Frederick Usher de Voll (1873–1941)
Rhode Island Painter with a Distinctive Pointilist Style
By Amy Spencer
de Voll’s paintings include scenes of Providence and New York City, often showing the marine activities of the Hudson River and the New York harbor
VII. Suggested Resources
Frederick Usher de Voll was an American landscapist who depicted scenes of New York City and his home town of Providence, Rhode Island. He exhibited frequently throughout his lifetime at private galleries and in selective juried shows at prestigious venues such as the National Academy of Design, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Frederick Usher de Voll was born in Providence, Rhode Island on December 15, 1873. He was a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and a student of three of America’s most influential teachers at the turn of the twentieth century: William Merritt Chase, Charles W. Hawthorne, and Robert Henri. de Voll also studied under Jean Paul Laurens at the Académie Julian in Paris (probably in 1907).
Chase was a particularly influential mentor for de Voll; in an open letter, the younger artist recalled Chase’s classes fondly writing, “Here in the ‘Chase School’ was, indeed a happy class ––and most particularly so on ‘criticism and lecture’ days, when we looked for and always received both intellectual and artistic treats in Mr. Chase’s ‘heart to heart’ talks with his pupils.” de Voll’s early style reflects Chase’s teaching, which emphasized urban scenes crisply rendered in natural light.
de Voll’s New York paintings frequently feature landmarks such as the East River, Brooklyn Bridge, New York harbor, Wall Street, Central Park, Times Square, and Columbus Circle. In chasing heightened atmospheric moods, de Voll sometimes painted these subjects at night or after a snowfall. His later works often utilize a violet hued tonalist palette with quick, yet even, brushwork, which led de Voll’s contemporaries to compare his work to that of the French pointillist Georges-Pierre Seurat.
In 1907, de Voll traveled to Europe with his wife, where he painted in Holland, Ireland, England, and France. Upon his return to America, de Voll exhibited seventy-six of his European works at the Providence Art Club. The show was much admired by patrons and critics; after seeing the exhibition, one writer from American Art News wrote, “his landscapes show a remarkable feeling for nature, and many of his street scenes are full of life and are treated with vigor and a grasp of the salient points that makes them snappy and telling.”
de Voll maintained close ties with his home town throughout his life and for many years ran a toy store in the historic Arcade Building in downtown Providence. He was an active member of the Providence Art Club, and also regularly exhibited in local annual exhibitions at the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, Mystic Art Association and New Haven Paint and Clay Club.
In 1915 de Voll won a silver medal at the Panama Pacific International Exposition with his painting East River, New York, Winter (ca. 1914; private collection). This work depicts the busy New York East River in the middle of a snowstorm with the Williamsburg Bridge visible in the background. The same year de Voll had a solo exhibition at the Delgado Museum in New Orleans that traveled to the Gibbs Memorial Museum in Charleston. In 1930, de Voll won the Senior Prize at the Providence Art Club’s fifty-second annual exhibition for his painting Golden City (ca. 1929; whereabouts unknown).
de Voll died in February of 1941. Despite a prolific career, he remains relatively unheard of today; however, a testament to de Voll’s artistic achievements is demonstrated by how well his works perform at auction. For example, in 2006, East River, New York, Winter sold at Sotheby’s for $66,000 against a pre-auction estimate between $30,000 to $50,000.
1873 Frederick Usher de Voll is born in Providence, Rhode Island on December 15
1890s Attends the Rhode Island School of Design
Studies with William Merritt Chase, C.W. Hawthorne, Robert Henri, and M.S. Mowbray
1907 Travels to France, Holland, Ireland and England on a painting trip with his wife; during this trip de Voll likely studies at the Académie Julian in Paris under Jean Paul Laurens
Upon his return to America has an exhibition of paintings at the Providence Art Club in November
Address listed as 159 Elm Street, Providence, RI in the catalogue for the Annual Exhibition at the National Academy of Design, New York (address remains the same in 1908, 1911 and 1912 catalogues, until 1914 when it is simply listed as ‘Providence, RI)
1913 Spends time painting near Quebec City
1914–1929 During these years, and possibly longer, de Voll runs a toy store in the historic Arcade Building in downtown Providence
1914 Address listed as 19 Arcade Building. Providence, Rhode Island in the catalogue for the Fifth Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Paintings, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC
1915 Wins silver medal at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco
1916 The art gallery of Newcomb College at Tulane University, New Orleans purchases a landscape by de Voll
Exhibits at the third annual Mystic Art Association show along with contemporaries such as C.W. Hawthorne, Hayley Levers, J. Alden Weir, Childe Hassam, F.C. Frieseke, C.H. Davis, Gardner Symons, Emil Carlsen, Richard E. Miller, and Paul Dougherty
1918 During World War I paints canvases advertising various war relief efforts
