Families with Artists


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


On Big Blend Radio, artist Victoria Chick discusses noteworthy artists who have up to five generations of artists in them including the Wyeths, Carraccis, Gentileschis, Morans and Yoshidas.

Sometimes a child will show early visual art talent and the parents are heard to say, “We don’t know where she got it. Neither one of us can draw a straight line!” That is not usually the case though. Talent and predilection of interest seem to be a combination of inheritance along with early nurturing and encouragement. Mysteriously, there are many examples where families will have two or three generations of artists and then none.

Family ties are more obvious in music, drama, and certain sports where performance puts the individuals before the public. We can all think of examples of musicians, actors, or athletes that have parents, grandparents, or siblings that are similarly gifted. Visual artists, too, frequently run in families, but we often don’t realize the familial relationships because we view the artwork, not the artist.

In the last 60 years, the most acclaimed family of artists in America has been that of Andrew Wyeth. The family includes his son James, daughter Henriette Wyeth Hurd, son-in law Peter Hurd, and his grandchildren. Andrew Wyeth remains the most famous member of the family but each of them has a well-deserved reputation for the meticulous realism that he fostered. Even before Andrew Wyeth was his father, N.C. Wyeth, a noted illustrator in the first half of the 20th century, who encouraged drawing and painting in his children. N.C.’s daughter, Carolyn, acknowledged by many art historians to be “the most talented of the Wyeth family,” was never as famous as her brother Andrew. She was very shy and did not promote herself. So much has been written and filmed about this family that, as important as they are, this article will focus on some artists’ families not as familiar.

Prior to modern times, it was not unusual for sons to be trained by fathers and to follow in their father’s footsteps. It was rare for fathers to train their daughters to follow their profession but, as genes play at least an equal role, there are examples of successful women artists whose parent/parents were artists. Following are four families of artists whose members achieved distinction.

The Carracci

The Carracci family is atypical in that it consists of three cousins that were artists. Only the father of one of the cousins is known and his occupation is recorded as a butcher. Ludovico, Agostino, and Annibale were proud to call themselves “The Carracci” successful painters during the late 16th and early 17th century. Although they were about the same age, Ludovico appears to have fostered the talent of his cousins.

Ludovico had studied the work of northern Italian painters called Mannerists. Mannerist artists worked “in the manner of” great painters of the past. Because they thought those painters had achieved all that could be achieved, they copied poses and figures from past paintings and sculpture instead of using live models. The painting was skillful but the drawing became unnatural, stiff, and often with elongated, out-of-proportion figures. Ludovico rejected the artificiality of Mannerism and began an Art Academy in Bologna in which the students studied anatomy, life drawing, perspective, and proportion. He encouraged them to keep a sketchbook with them always and to record and analyze things they saw on a daily basis. This method is still used in art schools today.

Agostino and Annibale joined in teaching at the Academy and the Carracci’s practices made them instrumental in developing a fluid, dramatic style that came to be called Baroque. Most historians recognize Annibale as the most talented of the three. His systematic anatomical studies were turned into engravings and were widely distributed. They were part of art student studies well into the 18th century.

Although none of the cousins lived very long lives, they managed to complete painting commissions in Bologna, Rome, and Parma, and Ferrara in addition to their teaching. Only one of the Carracci had offspring. Agostino had a son who was a respected painter in his day. One of his ceiling paintings was compared favorably with the Sistine Chapel painting by Michelangelo. However, his fame diminished in the 18th century and he has been somewhat forgotten by art historians.

The Gentileschis

More people have heard of Artemesia Gentileschi than have heard of her father, Orazio, an accomplished painter who gave her her earliest training and strong support. The Gentileschis lived in Florence in the second half of the 16th century where Orazio was influenced by the strong, dark paintings of Carravaggio. Orazio Gentileschi associated himself in the workshop of another painter named Tassi.

Artemesia had shown such talent learning all that her father could teach her, that by age 17 she was already doing accomplished paintings. Her father asked Tassi to take her on as a student since he thought he had taught her all he could. Tassi wound up raping her which is why we know so much about her today. Artemesia Gentileschi was rediscovered during the Feminist Movement of the 1970s and became a symbol of all women whose art had been ignored by institutions. Her genuine ability as a painter made that situation quickly rectified and she is now given her place in art history textbooks.

Artemesia Gentileschi married another painter and had four children, only one of whom survived childhood. Life in Florence was productive for her and she was elected by her peers to membership in the Academia di Arte dell Designo, the same honorary group to which Michelangelo had belonged. She was friends with Galileo, the Duke de Medici and his wife, and was commissioned to do an allegorical painting for a palazzo owned by Michelangelo’s nephew.

