Frank Duveneck was born Frank Decker on October 9, 1848, in Covington, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. His parents were German immigrants; in 1849 his father died, and the following year his mother married a businessman named Joseph Duveneck. The artist legally adopted his stepfather's name when he married in 1886, but he had been known as Frank Duveneck since the time of his mother's remarriage. Duveneck began painting in his early teens and he was employed as an assistant to Wilhelm Lamprecht (1838-after 1901), a successful German-born decorator.
In 1869, the twenty-one-year-old Duveneck went to Munich, intending to continue his study of church decoration. However, he soon became interested in becoming an easel painter and in 1870 enrolled in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he studied under Alexander Strähuber (1814-1882) and Wilhelm Diez (1839-1907). Duveneck quickly distinguished himself, winning a prize in 1872 that entitled him to the use of a studio of his own. Some of his best works, including the well-known Whistling Boy (1872, Cincinnati Art Museum), date from this period. They are painted in a vigorous style that reflects the influence of Wilhelm Leibl (1844-1900), who was the leader of a group of young German realists strongly influenced by the Frenchman Gustave Courbet (1819-1877). Duveneck was also interested in the Old Masters, especially the Dutch and Flemish painters of the seventeenth century. His early style, with its generally dark colors and expressive brushwork, was a melding of contemporary German practice with Old Master techniques.
In 1873, Duveneck returned to Cincinnati and, in the following year, held a small exhibition there of portraits he had painted in Germany. His greatest early success came, however, in Boston in 1875, when an exhibition of his works created a sensation, largely due to the vitality and spontaneity of his painting style. Although encouraged to settle in Boston and paint portraits on commission, Duveneck decided to return to Europe. He set up a studio in Munich and began to develop a substantial reputation among the many Americans studying in the city. Following a trip to Venice in 1877, Duveneck started his own painting school in Munich, which soon attracted numerous artists. His pupils, including such artists as Theodore Wendel (1859-1932), John White Alexander (1856-1915), and John H. Twachtman (1853-1902), came to be known as the "Duveneck Boys." An amusing and informative description of them and their high-spirited activities is found in William Dean Howells' 1886 novel, Indian Summer. Howells had come to know the "Duveneck Boys" in Florence, where their teacher had taken them in 1879. During the next two years, Duveneck and his students remained in Italy, spending the winters in Florence and the summers in Venice.
In 1880 Duveneck was elected to the Society of American Artists. Around this time he became interested in etching through his pupil Otto Bacher (1856-1909). His works in this medium are much like those of James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), whom Duveneck knew in Venice, and were even thought by some who saw them at a London exhibition in 1881 to be the work of Whistler himself. After 1880, Duveneck's painting style changed, perhaps in response to Italian light and subject matter, and he began using lighter colors and less somber lighting effects.
Duveneck married one of his students, Elizabeth Boott, in 1886 and the couple lived outside Florence until 1888. His wife died unexpectedly in 1888 in Paris, and the artist returned to Cincinnati the following year. He taught painting classes there and in Chicago and New York. During the 1890s, Duveneck made frequent visits to Europe. From 1890 on he taught at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, becoming a regular faculty member in 1900. During the early years of the twentieth century he won many prizes and served on numerous exhibition juries. He was elected an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1905 and made a full member the following year. In 1915 an entire room of his works was shown to great acclaim at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, and he was awarded a Special Gold Medal of Honor. Before his death in Cincinnati on January 2, 1919, the artist donated a large and important group of his works to the Cincinnati Art Museum, which remains the center for Duveneck studies. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Heerman, Norbert. Exhibition of the Work of Frank Duveneck. Exh. cat. Cincinnati Art Museum, 1936.
Heerman, Norbert. Frank Duveneck. Boston and New York, 1918.
Booth, Billy Ray. "A Survey of Portraiture and Figure Paintings by Frank Duveneck." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Georgia, 1970.
Duveneck, Josephine W. Frank Duveneck; Painter-Teacher. San Francisco, 1970.
Neuhaus, Robert. Unsuspected Genius: The Art and Life of Frank Duveneck. San Francisco, 1987.
Quick, Michael. An American Painter Abroad: Frank Duveneck's European Years. Exh. cat. Cincinnati Art Museum, 1987.
Kelly, Franklin, with Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Deborah Chotner, and John Davis. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 151-152.