feeling despondent about his career, and as his emotional and physical health waned, he became more dependent on alcohol. Much of his limited energies were devoted to revitalizing his career by reestablishing relationships with various galleries. Freakish accidents had disastrous medical results exacerbating his isolation and deepening depression. Julia, suffering from arthritis, moved to Connecticut under the pretext of taking care of Evergood, only to create an even more hostile environment. The Evergoods living under the same roof and not speaking to each other also rebuffed the overtures of well-meaning friends. Philip died from smoke inhalation after suffering a heart attack while smoking in bed.

George Grosz: 1 | Philip Evergood: 2 | George Grosz & Philip Evergood: 3