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Arthur Osver Works Biography

ARTHUR OSVER (b. 1912 – d. 2006)

Chronology, Compiled by Jennifer Padgett

Unless otherwise indicated, all biographical information is taken from Arthur Osver Papers, the Estate of Arthur Osver and Ernestine Betsberg, St. Louis; hereafter
cited as Osver Papers, St. Louis. The papers include correspondence, biographical material, photographs, writings, sketches, exhibition catalogs, clippings, and ephemeral printed material.

1912 Arthur Osver is born in Chicago on July 25 to Herschel (Harry) and Yetta Osver, both Russian immigrants.

1930 Graduates from Proviso High School, Maywood, Illinois.

1930–31 Studies journalism at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.

1931–36 Transfers to School of the Art Institute of Chicago to study painting with Russian émigré Boris Anisfeld. Included in 14th International Watercolor Exhibition, Art Institute of Chicago, while a student.

Boris Anisfeld, Osver’s teacher at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

1936 Travels to France on a James Nelson Raymond Traveling Fellowship, awarded by School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

1937 In Paris marries fellow student and painter Ernestine Betsberg, who also receives a traveling fellowship. They travel through France and Italy, settling on the Riviera in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France. Galerie des Beaux Arts, Cagnes, hosts his first solo exhibition.

1938 On his return to Chicago, Osver works making paints at the factory of Spanish-born artist Ramon Shiva, developer of
oil and casein paints for artists as well as for wartime use.1 Is supported by the Federal Art Project for eighteen months.2 Participates in 42nd Annual Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity, Art Institute of Chicago, and in group exhibition with Betsberg at Gallery House, Chicago.

1939 Exhibits at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts 134th Annual Exhibition in Philadelphia (also in 1944, 1947–51, 1953, 1954, 1956, 1962, 1966, and 1968).

1940 Settles in Greenwich Village, New York. First US solo exhibi- tion at Gallery House, Chicago. Exhibits in 19th International Exhibition of Watercolors, Art Institute of Chicago, and at Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.

1942 The Studio (1941–42; pl. 2) included in 46th Annual Exhibition by Artists of Chicago and Vicinity, Art Institute of Chicago, and acquired by Earle Ludgin of Chicago. Melancholy of a Rooftop (1942; pl. 3) acquired by Museum of Modern Art, New York, where it is included the following year in the exhibition Romantic Painting in America.

1943 Moves to Long Island City in Queens, New York. First solo exhibition in New York at Mortimer Brandt Gallery.

1945 Red Ventilator (1945; pl. 9) exhibited in Carnegie Annual Exhibition. Exhibits in 4th Annual Audubon Artists Exhibition, National Academy Galleries, New York (also in 1946–48).

1946 Monday Morning (1946; pl. 11) exhibited in Carnegie Annual Exhibition. Green Ventilator (1946; fig. 4) included in Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, Whitney Museum of American Art. The Majestic Tenement (1946; fig. 19) awarded Hubbard Prize in Critics’ Show, Grand Central Art Galleries, New York. Forest of Chimneys (1945; pl. 7) among works by thirteen artists—including Alexander Calder, Max Ernst, and Jacob Lawrence—purchased by Nelson A. Rockefeller for donation to nascent modern art museums in Rio de Janiero and São Paulo.

Brochure from Osver’s first solo exhibition at Grand Central Art Galleries, 1947, featuring The Cluster (1947; pl. 16)

1947 Teaches at Brooklyn Museum Art School. The Majestic Tenement awarded Temple Gold Medal and purchase prize in Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts 142nd Annual Exhibition. Solo exhibition at Grand Central Art Galleries (later Grand Central Moderns), New York (also in 1948, 1949, 1951, and 1957). Queens Elevated Highway (1946; pl. 12) exhibited in Carnegie Annual Exhibition and illustrated in Alfred M. Frankfurter’s

Art News review of the exhibition as one of the “outstanding” abstract works.3 Ice House (1947; pl. 17) exhibited in Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, Whitney Museum of American Art. Steam Jet (1946; pl. 13) awarded purchase prize in Contemporary American Art, Toledo Museum of Art, and exhibited in Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (works also included in 1951, 1953, 1957, and 1959). In Magazine of Art, John D. Morse describes Osver as “a happy product of our increasingly urban society, a city landscape painter.”4

1944 Receives John Barton Payne Award at American Painting Today, 4th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. The Big Billboard (1944; pl. 5) exhibited in Art Panorama, Boston, and in Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (works also included in 1945–50, 1955, 1959, 1960, and 1963). Included in Carnegie Annual Exhibition, Pittsburgh (later Pittsburgh International and Carnegie International; also in 1945–50, 1955, 1958, and 1963). Bridal Bouquet (1944) awarded a prize in inaugural Pepsi-Cola art competition in conjunction with its touring exhibition Portrait of America; later purchased for Pepsi-Cola collection and illustrated on August cover of Art News.

