Franklin C. Watkins

Franklin C. Watkins

Franklin C. Watkins

Franklin C. Watkins


Paint may order life and increase it;
but it is paint, and must stay paint
and reduce life to painted terms.


Watkins is a painter. All his life he has courted paint to its advantage and to his. He draws with paint; he thinks, feels, even smiles with paint. By nature warm and sensitive, he has a poetic imagination that abstracts a compelling image from the merest suggestion and the most unlikely material: death in an orchard, a fire eater at a circus, a man playing solitaire, a Supreme Court judge.

He is a serious painter, much concerned with the nature of his materials. He is a modern painter with a healthy respect for the traditions of his craft. He is above all a colorist who has derived inspiration unashamedly from many sources. As he has said to his students: "Influence is inevitable, so best find good company for a little while -- you'll be alone soon enough." He has been "alone" for many years now and he has made his own distinctive contribution to American painting. With elegance and a characteristic fancifulness and humor he has uncovered a particular strain of the American temperament and one that has never been so well expressed before.

Born in New York, he was brought up in North Carolina, educated in part in Virginia and finally in Philadelphia where he has lived most of his working life. He was a pupil at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in the latter city, a venerable institution that has given us many fine painters, among them Eakins, Demuth and Marin. But most of all he is an adopted son of Philadelphia itself, a city with perhaps a longer history of artistic production than any other in America.

His training at the Academy was severely academic and, as he tells us himself, the shadow of Eakins' pictorial precepts hung like a pall over him and his fellow students. As students will, they rebelled from the strict discipline in anatomy that was Eakins' legacy to the school, and determined to follow instead the new freedom of color and form, discovered by post-impressionists like Gauguin, Lautrec and Cézanne, which was carried to a higher pitch of intensity by Matisse and his followers. Following this revolt of his student . . .

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