An American Art Student in Paris: The Letters of Kenyon Cox, 1877-1882

An American Art Student in Paris: The Letters of Kenyon Cox, 1877-1882

An American Art Student in Paris: The Letters of Kenyon Cox, 1877-1882

An American Art Student in Paris: The Letters of Kenyon Cox, 1877-1882

Excerpt

On October 13, 1877, Kenyon Cox left New York City on an ocean voyage to Paris where he would study art. The trip was the fulfillment of a dream, and he felt both exhilaration and anxiety at the prospect of living in the center of cultural affairs. He was young, thoughtful, and educated in some ways, but uncertain of himself in others. Whatever his predictable anxieties, he did not doubt both his need for formal training in France and his ability to become a successful painter.

This confidence and ambition reflected an upbringing within a family prominent in national affairs and in Ohio, where he was born and reared. His father, Jacob Dolson Cox, was a well-known Republican who had emerged from the Civil War as a major general. He was governor of Ohio from 1866 to 1868, and then entered U. S. Grant's cabinet as secretary of the interior in March 1869. Disillusioned with Grant's policies and friends, Cox left the cabinet on November 1, 1870, and practiced law in Cincinnati. From 1873 to 1877 he was receiver and head of the bankrupt Wabash Railroad, with headquarters in Toledo, and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the term 1877-79. Cox left politics, chiefly because he disliked its bargaining, and resumed his law practice and private interests in microscopy and education. He was dean of the Cincinnati Law School from 1880 to 1897, and president of the University of Cincinnati from 1885 to 1889.

Jacob Cox also retained a lifelong interest in his alma mater, Oberlin College, where he met and married Helen Grandison Finney. Her father, Charles Grandison Finney, attained national fame in the 1820s and 1830s as an evangelist who preached individual salvation and the obligation to uplift society. He headed the theology school at Oberlin after 1835, was president of the university from 1851 to 1866, and remained influential in educational and religious circles until his death in 1875. He passed on to his children a probity and earnest concern for personal improvement and good works that informed the lives of their own offspring. On both sides, Kenyon Cox's family typified the era's successful person who spelled words such as Honor, Industry, and Sobriety in capital letters. These were concepts and obligations rather than mere terms.

Kenyon Cox was born into this family on October 27, 1856, in Warren . . .

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