Orazio Gentileschi, meanwhile, had moved to London where he was a court painter for King Charles the I. Artemesia, too, moved around. She did work in Rome, Naples, and in London where she worked alongside her father on some of his commissions. Charles I was an ardent art lover and purchased some of her paintings. When it appeared there would be a civil war in England, she returned to Naples where she continued her successful career before dying, probably of plague, in 1656.

Somewhere in her life she had another daughter. History records that she tried to teach both her daughters to paint but they were uninterested in learning. This triggers the question, “If visual talent is genetic and fostered at an early age, shouldn’t that combination result in an artist?” Many researchers would affirm that idea. But, talent and opportunity, like life, don’t seem to always follow rules.

The Morans

Another important artist family was the Moran family of painters and etchers. Their parents were weavers in early 19th century England. When the industrial revolution began mechanizing the cloth industry, the Moran cottage weaving business could not compete. The family immigrated to the United States in 1844 where their four sons became successful in visual arts. Edward, Thomas, and Peter were all artists, while their brother Joseph developed stereoscopic photos-a sort of primitive 3D.

Thomas Moran learned to draw and paint from his brother Edward. By the time Thomas was in his teens he was doing the drawings for a publishing firm that engraved them. He also made trips back to England where he studied the innovative watercolor technique of JMW Turner. Thomas gained fame through an opportunity to travel to the American west with a survey party in 1871. The grandeur of the Rocky Mountains inspired him greatly. His monumental, 7’ x 12’ oil painting of Yellowstone Falls and Canyon was purchased by Congress for ten thousand dollars, an unheard of price in 1872! A later painting, “Chasm of the Colorado”, was also purchased for ten thousand dollars by Congress. His paintings were an important factor in Congress deciding to establish Yellowstone as a National Park. Thomas Moran is sometimes referred to as the “Father of the National Park System” because of his influence.

Mary Nimmo, an art student of Thomas Moran, became his wife. Her main interest became etching and her primary subjects were the woods and fields in the area in which she lived with Moran and their children. She was a member of the Society of Painter-Etchers of New York. Many of her works were signed MN Moran so there was no indication that she was a woman. Her etchings were juried by the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers in London who elected her to membership in their group thinking she was a man. She became the only female member of the Royal Society of Painters-Etchers. Mary Nimmo and Thomas Moran had two daughters and a son but I could not find a record of them becoming artists.

Edward Moran, was a successful painter of Colonial, historical, and maritime subjects. His two sons, Edward Percy Moran and John Leon Moran, as well as his nephew all became professional artists painting historical subjects. Their work was competent, but never really admired by critics.

Peter Moran is always associated with Philadelphia where he had his studio but, like his brother Thomas, was attracted to the western territories and states. Although he was a painter, he was primarily known for his etchings. He spent quite a lot of time in Arizona and New Mexico drawing landscape and scenes of pueblo life. He became the official artist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. His etchings were published in the American Art Review, a periodical containing original etchings by artists who had adopted this relatively new medium. He was a member of the Philadelphia Etching Society.

The Yoshidas
The record for number of artists in the same family surely must go to the Yoshida Family of Japan. Records of Yoshida artists go back 150 years and include five generations of creative endeavor in several styles and media. They are a poster family for the theory of artists resulting from right genes plus nurturing environment.

Yoshida artists worked in the south Japanese archipelago for a major clan there, but late in the 18th century moved to what is now Tokyo. Rui Yoshida was an artist daughter of the Yoshida family who married another artist named Kasaburo. Kasaburo took the Yoshida family name and was adopted into the family. When Kasaburo and Rui’s daughter Fujio were to be married, her husband was also adopted into the Yoshida family and took their last name. His name was Hiroshi Yoshida. He excelled in color woodblock printing with traditional subjects.

Hiroshi’s wife, Fujio Yoshida, also did woodblock printing but her subjects are more modern- similar to the close-up flowers of Georgia O’Keeffe. They had two sons. Their oldest son, Toshi Yoshida married an artist, Kiso, a traditional sand painting artist. They had one son, artist Tsu Kasa Yoshida, whose daughter, Aya, is an anime’ artist.

That is five generations of artists in one line. Hiroshi and Fujio Yoshida’s younger son, Hodak Yoshida, married Chizuko, an artist as well. Their daughter, Ayomi, is an internationally known conceptual artist married, not surprisingly, to an artist whose name is Bidow Yamaguchi. Four generations of artists, so far, are in this line of the very impressive Yoshida family.

In all these families from the 16th century to the present time, we see no clear-cut, global example that inherited genes and the nurturing of skill will automatically produce artists. We don’t know the backgrounds of other family members that brought different traits into the mix. There also may have been talented children who did not want to compete with a famous parent. We can see that where there is talent and interest, having an encouraging environment is very positive to bring the talent to its highest point.

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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About the Author:

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.

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