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Northwest Missouri State University


Percival DeLuce Collection

Oil Paintings

Oil Paintings

Northwest’s collection of Percival DeLuce oil paintings is comprised of portraiture, genre scenes and landscapes. His early training was with Thomas Seir Cummings, described by the Smithsonian American Art Museum as “…the best trained miniaturist of his day and was among the most successful and prolific miniaturist of the second quarter of the nineteenth century.” Within four years, he began study with Edwin White, a history painter who had extensive artistic study and work both in the United States and abroad. Working and learning from these two artists contributed a significant influence on the remainder of Percival’s painting career. It was most likely White who encouraged the young DeLuce to study painting in Europe. According to the National Academy Museum:
“Samuel Isham described him (DeLuce) as perhaps the first American to work at Antwerp. Returning to New York, he became known for simple, Dutch-inspired scenes of home life.”
Many of his larger oil portraits include a traditional American brown background with the subject brightly lit with strong contrasts of value and color. His stylistic approach to landscape, many painted in the later period of his life, may represent his true artistic interests and are, in their color, form and increased expression, examples of the French Barbizon influences from his time studying and working in France in the 1870s.

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Watercolors

Watercolors

Since watercolor represents a more mobile form of painting, most of Percival DeLuce’s watercolor paintings are made while traveling or visiting friends and family and represent the bulk of his “plein air” painting until his late landscape paintings in oil. Therefore, the subjects in his watercolors are varied and some are studies for paintings he later executed in oil.

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Drawings and Sketches

Drawings and Sketches

Although a few of Percival DeLuce’s drawings are clearly studies made for subjects included in his paintings, the bulk are pages from his sketch books, which were his constant companions while traveling domestically and abroad via sailing ships. He drew in graphite pencil, pen and ink, ink wash, gouache and sometimes-highlighted sections of the drawing with watercolor.
For the drawing student, these selected sketches are an invaluable learning resource. They demonstrate the visual artist’s interpretive imperative to perceive, not merely see, events, subjects, time, light and other surrounding variables and to analyze the same responsively, accurately and emotively, often in a concise moment of time. The artist’s hand works in coordination with the eyes, but more importantly with the prepared mind to evidence on paper abstract lines, values and textures proportioned to suggest what is considered the known. Gestural emphasis is alive in these sketches while confirming marks detail the artist’s acute knowledge of form and space. His editorial insights and practiced skills provide us with empathy for the subject and its action. For as simple as they may appear, these sketches are essentially complex.
For the viewer of these small works, the marks represent recognizable subjects and provide insights into a frontier period in the New England region of the United States, or the post-Civil War era, a European culture, the importance of agriculture or animal husbandry, the intimacy of family, or the form of 19th century transportation or architecture.
For the artist, these sketches are information and ideas, notations, evidence, references that provide his mind with valuable memories of what he considered significant at the time, the essence of an experience. Because of that, we can see only a fragment of the artistic potential. These works, when the artist chooses, are the foundational basis, the bits and pieces of organization that can be compiled into larger synthetic compositions perhaps in more refined media such as oil paint or lithography. They are a wellspring for creativity. Whatever the result, sketches such as these exemplify an in-depth aesthetic understanding of circumstances and function far and beyond documentation.

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Illustrations

Illustrations

Part of Percival DeLuce’s artistic life and income is from that as Illustrator. In today’s context we might think of this as a commercial artist or graphic designer. At times, he used appropriate existing paintings, drawings or designs to illustrate stories, however, many illustrations were commissions created for and sold to literary publishers such as The Osborne Company that also published a tear-off calendar of accomplished paintings the customer could later frame for display in their home after the calendar became out-of-date. He published more frequently in Harpers Weekly, a national political magazine that often moralized national issues, including one illustrated by DeLuce (not part of the collection) contrasting the fate of children enrolled in public education versus those who were not.
The illustrations clearly show two right and wrong paths of life, one improved by education and the other, without education, which led to delinquency and crime. He also published in the literary publications, The Continent Weekly Magazine and Truth Magazine, each with contemporary short stories and accompanying illustrations. The Monthly Illustrators Magazine, dedicated to the importance of “The Printing Arts,” highlighted DeLuce’s work. This magazine targeted the offset printing technology and industry, the primary source for information in the late 1800s. One major project for DeLuce was to illustrate the book, “Raoul and Iron Hand; or, Winning the Golden Spurs, a Tale of the 14th Century,” by May Halsey Miller, published by New York, E.P. Dutton & company in 1898. Also represented in the collection are a design for a book plate and seasonal greeting cards.

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Photography

Photography

The collection provides no indication that Percival DeLuce practiced photography. However, like most artists of his age, it can be assumed he was influenced to some degree by the advent of photography and photographic viewing devices.
Louis Daguerre successfully presented the first photographic process to the French public in 1839 and the process quickly evolved during the next century. However, the earliest written observations on the camera obscura, a pinhole camera remotely related to the cameras we know today, were made in China as early as 500 BCE. Artists through the ages have used such devices to study light and it is theorized that, in the 16th century, artists used variations on the camera obscura to visualize perspective in their spatial compositions. Percival’s study in Belgium may have included this tradition.
One such device, called Vermeer’s Camera, is part of the collection. This specific camera was invented by an American, Anson Kent Cross, and patented in 1934 as a “vision training aid” to be used in art schools or by self-taught artists and has no association to Vermeer, the artist, other than a namesake. Since Percival died in 1914, it is clear he did not use it, but most likely his daughter, Olive DeLuce, did, as a visual aid to determine such things as proportion, scale or perspective within her paintings and studies and perhaps teaching her classes at Northwest.
The few photographs that are in the collection are either documentary works representing paintings and illustrations by Percival or portraits of the artist himself or his family. These works remain to be documented for this archive.

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