Avian Artists Charles Heil and Dolly Perutz


By Victoria Chick, contemporary figurative artist and early 19th & 20th Century Print Collector

On this episode of Big Blend Radio, contemporary figurative artist Victoria Chick discusses the life and art of Charles Heil and Adolphine “Dolly” Perutz, two graphic artists attracted to birds as subjects, with different styles of representation. 

Two graphic artists attracted to birds as subjects had different styles of representation.

Charles Heil (1870 – 1950) was careful about rendering in a naturalistic way but each of his birds was imbued with a unique personality that went beyond recording facts. Adolphine ”Dolly” Perutz  (1908 – 1979) approached her bird subjects expressionistically using various printmaking techniques. Birds were a means to express emotion, not personality as Charles Heil had done, nor as earlier bird artists such as Audubon, who worked scientifically to record facts making species identification possible.

Their two ways of seeing their subjects and working in such distinctly different ways can partly be ascribed to personality differences and partly to the fact they grew up in distinctly different eras. For example, Dolly Perutz was influenced by the Expressionist artists working in a number of Eastern European countries between WWI and WWII. Her life, as a young Jewish woman, was fearful and prompted her to immigrate. Heil was an American from a fairly well-off family. He was 44 when WWI broke out so he was not directly affected and was able to pursue his birds in peace.

Heil’s self- ascribed challenge always was to draw the three-dimensional form and the liveliness of his subjects on a flat, two-dimensional surface using the etching process to accomplish this challenge.  He never wavered from printmaking as his medium. In contrast, printmaker Dolly Perutz also was a sculptor, using cast bronze to depict many kinds of animals and birds three-dimensionally and with the freedom of an Expressionist.

During his childhood in Boston, Heil was interested in drawing birds. He studied drawing during the evening and, when a bit older, at the Cowles Art School in Boston. As part of his formal art education, he was able to study for two years in Paris where portraiture, other animals, and landscapes, captured his attention. Dolly Perutz was born in Czechoslovakia where she became an artist. She was greatly influenced by legends of mythological animals as well as observable animals and birds.

After returning to Boston, Heil again began concentrating on birds as his subject matter and maintained that interest all his life. Dolly Perutz, married to a writer, immigrated to America in 1938. She lived in the New York area where she preferred doing woodcuts and lithography along with modeling clay into expressionist animals and then casting them in bronze. Her work is included in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the New York Public Library, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her sculpture Bird Flying Machine is part of the collection of the New York City Parks Department and is on display on the roof of the Arsenal, Central Park.

Charles Heil was awarded a gold medal at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1918. Expositions were one of the few ways for artists to gain international recognition in the late19th and very early in the 20th century because there were not very many galleries and few museums. Libraries adding an artist’s work to their collections was also means of recognition of the quality of their art. When Heil passed away, the Boston Library purchased a complete collection of his bird etchings in recognition of his contribution to art and ornithology. Heil’s art is in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, Yale University Art Gallery, The Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Cincinnati Museum of Art, all in the United States. In Europe, he is represented at the Munich Institute in Germany and the Biblioteque Nationale in France.

Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio in southwest New Mexico. She received a B.A. in Art from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and awarded an M.F.A. in Painting from Kent State University in Ohio. Visit her website at www.ArtistVictoriaChick.com

Artist Victoria Chick


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An interview with artist Victoria Chick about two graphic artists attracted to birds as subjects had different styles of representation.

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