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Austin Montgomery Purves Jr. – Washington at Fort Necessity

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Oil on Board
6 ½ x 10 ¼ visible inches on board 9 x 12 ¾ inches
14 3/4 x 18 3/4 in original frame
Monogram signed lower left “AP”
Nameplate “Washington at Fort Necessity” Austin Purves J.R.
En verso in pencil, “Color Sketch for ‘Washington at Fort Necessity’ painted for George Washington bi-centennial Exposition at Washington, DC 1932 Austin Purves Jr. New York.”
Excellent condition with paint evidence on matte at top.
Some numbers for palette or composition can be seen under the oil.

Austin Montgomery Purves, Jr. (December 31, 1900 – March 15, 1977) was a twentieth century American artist and educator. His works include painting, mosaic, fresco and sculpture. He had a distinguished career as an arts educator.
Among his most notable works were the mural decoration of the World War II Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial battle monument in Draguignan, France; bas reliefs for the S.S. America, the S.S. United States, and Grace Line ships Santa Rosa and Santa Paula; mosaic work located in the East Apse of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.;[1] the decorative map in the Boston Federal Reserve Bank; and the spandrel sculpture on the barracks at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York.
Purves was born on December 31, 1900 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, son of Austin M. Purves, Sr., a financier and patron of the arts, and Betsey Preston Coleman Purves. He graduated from the Germantown Friends School in 1918. He wanted to be an artist from early childhood, later studying art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Julian Academy in Paris, France. He studied fresco painting at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France[4] and traveled in Scandinavia, France and Italy, studying frescos in churches and municipal buildings. He received an award from the Department of Beaux Arts of France and an honorable mention from the Architectural League of New York for frescoes that he painted in a 13th-century church in Montarlot, France.
Returning to the United States after his studies, he married and lived in New York, where he had a studio on the Lower East Side. He married his second cousin, Ellen Tybout Wood. Though her family was originally from Delaware, she grew up on Long Island. During his early married life, he worked for the design department at R H Macy’s[5] for a year and then found work painting murals for private homes.
He became the Director of the Day and Night Schools at Cooper Union from 1931-1938, remaining for seven years. The 1934 Jubilee Issue of the Cooper Union Yearbook held this dedication: “To Austin Purves, Jr., Art Director of The Cooper Union, this Jubilee Issue of The Cable is respectfully dedicated as an appreciation of his distinguished service to the Institution, and with gratitude for his kindly helpfulness in the preparation of this volume.”
Purves’ parents were friends of Maxfield Parrish and collected his work.[2] Parrish became an artistic mentor to Purves from an early age. A correspondence started between the two artists when Purves was eleven years old and continued until Parrish was ninety.
“Queen of Hearts”, 1912, Maxfield Parrish, a friend of the Purves family, encouraged Austin in his artwork. Purves created “The Queen of Hearts” when he was 12 years old.
The family moved to East Litchfield, Connecticut in 1936 as a result of Purves’ friendship with Ernest Howe, a student at Yale School of Art, where Purves taught in the summer during the 1930s. Ernest Howe offered Purves a place to stay in Litchfield during the summer months. Later, Purves purchased a house on Wheeler Road in East Litchfield and made a studio in a converted barn behind his house. He hired young art students to help with large jobs. The house initially had no electricity or central heating to start.
In the 1930s, Purves was commissioned to do architectural paintings in the Folger Shakespeare Memorial Library in Washington, DC. In 1931-32 he was one of thirteen American artists invited to contribute a mural painting to hang in the Capital at the Smithsonian Museum for George Washington’s bicentennial celebration. His mural “The Building of Fort Necessity” measured 22’ x 13’. For the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing, New York, he painted the exterior panels of the Temple of Religion, depicting various aspects of several religions. During World War II, he worked full-time for Civilian Defense, going around the state from his office at the Armory in Hartford where he was the Chairman and Secretary of the State Blackout Committee. During that time the Hartford Circus Fire occurred, from which he later drew painting for his brother.
After the war, he resumed full-time work on various art projects. He created 265 aluminum wall sculptures representing the birds and flowers of all 48 states for the stairwells of the famed luxury passenger liner SS United States which launched in 1952. Other work for this ship included a large aluminum eagle insignia for the first class grand staircase and an etched glass back-drop in the bar. In later years he did aluminum bas reliefs as well as mosaic panels adorned with ancient South American motifs for the Santa Rosa, of Grace Lines. His decorative work on the ships S.S. America, S.S. United States, and Grace Line ships Santa Rosa and Santa Paula, spanned the years 1939-1959. The interior decorators for the ships also hired him as a consultant for the overall decorative design. He taught art at Bennington College part-time while working on interior decoration for the S.S. America.
Purves designed and executed mosaics (1948-1955) for the chapel for the American Battle Monument Commission in Draguignan, France where 861 Americans are buried. They died in the campaign of Southern France, Operation Dragoon, launched on August 15, 1944, which assisted the Normandy operations. He made a mosaic column for Colgate University and designed a granite bas relief for a Boston bank (1950-1953).[2] He painted the reredos for St. Paul’s Church in Duluth, Minnesota and another for a Lutheran church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He painted a mural for the for Philip Staats’ house in Litchfield, and all four walls of a dining room for Margaret Howe Crapo in East Litchfield. In the early 1960s he created a large mosaic work located in the East Apse of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. His last commission (1959-1961) was for West Point Academy, where he designed granite spandrels for three buildings and stone sculptures for three additional buildings.
Purves acted as Vice President of the Architectural League of New York and was President of the National Society of Mural Painters (1952-1953). He continued his association with the Cooper Union Art School by serving as a member of the Advisory Council and served for many years as a Trustee of the Hartford Art School, University of Hartford. Also, affiliated with the East Litchfield Volunteer Fire Company where Austin Purves served many years as Commissioner
During his 40 years in Litchfield, Connecticut he was active with St. Michael’s Church, serving as vestryman and warden, teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir and serving on the building committee for a new church house. He took great interest and pride in the East Litchfield Volunteer Fire Department, which he helped to found and build. He served as the East Litchfield Fire Department’s Commissioner for many years and designed its logo. He was a director of the Litchfield Chapter of the American Red Cross and a president of the Litchfield Parent-Teacher’s Association.
Austin Purves was a member of the Century Club in New York. One of its members, Goodwin Cooke, wrote of him in Century Memorials (Century Club Association magazine), “Much of Austin’s work was religious in nature; he was a scholar in the field of religious art and he was, unostentatiously, a profound Christian. He was in fact a well-rounded gentleman, versed in all branches and periods of painting, an eclectic and retentive reader, and had he not been a painter might well have become a musician. He was never stuffy, or bashful and indeed he cultivated a charming informality of manner. He was a delightful talker and he loved to listen as well-particularly to the young, with whom he had an engaging way and whom he never talked down to or patronized. Purves died on March 15, 1977 in Litchfield, Connecticut where he and his wife, Ellen Wood Purves made their home for 40 years and raised their children, Joan, Ellen, and Oliver.