1948 Reviewing the previous year, Art News names Osver’s Grand Central solo exhibition as one of the year’s ten best (along with those of Max Beckmann, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, and Ben Shahn).5 Solo exhibition at University of Chattanooga. The Cluster (1947; pl. 16) exhibited in 5th annual Pepsi-Cola art competition. Included in annual exhibition of Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture, University of Illinois, Urbana (also in 1949–52, 1955, 1957, and 1959–61); and 24th Venice Biennale.

Osver at his solo exhibition at Grand Central Art Galleries, 1948

1949 Receives Guggenheim Fellowship. Solo exhibition at Syracuse University. Chimneys and Buildings (1947; pl. 15) awarded purchase prize by University of Illinois. Smokestack and Tank

(1948; pl. 25) included in Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, Corcoran Gallery of Art. After seeing Henri Matisse exhibition at Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, Osver writes to his longtime friend and correspondent Al Leindecker that he is impressed by the power of the recent work of the nearly eighty-year-old Matisse.6

1950 Teaches at Columbia University, New York. Untitled painting (1949) appears on cover of March 1950 issue of Fortune maga- zine. Two-person exhibition at Drew Fine Arts Center, Hamline University, St. Paul (with Murray Turnbull). Cranes (1950;

  1. 27) included in Metropolitan Museum of Art’s American Painting Today exhibition and catalog, and later featured in Life magazine’s review of the exhibition.7 Two Ventilators (1947;
    pl. 19) included in Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture, University of Illinois, and acquired by Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Untitled (1949) on the cover of Fortune magazine, March 1950

1951 Awarded second Guggenheim Fellowship. Solo exhibition at University of Florida, Gainesville (also in 1954). Osver and Betsberg have a joint exhibition at Queens Borough Public Library, Astoria Branch. Included in 3rd Tokyo Independent Art Exhibition and 60th Annual American Exhibition, Art Institute of Chicago (also in 1954). Under the Tracks (1951; pl. 29) acquired by City Art Museum, St. Louis (now Saint Louis Art Museum) after it is shown there in Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture exhibition.

1952 Awarded Rome Prize Fellowship in Painting (Prix de Rome) by American Academy in Rome. Included in I pittori amer- icani a Roma, Galleria Nazionale, Rome. Serves on jury
for Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts 147th Annual Exhibition. Declines offer to teach at University of Florida.8 Writes about Cézanne, whom he calls “the master of Aix,” and observes how his “slow, almost painful growth gives one a wonderful perspective on our own ‘à la mode’ manner of painting today.”9

1953 American Academy in Rome fellowship renewed. Two
works by Osver exhibited in Bordighera, Italy, and included
in Italian newsreels about the exhibition.10 Osver’s work reproduced in New York Times Magazine alongside paintings by Stuart Davis, John Marin, and others.11 Refuses to add
his comments to a pamphlet titled Reality—which includes statements to counter the rise of the abstract school by Milton Avery, Philip Evergood, Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence, Reginald Marsh, Ben Shahn, Raphael Soyer, and other painters whom Osver refers to as “realist, or humanist”— due to his belief that it is a threat to freedom of expression.12 Experiments with using pastels in his paintings.13 Purchases Rolleiflex camera and uses it to photograph the Colosseum in Rome and later the Grand Palais in Paris.14

1954 Solo exhibition at American Academy in Rome, including a painting of the Siena cathedral, Siena Interior (1953; pl. 32). Works with oils on paper while also doing watercolors and drawings.15 Tours Europe for five weeks. First of many solo exhibitions at Fairweather-Garnett Gallery, Evanston, Illinois (later Fairweather-Hardin Gallery, Chicago [also in 1955, 1957, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1969, 1981, 1982, 1985, and 1988]); nearly

all works sell.16 Appointed artist-in-residence at University of Florida, Gainesville; enrolls in courses toward his BFA.17 Gray Night (1952; pl. 30) acquired by Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

