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Volk, Douglas (1856–1935)

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Black and white photograph of Stephen Arnold Douglas Volk, 1908.

Stephen Arnold Douglas Volk, 1908.

Douglas Volk was an American painter and arts educator. He was the founding director of the Minneapolis School of Arts and provided two paintings to the Minnesota State Capitol.

Volk was born Stephen Arnold Douglas Volk in Massachusetts on February 23, 1856. As the son of the noted sculptor Leonard Wells Volk, he was exposed to the art world at an early age.

In 1873, Volk began studying art at Paris’s École des Beaux-Arts, the prestigious and influential art school that gave its name to the wide-reaching Beaux Arts movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He first exhibited at the famous Paris Salon for the first time at the age of nineteen, then quickly collected a series of honors and participated in exhibitions in Europe and the United States.

In 1886, Volk became the first director of the Minneapolis School of Arts (later renamed the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.) When Volk arrived, the school’s home was an apartment in downtown Minneapolis. Three years later, it moved to the top floor of the new Minneapolis Public Library.

During his tenure at the school, Volk oversaw the first exhibition of student work, at the Minneapolis Industrial Exposition. He also brought in art from more established American art schools with the aim of inspiring the students of Minneapolis.

Volk is best known for his large-scale portraits and his idealized works on early American themes. Like many turn-of-the-twentieth-century realist artists, Volk’s work often had a sentimental bent, seen in many of his most lauded works.

One of these, After the Reception, was painted in Minnesota in 1887 and acquired by the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia). It shows Caroline Thompson, the daughter of one of Volk’s friends, as an exhausted bride reflecting on her recent wedding. Another painting, also acquired by Mia, is Portrait of John Scott Bradstreet (1890). It presents Bradstreet, a pivotal figure in the Twin Cities art scene, posed among his collection of Turkish carpets, sculptures, and Moorish embellishments.

The architect Cass Gilbert began work on the Minnesota State Capitol in 1896. It was done in the Beaux-Arts style and planned to include extensive artwork from well-known American artists. Volk, the only artist invited to participate who had lived and worked in Minnesota, contributed two paintings: Second Minnesota Regiment at Mission Ridge, Nov. 25, 1863 and Father Louis Hennepin Discovering the Falls of St. Anthony.

Second Minnesota Regiment at Mission Ridge represents the 1863 battle in Tennessee with careful accuracy. In order to fully illustrate the reality of the battle and the location of the fighting, Volk studied Civil War-era photographs. He borrowed soldiers’ weapons and uniforms from the Minnesota Historical Society to show small details. Real participants in the battle, including Lieutenant Colonel Judson Bishop, commander of the regiment, are recognizable in the painting. Despite his tendency towards sentimentality, Volk’s skill, attention to detail, and historical accuracy temper the painting’s melodramatic elements.

Volk painted several other military-themed works in his career. In 1919, he was one of eight American artists commissioned by the National Art Committee to create portraits of important World War I figures. Two of these are now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Volk also did several paintings of Abraham Lincoln using a life mask of the president made by his father, Leonard Volk. The National Gallery has two of these portraits; another hangs in the White House’s Lincoln Bedroom.

Later in life, Volk continued to work, exhibit and teach. In the early 1900s, Volk and his wife, artist Marion Larabee Volk, started the Sabatos Handicraft Society in Lovell, Maine, which aimed to produce and preserve traditional New England textile arts. Many members of the American Arts and Crafts movement visited the Volks in Maine, including Minneapolis’s John S. Bradstreet.

On February 7, 1935, Volk died in Fryeburg, Maine.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Conforti, Michael. Minnesota 1900: Art and Life on the Upper Mississippi, 1890–1915. Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press, 1994.

Coen, Rena Neumann. Painting and Sculpture in Minnesota, 1820–1914. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976.

Minneapolis Institute of Art. “Portrait of John Scott Bradstreet.”
http://collections.artsmia.org/art/10534/portrait-of-john-scott-bradstreet-douglas-volk

Minneapolis Institute of Art. “After the Reception.”
http://collections.artsmia.org/art/263/after-the-reception-douglas-volk

Stephen A. Douglas Volk and Leonard Wells Volk Papers, 1845–1960, bulk 1845–1892
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Description: Biographical material, correspondence, writings, photographs, lectures, speeches, financial material, works of art, and printed material concerning (Stephen A.) Douglas Volk and his father, Leonard Wells Volk. A small amount of material concerns other family members Wendell, Marion, and Lawrence Volk.
http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/stephen-douglas-volk-and-leonard-wells-volk-papers-9669

Related Images

Black and white photograph of Stephen Arnold Douglas Volk, 1908.
Black and white photograph of Stephen Arnold Douglas Volk, 1908.
"After the Reception," 1887. Oil on canvas painting by Douglas Volk.
"After the Reception," 1887. Oil on canvas painting by Douglas Volk.
"Portrait of John Scott Bradstreet," c.1890. Oil on canvas painting by Douglas Volk.
"Portrait of John Scott Bradstreet," c.1890. Oil on canvas painting by Douglas Volk.
Oil-on-canvas study created by Douglas Volk for his painting Second Minnesota Regiment at Mission Ridge, c.1905.
Oil-on-canvas study created by Douglas Volk for his painting Second Minnesota Regiment at Mission Ridge, c.1905.
Second Minnesota Regiment at Mission Ridge, Nov. 25, 1863
Second Minnesota Regiment at Mission Ridge, Nov. 25, 1863
Painting of Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony by Douglas Volk, c. 1905.
Painting of Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony by Douglas Volk, c. 1905.

Turning Point

In 1886, Douglas Volk becomes the first director of the Minneapolis School of Fine Arts.

Chronology

1856

Stephen A. Douglas Volk is born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on February 23.

1870

The Volk family moves to Europe.

1873

Volk begins studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris under Jean-Léon Gérôme.

1875

Volk exhibits at the Paris Salon for the first time, contributing the painting In Brittany.

1876

Volk exhibits In Brittany and Vanity at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.

1879

Volk begins to teach art at New York City’s Cooper Union (He teaches there from 1879 to 1884 and from 1906 to 1912).

1886

Volk becomes the first director of the Minneapolis School of Fine Arts.

1889

Volk exhibits at the Exposition Universelle in Paris.

1893

Volk resigns as the director of the Minneapolis School of Fine Arts and returns to New York to teach at the Art Students League.

1893

Volk exhibits and wins a medal for three works at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. One of these works, The Puritan Maiden, is widely reproduced in books and mass-produced prints.

1903

Volk wins the Carnegie Prize from the Society of American Artists for The Boy with the Arrow.

1904

Volk and his wife, artist Marion Larrabee Volk, buy a home, Hewnoaks, in Maine, which draws important figures in the Arts and Crafts Movement as guests. The Sabatos Handicraft Society, promoting traditional handicrafts, develops there.

1910

Volk begins to teach at the National Academy of Design in New York.

1935

On February 7, Volk dies in Fryeburg, Maine.