1929 Address listed at 19 Arcade Building. Providence, Rhode Island in the catalogue for the winter exhibition of the National Academy of Design
1936 Creates paintings for the Rhode Island Tercentenary
1941 Dies in February
Delgado Museum, LA
Everson Museum of Art, NY
John Brown House Museum, Rhode Island Historical Society, RI
Milwaukee Art Institute, WI
Muskegon Museum of Art, MI
Rhode Island School of Design, RI
St. Johns Art Club, NJ
Vanderpoel Art Association, IL
1907 Solo Exhibition of works including Boulevard St. Michel Paris (ca. 1907), Providence Art Club
Boulevard St. Michel Paris (ca. 1907), National Academy of Design, New York
Annual Spring Exhibition, Providence Art Club
1908 Delfshaven, Holland (ca. 1908), National Academy of Design
Boston Art Club
1909 One hundredth and fourth Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Boston Art Club
1910 White City (ca. 1910), Third Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Paintings, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC
1911 Winter’s Mantle (ca. 1911), National Academy of Design
One hundredth and sixth Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1912 New England Hills (ca. 1912), National Academy of Design
1913 Third Annual Exhibition of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts
1914 East River, New York Winter (ca. 1914), Quebec Harbor from Fortifications (ca. 1914), Fifth Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Paintings, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Old Quebec from Upper Town Terrace (ca. 1914), National Academy of Design
Solo exhibition, Doll and Richards Gallery, Boston
1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, San Francisco
Solo exhibition, Delgado Museum, New Orleans (travels to the Gibbes Memorial Museum, Charleston)
1916 Third Annual Exhibition of the Mystic Art Association, Mystic, Connecticut
Sixth Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Paintings, Corcoran Gallery of Art
The Grand Canyon, New York (ca. 1916), Sixth Annual Exhibition of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts
Joint exhibition of works by Frederick Usher de Voll, Angela O’Leary, Hope Smith and Wm. H. Drury (March), Providence Art Club
Coming Up the Harbor (ca. 1916) plus two other works, Members Night Exhibition (April), Providence Art Club
Fifteenth Annual Exhibition of the New Haven Paint and Clay Club, Yale Museum of Fine Arts
Grey Day (ca. 1916), The Charcoal Club’s Seventh Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Art, Peabody Galley, Baltimore
1917 The White City (ca. 1917), Eighth Annual Exhibition of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts
One hundredth and twelfth Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1918 Eighth Annual Exhibition of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts
1920 New England Hills, Late Winter (ca. 1920), National Academy of Design
1921 Snowing Columbus Circle (ca. 1921), National Academy of Design
Providence Art Club
Gillespie Gallery, Pittsburgh
1922 Twixt Day and Night (ca. 1922), National Academy of Design (image is reproduced in American Art News, 21, December 9, 1922, p. 6)
Thirty-fifth Annual Exhibition of American Painting and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago
Twelfth Annual Exhibition of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, Wadsworth Athenaeum
Forty-third Annual Exhibition of the Providence Art Club
Twenty-sixth Annual Exhibition of the Providence Water Color Club
1923 Solo Exhibition, Providence Art Club
Forty-forth Annual Exhibition of the Providence Art Club
1924 Solo exhibition of forty-seven oils and pastels, Providence Art Club
1928 “Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition,” Providence Art Club
1929 ‘Circuit Exhibition Pastels of New York,’ Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts (traveled to Hackley Gallery, Muskegon, and Gage Gallery, Cleveland)
1930 Providence Art Club
1934 The Salmagundi Club, New York
1937 “The Fifteenth Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Paintings,” Corcoran Gallery of Art
1950 Memorial Exhibition, Newcomb-Macklin
American Artists Professional League
American Federation of Arts
Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans
Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts
League of American Artists
Providence Art Club
Providence Water Color Club
South County Art Association of Rhode Island
Springfield Illinois Art Academy
Washington Art Club
1. Frederick Usher de Voll, “Student Notes and Reminiscences,” Cited in David Milgrome, “The Art of William Merritt Chase” (Master’s Thesis, The University of Pittsburg, 1969), appendix B.
2. “In Memoriam.” Art Digest, March 15, 1950.
3. “Providence.” American Art News 6:6 (November 1907): 2.
4. Sotheby’s, American Paintings, New York, November 29, 2006, Sale N08249, Lot 79, accessible at http://www.sothebys.com/app/live/lot/LotDetail.jsp?lot_id=159294557
VII. Suggested Resources
de Voll, Frederick Usher. “Student Notes and Reminiscences” in Milgrome, David. “The Art of William Merritt Chase.” Master’s Thesis, The University of Pittsburgh, 1969, appendix B.
Falk, Peter (editor). Who was who in American art, 1564–1975: 400 years of artists in America. Madison, Conn.: Sound View Press, 1999, p. 3724.
Slocum, Grace L. Who's Who in Rhode Island Art: A Supplement to Two Centuries of Art in Rhode Island. Unpublished (Rhode Island Historical Society), pp. 81–82.