1955 Returns to New York and begins teaching at Cooper
Union. Creates first plein air work since France in 1937.18
Big Withalacoochee (1953–55; pl. 33) exhibited in Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, Whitney Museum of American Art, which subsequently purchases the painting. Included in Italy Rediscovered, Munson-Williams- Proctor Institute, Utica, New York (later circulated by Smithsonian Institution). Participates in symposium “Art:
The Past Fifty Years,” in Sarasota, Florida. Declines offer from School of the Art Institute of Chicago to become head of paint- ing department.19

1956 Becomes member of International Fulbright Commission. Travels to Italy in summer. Exhibits a painting at 28th Venice Biennale. Hired by Josef Albers as visiting critic at Yale University for one day a week; notes, “I’m going into the lair of square.” Likes Albers for his direct manner; appreciates discipline and intellectual rigor of the Yale classroom.20

1957 Juries 62nd American Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago. Solo exhibition at Grand Central Moderns, his first in New York since 1951. Included in exhibition New York Artists Paint Staten Island, Staten Island Museum. The Tall Green (1956; pl. 36) acquired by Washington University in St. Louis. Painter-in-residence at American Academy in Rome.

1958 Assists in selection of paintings by young American artists
in Italy to be included in inaugural Festival of Two Worlds at Spoleto. Returns from Rome to teach at Cooper Union. Receives Emily Lowe Award from Audubon Artists (also in 1961).

1959 Becomes a member of Guggenheim Foundation Advisory Board (1959–70). Included in group exhibition at School of Architecture, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York. Listed in Who’s Who in American Art (every year until his death in 2006).


Accepts offer to teach at Washington University and is hired by Dean Kenneth Hudson, who previously hired Max Beckmann, Paul Burlin, Werner Drewes, Stephen Greene, and Philip Guston. Teaches summer school at Syracuse University. Included in Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition Business Buys American Art. Appointed to advisory board of American Academy in Rome (1960–72). Returns to rooftop theme in his painting.21

1961 Purchases one of the oldest houses in Webster Groves, a suburb of St. Louis, with studio space for him and Betsberg; house becomes a meeting place for friends and students. Included
in 21st International Watercolor Biennial, Brooklyn Museum. Serves on Guggenheim and Rome Prize juries in New York. Osver and Betsberg begin spending summers in Southampton, Long Island, at the cottage of their close friends the modern dancers Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis.

1962 Included in a roster of 102 leading American painters whose work was purchased by S. C. Johnson & Sons Inc.; The Voyage (1961; fig. 20) exhibited in Art USA Now: The Johnson Collection of Contemporary American Paintings, a national and international traveling exhibition circulated by United States Information Agency, and illustrated in its accompanying catalog. Two paintings selected as part of Vincent Price Collection of Fine

Art to be sold by Sears, Roebuck and Company. 22 Included in Ravinia Festival Arts Exhibition, Highland Park, Illinois.

1963 Pleased by traces of figuration and promise shown in work he reviews as a member of Guggenheim committee.23 Included in Kane Memorial Drawing Exhibition, Providence Art Club, Rhode Island; and Drawings USA/63, St. Paul Art Center.

1964 Solo exhibitions at St. Louis Artists’ Guild and Milton College, Wisconsin. Included in exhibition American Art Today, New York World’s Fair.

From left: Osver, Werner Drewes, and Betsberg at a retrospective exhibition of Drewes’s work at the Washington University Gallery of Art, 1965, held on the occasion of Drewes’s retirement after teaching at Washington University since 1946

1965 Serves on juries for Rome Prize and Guggenheim fellowships in New York.

1966 Blue Janus (1965) receives J. Henry Scheidt Memorial Prize at 161st Annual Exhibition of American Painting and Sculpture, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Solo exhibitions at Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Martin Schweig Gallery (also in 1969) and Maryville College, St. Louis. Included in National Mid-Year Show, Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; Second Biennial Invitational Drawing Exhibition, Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles; Art in Chicago Business, Fairweather- Hardin Gallery, Chicago.

Blue Janus (1965), oil on canvas, 64 x 65″, location unknown

1967 Two Ventilators (1947; pl. 19) included in American Federation of Arts traveling exhibition American Painting: The 1940s. Tries painting only in acrylic, but his techniques of glazing, scumbling, washes, and impasto prevent its exclusive use.24 Receives a National Endowment for the Arts Grant awarded in 1966 and takes sabbatical leave; tours Europe; photographs the Grand Palais in Paris, which becomes the basis for later series. Writes about being filmed in his studio for CBS documentary Local Accent on Art.25

1968 First retrospective held at Gallery of Loretto-Hilton Center, Webster University, St. Louis. Solo exhibition at Iowa State FOCUS Art Festival, Ames. Included in exhibition Ten Missouri Painters, Missouri State Council on the Arts.

