Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Samuel Thal: An American Realist

"Jerome's House, 1943" Etching (Courtesy: Smithsonian American Art Museum)
In doing auction price research for a recent art appraisal, I came upon an interesting painting by American artist Samuel Thal (1903 - 1964). His realist style and loose, expressionistic brushstrokes were reminiscent of Van Gogh's early work. I was entranced by the piece and wanted to know more about the artist.

Born in New York City in 1903, Samuel Thal was the son of Russian immigrants. He grew up on a farm in Hadlyme, Connecticut where he formed a love of the countryside. Upon returning to New York City, Thal initiated his art studies at the National Academy of Design, taking sculpture classes at the Beaux Arts Academy and studied painting, drawing, and printmaking at the Art Students League.

Sam Thal became an accomplished painter, illustrator, printmaker, sculptor, and art teacher. Thal spent most of of his life in Boston where he studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and spent many years producing architectural sculpture with George K. Loeser at Harvard University.

By the 1930s Thal was working as a full-time artist and became well-known for his drypoint etchings. While painting, sculpting, and etching, he also assisted in the establishment of the art education programs under the WPA Federal Art Project. Thal also taught life drawing classes at Garland Junior College in Boston, the Boston Architectural Club and the Boston Museum of Modern Art.

Thal’s drypoint etchings are held in collections including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Metropolitan Museum, Library of Congress, Carnegie Institute of Art, Bibliotheque Nationale (Paris), Penn State University, Boston Public Library and Harvard Medical School. In 1942, he was awarded the coveted Talcott Prize by the Society of American Etchers; he was also the recipient of several purchase prizes from the Library of Congress.

This painting, "Figure in a Landscape" is a signature piece for Thal, depicting a figure overlooking his farm. Like the American Regionalists and Ashcan painters of the 1930s and 1940s, Thal depicted images of everday life in America.  Thal painted cityscapes, landscapes, still-lifes, and figurative paintings.

After a bit of appraisal research, I discovered that a number of Thal’s paintings have sold at auction. Samuel Thal's auction records range from $600-$4,000 depending on subject, size, date, condition, and provenance. At galleries his prints, including etchings, were being sold for $300-$500.

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