Welcome to the John F. Folinsbee Catalogue Raisonné, which is sponsored by the John F. Folinsbee Art Trust. Established in 1984 by the artist’s widow, the Trust is dedicated to preserving Folinsbee’s artistic legacy and to promoting scholarly examination of his work. We hope the catalogue will foster a greater appreciation for Folinsbee’s work and re-place him in the canon of twentieth-century American art.
When Peter B. Cook asked me in 2004 if I would like to direct the Folinsbee catalogue, I said, "Sure!" Their idea to make the catalogue an online venture, rather than a print publication, intrigued me for the technical challenges it presented as well as the possibilities for making Folinsbee's work more widely accessible—and sooner. Typical catalogues raisonnés take years before they are published, are expensive to produce and purchase, and are often outdated not long after ink hits the paper's surface. The Web, however, provided us with the opportunity to change that paradigm, to make the catalogue of Folinsbee's oeuvre immediately available to the public in a form that would be as current as possible.
However, as our work on the catalogue progressed, and new research began to reconfigure long-standing approaches to Folinsbee’s work, it became apparent to us that a mere cataloguing venture might not be enough to re-establish his position in the narrative of American art. We are pleased to announce that Folinsbee Considered, the first scholarly examination of Folinsbee’s life and art, has been published by Hudson Hills Press. In addition to sharing what we have discovered about Folinsbee during the course of the past decade, the book includes a selected catalogue of significant landscape paintings, most of which are accompanied by a brief essay.
Folinsbee began painting and exhibiting around 1912, and finished his last major landscape, Zero Morning (pictured), shortly before his death in 1972. Sixty years is a long period of activity, art historically speaking. When he began his career, American Impressionism, as practiced by artists like Childe Hassam, was still widely popular; Tonalist landscapes, such as those painted by his first teachers, L. Birge Harrison and John Carlson, were still sought by collectors. When he died, the center of attention of American art had moved beyond the representational and into the abstract (and even beyond). While Folinsbee himself did not choose to follow the lead of the younger generation toward abstraction, he did incorporate aspects of modern art—particularly structural ideas learned from an extensive study of Cézanne—into his own work. Beyond Cézanne, Folinsbee did not have much use for modern or contemporary art, and he became increasingly conservative in his views after 1950.
As a scholar of American art, I have found directing the Folinsbee catalogue an enriching experience. I am continually struck with the depth of the artist's work, which, as you will see in the catalogue, is broad and varied. While many artists undergo stylistic changes, what immediately impresses with Folinsbee is that as he explored new paths, his painting in each phase is solidly developed. He wasn't just dabbling or passing through. Through all Folinsbee's work runs a distinctness, a sureness of style, a depth of feeling, and a mastery of palette and brush that is most assuredly his. Russell Lynes called it “reaching through the surface to the heart of the matter;” a critic in 1919 called it “some subtle magic.” The opportunity I have had to closely examine his work and his artistic milieu has inspired me to reassess my own understanding of twentieth-century American art, and I hope it will have a similar effect on those using this catalogue.
Kirsten M. Jensen, PhD
Emerita Director, John F. Folinsbee Catalogue Raisonné