1969 Solo exhibition at St. Louis Artists’ Guild. Chairs American Academy in Rome Committee on Fine Arts. Included in
A Collector’s Choice, Saint Louis Art Museum; Draftsmen
in Missouri
, Missouri State Council on the Arts; 1969–70 Printmaking in Missouri, Missouri State Council on the Arts. St. Louis collector Morton May purchases six paintings from Osver’s studio.26

1970 Donald S. Vogel of Dallas, Osver’s friend from School of the Art Institute of Chicago, becomes one of his dealers.27

1971 Osver instrumental in nominating longtime friend and colleague Josef Albers for honorary degree at Washington University.28

1972 Included in Mid-America 4, Saint Louis Art Museum and Nelson Gallery–Atkins Museum, Kansas City (now Nelson– Atkins Museum).

1973 Mid-America Invitational, two-person exhibition with Howard Jones at Saint Louis Art Museum and Nelson Gallery–Atkins Museum. Awarded purchase prize in Drawings: America, Albrecht Gallery, St. Joseph, Missouri. Included in Large Prints, Missouri State Council on the Arts.

Osver in his studio, 1973, showing his Grand Palais paintings

1974 Serves as visiting critic for Portland School of Art, Maine.29

1975 Named a trustee of Saint Louis Art Museum (1975–78). Begins drawing on rice paper, also using collage techniques.30 Solo exhibitions of drawings at Valley House Gallery, Dallas, and Terry Moore Gallery, St. Louis (also in 1977).

1976 Two-person exhibition at Johnson-Whitty Gallery, New Orleans (with James Butler).

1978 Returns to working with oil paints after a ten-year break; remarks, “how could I have stayed away for so long!”31 Continues experimenting with different mediums, including commercial acrylic enamels.32

1981 Retires from teaching at Washington University; retrospective exhibition Arthur Osver: The University Years opens at Washington University Gallery of Art (now Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum) and travels to University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; after retiring, accepts part-time position in MFA program. Solo exhibition at Timothy Burns Gallery, St. Louis (also in 1984).

1983 Visiting artist at Portland School of Art, Maine, where he experiments with color lithography.33

1984 Participates in exhibition at American Academy in Rome. Osver and Betsberg participate in 1 + 1 = 2, an exhibition of the work of thirty couples at Brentwood Gallery, St. Louis.

1985 Receives Jewish Community Center Association Award for Artistic Excellence.

1986 Fairweather-Hardin Gallery features Osver works at Chicago Navy Pier Art Expo ’86.

1987 Solo exhibition at B. Z. Wagman Gallery, St. Louis.

1989 Solo exhibition at University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Exhibitions with Betsberg at Philip Samuels Fine Art, St. Louis, and Valley House Gallery, Dallas.

1991 Receives American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters award. Solo exhibition at Randall Gallery, St. Louis.

1993 Named trustee emeritus, American Academy in Rome. Solo exhibition at Elliot Smith Contemporary Art, St. Louis (also in 1999 and 2004).

1997 Solo exhibition of recent collages at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire.

Metamorphosis (1995), collage on board, 43 x 36″, Estate of Arthur Osver
and Ernestine Betsberg

2000 Retrospective exhibition Arthur Osver: The Saint Louis Years at Saint Louis Art Museum. Two-person exhibition with Ellsworth Kelly at Dorothy Blau Gallery, Bal Harbour, Florida.

2002 Two-person exhibition with Betsberg at Elliot Smith Contemporary Art, St. Louis.

2006 Two-person exhibition with Betsberg at Philip Slein Gallery, St. Louis.

Dies on July 24 in St. Louis, age ninety-three. Memorial, “Arthur Osver, a Celebration of Life,” held October 22, Graham Chapel, Washington University.

2007 Memorial exhibition at Philip Slein Gallery, St. Louis.

2008 Solo exhibition of works on paper at St. Louis Community College, Meramec.

2012 Arthur Osver: A Centennial Celebration at Philip Slein Gallery, St. Louis.



“12 Americans Hit the Spot.” Art News 43 (August 1944): 14.
A. B. L. “As the Artist Sees New York.” New York Times Magazine,

February 1, 1953.

American Artists Paint the City. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1956. 28th Venice Biennale exhibition catalog, with an essay by Katharine Kuh.

Arb, Renée. “Spotlight on: Osver.” Art News 47 (November 1948): 19.

