Born in Warren, Ohio, Kenyon Cox studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and in Paris with the famed French artist, Gérôme, at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts from 1877 to 1882. Like other young American artists who traveled to Europe at this time, Cox hoped to bring its great art traditions to his own country.
After his return, he worked as an illustrator and portrait painter. The growing popularity of murals after the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago offered him new opportunities. In large wall paintings, he could apply the principles of classical and Renaissance art that he admired. Reclining Female Nude Study for "Painting" is typical of the allegorical subjects in his works. Bowdoin College in Maine and the Library of Congress, among others, commissioned murals by Cox.
A painter and magazine illustrator, Cox is best known for the murals he designed for public buildings at the turn of the century. He was also a prominent writer who defended traditional art as modern styles were emerging. As part of a generation of architects, painters, and sculptors who worked together to produce a unified aesthetic environment, Cox was a leading proponent of academic classical traditions. When he died in 1919 in New York City, the Beaux-Arts style was being supplanted by modernism, brought from Europe by a new generation of American artists.
[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion program to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art. Produced by the Department of Education Resources, this teaching resource is one of the Gallery's free-loan educational programs.]