Ludvik (Louis) Durchanek (1902-1976)
Horseshoes on Uxbridge Common
Oil on canvasboard, 19 x 25 inches. Signed lower right: "Ludvik Durchanek" and inscribed verso in ink: "Horseshoes on Uxbridge Common/Uxbridge Mass. 1937"
Artist autobiography (typescript), Ludvik Durchanek Collection, 1951-1980, Syracuse University Libraries; American
Icons: From Madison to Manhattan, the Art of Benny Andrews, 1948-1997 (Morris Museum of Art, 1997), p. 137.
Private collection (probably western New York State); Kelly Schultz, Clarence, NY, about 2015; sold through Schultz Auctioneers, Clarence, NY, April 21, 2018, lot 269 to unidentified dealer; Papillon Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; acquired from the foregoing, August 29, 2018.
Modest two-inch frame, probably original. Papillon Gallery label on verso.
More widely recognized for his achievements as a modernist sculptor* during the final two decades of his career, Ludvik “Louis” Durchanek first studied art in the late 1920s. Born of Czech parents in Vienna, he studied horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England (as well as in Moravia, Belgium and France) prior to his emigration to the United States in 1927. Durchanek took courses with Umberto Romano at the Worcester Art Museum from 1936 and with Jon Corbino at the Art Students League in New York (1940-41).
Horseshoes on Uxbridge Common is a rare example of Durchanek’s earliest work, likely painted while he was employed as head gardener on an estate in North Uxbridge, Massachusetts (seventeen miles southeast of Worcester) and under the tutelage of Romano. Adopting the Regionalist aesthetic taught by Romano (see Katharine (Portrait of Katharine Bigelow Higgins)), Durchanek achieved the remarkable feat of compressing twenty-five figures, a dog, a war memorial and plenty of real estate into a single picture without a sense of imbalance or congestion. The artist arranged the many elements of the composition into three concentric circles: the foreground figures, an arc of trees, and the surrounding buildings which are rendered in similar colors even though, in reality, they range from red brick to white clapboard (see Figs. 1 and 2). The open space in the foreground draws the viewer into the immediate circle of figures, while the receding perspective of the buildings ushers us all the way through to the quaint residence in the distant background. A visit to present-day Uxbridge Common reveals (in addition to the changes wrought by time) that Durchanek took liberties with his subject, skewing the perspective (as if through a fish eye lens) so as to incorporate buildings (such as the First Evangelical Congregational Church on the left) that would naturally fall beyond the edges of the canvas. In a manner reminiscent of the work in this collection by Daniel R. Celentano, the artist has succeeded in rendering a carefree portrait of the life of a rural community four years before the tranquility would be broken by the onset of another world war.
* Durchanek's sculptural works are represented in institutional collections including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Figs. 1, 2 - Photographs taken in September, 2018, and June, 2015, respectively, showing The First Evangelical Congregational Church immediately west of Uxbridge Common (Fig. 1) and the Solomon's Temple Lodge of Freemasons immediately north of the common (Fig.2). The latter, opened in 1820, is the oldest Masonic lodge in Massachusetts still operating in its original facility. The World War I memorial across from it still exists, but in slightly altered form. The artist simplified the church facade and drastically foreshortened the perspective of the painting so as to include the 1833 edifice in the upper left corner of his composition. The German cannon appearing in the painting and photograph was captured by American troops in the Battle of Argonne Forest in France in 1918.