Arthur Osver: New Paintings from Italy. Evanston, IL: Fairweather- Garnett Gallery, 1954. Exhibition brochure, with “A Comment on the Exhibition” by Daniel Catton Rich.

Arthur Osver: The Saint Louis Years. St. Louis: Saint Louis Art Museum, 2000. Exhibition catalog, with the essay “Arthur Osver: Mondo Mio” by Alexandra Bellos Goldsand.

Arthur Osver: The University Years: 1960–1981. St. Louis: Washington University, 1981. Exhibition catalog, with the essay “The University Years: 1960–1981” by Mary King.

Art in Chicago Business. Chicago: Fairweather-Hardin Gallery, 1966. Exhibition brochure.

Burrows, Carlyle. “Art: Mainly Subjective.” New York Herald Tribune, April 15, 1951.

Business Buys American Art, March 17–April 24, 1960: Third Loan Exhibition by the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1960. Exhibition catalog.

Cole, Mary. “Girders in the Sky.” Art Digest 25 (April 15, 1951): 16.

Coming Home: American Paintings, 1930–1950, from the Schoen Collection. Athens: Georgia Museum of Art, 2003. Exhibition catalog, with illustrations and catalog entries by Drew Kane for Red Ventilator and The Big Billboard.

Devree, Howard. “Americans in Venice.” New York Times, July 18, 1948.

———. “By Groups and Singly: The Whitney and Others—Kuhn and Osver.” New York Times, November 14, 1948.

———. “Individual Modern: The Work of Modigliani—De Kooning—Osver.” New York Times, April 15, 1951.

Duffy, Robert W. “‘I Am Going to Miss the Students.’” St. Louis Post- Dispatch, April 26, 1981.

Fabri, Ralph. Painting Cityscapes. New York: Watson-Guptill, 1969.

Frankfurter, Alfred M. “Two States of the Union.” Art News 46 (November 1947): 14–17.

———. “The Year’s Best: 1947.” Art News 46 (January 1948): 36–37. Genauer, Emily. “Arthur Osver.” New York World-Telegram,

November 16, 1948.

———. “U.S. Art at Spoleto.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 29, 1958.

Gibbs, Jo. “Osver Overdue.” Art Digest 21 (April 15, 1947): 13.

Hess, Thomas B. “Spotlight on: Osver.” Art News 46 (April 1947): 26, 57–58.

Italy Rediscovered: An Exhibition of Work by American Painters in Italy since World War II. Utica, NY: Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, 1955. Exhibition catalog.

Jewell, Edward Alden. “Collections in New Homes.” New York Times, May 23, 1943.

———. “Divergent Abstractionists.” New York Times, April 20, 1947.

Jones, Barbara L., with Judith Hansen O’Toole. Painting in the United States 2008. Greensburg, PA: Westmoreland Museum of American Art, 2008. Exhibition catalog on Carnegie Annual Exhibitions in the 1940s.

Keating, Micheline. “The Art of Abstraction.” Tucson Daily Citizen, April 1, 1961.

“L. I. City Painter Wins Art Award.” New York Times, January 26, 1947.

McCue, George. D. “Arthur Osver Comes to St. Louis.” St. Louis Post- Dispatch, June 5, 1960.

“The Metropolitan and Modern Art.” Life, January 15, 1951, 35–38.

Mid-America Invitational: Howard Jones and Arthur Osver. St. Louis: Saint Louis Art Museum, 1973. Exhibition catalog, with an essay by Emily S. Rauh.

Morse, John D. “Arthur Osver.” Magazine of Art 40 (May 1947): 176–77.

Osver. St. Louis: Gallery of Loretto-Hilton Center, 1968. Exhibition catalog, with an essay by Kenneth E. Hudson.

Pease, Roland F., Jr. “Arthur Osver.” In Art USA Now, edited by Lee Nordness, vol. 2, 264–67. New York: Viking, 1963.

Shopen, Kenneth. “Osver’s Paintings Exhibited.” Chicago Daily News, April 4, 1954.

Soby, James Thrall, and Dorothy C. Miller. Romantic Painting in America. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1943. Exhibition catalog.

Trier, Marilyn Robb. “Osvers from Italy.” Art News 53 (May 1954): 46.


ArcelorMittal, Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington
Des Moines Art Center
Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa
The John and Susan Horseman Collection, St. Louis
John Burroughs School, St. Louis
Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion, University of Illinois at

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Universidade de São Paulo
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
New Orleans Museum of Art
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
Saint Louis Art Museum
Saint Louis University Museum of Art
The Jason Schoen Collection, Miami
Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Syracuse University Art Galleries, New York
University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

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