Regionalist art became a distinct American style sometime during the Great Depression. It was not a unified movement, but there was a unity in ideals. These were rural artists who wanted to represent everyday life away from the cities. This was both a response to modernism and expression of love for the American countryside. Marvin Cone is an underrated artist within this genre. While he was not as famous as his friend Grant Wood, Cone is known for his distinct aesthetic and influential teaching career.
Cone was not interested in simply capturing an image as it appears in life. He felt that art should be used as a way to enhance or make a statement on one’s surroundings. With the invention of the camera, he saw no purpose in realism. He portrayed his landscapes as idealized and calm. It is clear that he both loved his Midwestern home and nature as a whole.
While the public loved his scenes of farmlands beneath blue skies dotted with fat clouds, Marvin Cone was not satisfied painting the same scenes continuously. Ambiguous tableaus of strange figures, circuses, and side shows all became his new inspirations. The circus paintings are more playful in nature. Circus goers are gawking comedic figures and the circus itself has a nostalgic feel.
In his later career, he explored abstraction. Marvin Cone completed This Was Doubtless He in 1946. It was much more abstract in style than his previous works. This dream-like painting depicts a hallway and a series of open doors. The first two doors are dark. Sunlight trails through the final one. Through this last one a staircase leading up can be seen, giving a sense of hope. A transparent figure looks on, contemplating this final door. The ethereal subject of This Was Doubtless He led to other works of similar style and theme.
Cone’s career as an artist went hand in hand with his career as a teacher. He taught at CoeCollege for decades, originally as a French professor. Studio and art history classes soon became part of his schedule when he founded the college’s art department. He was recalled as an inspiring teacher and unique artist.
The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art holds more than 500 of his works, including landscapes, circus scenes and later architecture, doors and stairs paintings. In 2012, Marvin Cone’s work hit record prices at Sotherby’s and his work is gaining renewed attention from collectors.
Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.