Leon Kroll (1884–1974)

A respected American realist painter active during the nineteenth century, Leon Kroll is recognized for his depictions of female nudes, New York City street scenes, and Maine coastal scenes.

By Chelsea DeLay

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Suggested Resources
VII. Notes

I. Biography
Leon Kroll was born in New York City in 1884, and his childhood interest in art developed into a career aspiration by the time he was a teenager. At the age of fifteen, Kroll took a job as an assistant to the then-President of the Art Students League, Charles Yardley Turner. Turner took note of the young artist’s potential and arranged for Kroll to register for classes at the Art Students League in 1901, where he thrived under the instruction of his first teacher, John Henry Twachtman.(1) In 1903, Kroll enrolled in classes at the National Academy of Design, where he earned a bronze medal for his still life work after only one year of courses. He continued to rise through the student ranks at the National Academy of Design: he earned four awards in 1904 and of the five paintings he submitted to the Academy’s 1905 selection jury, all were accepted for exhibition.

During Kroll’s time at the National Academy, he received the prestigious Mooney Scholarship that funded a trip to Europe to cultivate his ability as a painter.(2) The artist arrived in Paris in 1908 and immediately enrolled at the Académie Julian, where he studied with French-realist painter Jean-Paul Laurens. Kroll’s time spent abroad exposed him to several European artists who influenced his style exponentially: he first encountered the color planes of Cézanne three years after the artist’s death and was fascinated by the brilliant hues used by the impressionists including Renoir, Monet, and Pissarro. In 1911, shortly after Kroll’s stateside return, he accepted an instructional position at the National Academy of Design; he demonstrated an exceptional capability as a professor, which led to later teaching jobs at the Art Students League, the Chicago Art Institute, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Maryland Institute of Art.

Before he departed for Paris in 1908, Kroll spent the summer of 1907 in Maine with his close friend and fellow artist George Bellows. The rocky shores of Maine held great allure to American artists at this time; Monhegan, a favorite location of leading Ashcan artist Robert Henri and many of his students, had a particularly heightened sense of artistic glamour. After returning from Europe, Kroll revisited Monhegan with Bellows in early 1913, where they worked alongside Henri and other members of his circle. From this trip, Kroll established friendships with several members of “The Eight” which included John Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks, and Arthur B. Davies and also resulted in an invitation to exhibit at the 1913 Armory Show.(3) The Armory Show effectively launched Kroll’s career as an artist and confirmed his status as one of the most famous realists in America; invitations to exhibit and subsequent awards followed from impressive institutions including the National Academy of Design, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Baltimore Pan-American Exhibition, and the Indianapolis Art Institute.(4)

Kroll spent the 1920s traveling back and forth between Europe and the United States: a brief trip to Europe in 1923 was spent in the company of French artist Robert Delaunay, a one-man show was held at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1924, and a prolonged visit to France lasted the following two years. Seven years after his 1920 nomination for Associate membership to the National Academy, Kroll was elected an Academician to the respected institution—this was one of the many prestigious organizations that the artist belonged to throughout his career, which included the Philadelphia Art Club, the Boston Art Club, the American Academy of Arts & Letters, and the Légion d'Honneur. Kroll’s career took a new direction at the start of the 1930s when the artist first became involved in federal arts programs; he was commissioned to paint several municipal murals at locations that can be seen today in the U.S. Department of Justice Building, the auditorium at Johns Hopkins University, the Senate Chamber in the State Capitol of Indiana, and the war memorial in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Kroll’s accomplishments as an artist were celebrated in 1937 when the Worcester Museum held a retrospective of his work. Kroll continued to work during the later years of his life: he produced paintings at his studio in New York City, was actively involved in numerous organizations, and spent time in Gloucester, Massachusetts up until his death in 1974. Leon Kroll’s legacy as a talented realist painter is honored today through esteemed institutions including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

II. Chronology
1884 Born in New York City
1899–1901 The President of the Art Students League, Charles Yardley Turner, hires young Kroll as an assistant
1901 Enrolls at the Art Students League, where his first teacher is John Henry Twachtman
1903–5 Studies at the National Academy of Design;
1905 Submits five paintings to the selection jury at the National Academy of Design, all are accepted for exhibition
1907 Spends the summer in Maine with close friend and fellow artist, George Bellows
1908–10 Travels abroad with funds from the Mooney Scholarship; arrives in Paris and enrolls at the Académie Julian. Encounters works by Cézanne and European impressionists including Renoir, Monet, and Pissarro
1911 Accepts teaching position at the National Academy of Design
1913 Takes a trip to Monhegan, Maine with Bellows; works alongside Robert Henri and his circle of students. Meets John Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks, Rockwell Kent, and Arthur B. Davies
Invited by Arthur B. Davies to exhibit at the 1913 Armory Show
1914–15 Visits Ogunquit, Maine and paints alongside George Bellows and Robert Henri
1917 Spends the summer in Deer Island, Maine
1920 Spends the summer in Woodstock, New York
Elected Associate member of the National Academy of Design
1923–25 Travels to Europe, becomes friends with Marc Chagall and Robert and Sonia Delaunay. Spends time painting with close friend William Glackens, also meets Genevieve Domec, whom he later marries
1927 Elected Academician of the National Academy of Design
1929 Resumes teaching at the National Academy of Design
1931–35 Acts as President of the American Society of Painters, Sculptors & Gravers
1932 Spends the summer in Ogunquit, Maine
1937 The Worcester Museum of Art holds a retrospective of the artist’s work
1938 Commissioned to paint the mural for the Municipal Memorial Auditorium at Worcester, Massachusetts. Moves just outside of Woodstock to Bearsville, New York for mural preparation
1942 Moves to New York City with his wife
1943 Acts as Vice President of the National Institute of Arts and Letters
1950s Accepts mural commissions for the State Capitol of Indiana, as well as a mosaic chapel ceiling in the Memorial at Omaha Beach
1950 Elected Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur
1971 Awarded the Presidents Medal for a lifetime of distinguished service to American art by the National Academy
1974 Passes away at the age of 89

III. Collections
Allen Art Museum—Oberlin College, OH
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Baltimore Museum of Art, MD
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, ME
Canton Museum of Art, OH
Cleveland Museum of Art, OH
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Dayton Art Institute, OH
Detroit Institute of Arts, MI
Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
National Academy of Design, NY
New Mexico Museum of Art, NM
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA
Princeton University Art Museum, NJ
Smart Museum of Art—University of Chicago, IL
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Springville Museum of Art, UT
Westmoreland Museum of Art, PA
Whitney Museum of American Art, NY

IV. Exhibitions
1906 National Academy of Design; solo exhibition; Honorable Mention, Cannon Fund First Prize for Work in the Life School; Hallgarten Fund Painting School Second Prize
1907 National Academy of Design; Hallgarten Fund Special Prize in the Painting School, First Prize in Composition
1908 National Academy of Design: First Prize for Figure Work in Sculpture Class; A.A. Baldwin Fund First Prize for Etching
1909 Académie Julian, Paris; First Prize in Painting
1911–58, 1964, 1966 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; gold medal, 1927, 1930
1912 Salmagundi Club; Porter Prize
1913 The 1913 Armory Show
1914–53 Corcoran Gallery Biennials (19 times)
1915 San Francisco Pan-Pacific Exposition; Bronze medal
1917–21, 1923, 1929, 1936 Society of Independent Artists
1919 Art Institute of Chicago; Logan Medal, Purchase Prize and Honorable Mention
1921 National Academy of Design; Thomas E. Clark Prize
Wilmington Society of Fine Arts; First Prize
1922 National Academy of Design; First Altman prize
1924 Art Institute of Chicago; Potter Palmer Gold Medal
1925 Carnegie International; Honorable Mention
1927 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Temple Gold Medal
1927, 1929 Salons of America
1929 Newport Art Association; Richard S. Greenough Memorial Prize
Rehn Galleries
1930 National Arts Club; Maida Gregg Memorial Prize
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Beck Gold Medal
Indianapolis Art Institute; Purchase prize
1931 Baltimore Pan-American Exhibition; U.S. Section First Prize
1932 Boston Arts Club; First Medal
National Academy of Design; First Altman Prize
1935 National Academy of Design; First Altman Prize
1936 Carnegie International; First Prize
1937 Worcester Museum of Art; retrospective
International Exposition, Paris; medal
1939 Newport Art Association; Elliot Memorial prize
1941 Philadelphia Art Alliance; first prize
1943 National Academy of Design; Obrig Prize
1964 National Arts Club
1965–66, 1969, 1971 National Academy of Design; Altman Award for Landscape Painting, 1965; Honorable Mention, 1966; Altman Figure Prize, 1969; Presidents Medal for a lifetime of distinguished service to American art, 1971
1970 B. Danenberg Gallery
1987 J. Rotenberg Gallery

V. Memberships
American Academy of Arts and Letters; Director and Art Committee Chairman, 1950
American Society of Painters, Sculptors & Gravers; President 1931–35
Artists Equity Association
Boston Art Club
For Arts Aid Association
Légion d'Honneur; Chevalier, 1950
National Academy of Design; Associate 1920; Academician, 1927
National Arts Club; Lifetime Member
National Institute of Arts and Letters; Vice President, 1943
New Society of Artists
Philadelphia Art Club
Woodstock Art Association

VI. Suggested Resources
1. Foxhall, George. “Leon Kroll: An Artist Who Believes in Art.” Sunday Telegram (Worcester, Massachusetts), December 12, 1937.
2. Gutman, Walter. “Leon Kroll.” Art in America XVIII (October 1930), 299–303.
3. Leon Kroll Papers. Detroit. Archives of American Art, 1968. Microfilm reels D326-D331. Personal and Business Correspondence, Biographical Material, Clippings, Articles, Documents.

VII. Notes
1. Nancy Hale and Fredson Bowers, Leon Kroll a Spoken Memoir (Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 1983), 7.
2. Ibid, 12.
3. ibid, 30.
4. Peter H. Falk, “Leon Kroll” In Who Was Who in American Art, (Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999), 1907–8.

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Leon Kroll