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Frank Duveneck was born in October 1848, in Covington, Kentucky. He was the son of Bernhard Decker, who died when Frank was only one year old. His mother then married Joseph Duveneck. By 15 years old, young Duveneck began studying art under a local painter and later a German firm of church decorators would apprentice him. Though growing up in Covington, Duveneck participated in the German community of Cincinnati, just across the Ohio River. However, due to his German heritage and Catholic beliefs, Duveneck was an outsider, as far as Cincinnati’s artistic community was concerned.
When he was about 21 years old, Duveneck went abroad to study. First, he went to Munich to study under Wilhelm Leibl and Wilhelm von Diez, at the Royal Academy, where he approached a more realistic, dark and direct style of painting. Duveneck was one of the young painters who in the 1870s, started a new art movement, overturning the tradition of the Hudson River School and suggesting greater freedom of work and paint application. This group also included John Henry Twachtman, Willis Adams, William Merritt Chase, and Walter Shirlaw.
His artwork, at first ignored at Covington, would attract great attention in 1875 when shown at the Boston Art Club. This recognition heavily increased his respect as well as popularity. Pupils would flock to him in Italy and Germany, where he traveled extensively. Henry James would even call him “the unsuspected genius,” and at age 27 he was already a celebrated artist. In 1878, Duveneck established a school in Munich and a village in Bavaria. His students included Julius Rolshoven, John White Alexander, Otto Henry Bacher, and John Henry Twachtman, they were known as the Duveneck Boys.
In 1886, he married one of his student and fellow painter, Elizabeth Boott, they lived in Florence and had one son, Frank Boott Duveneck. Sadly, Elizabeth died two years later in Paris of pneumonia. Duveneck was devastated and would begin sculpting in order to produce a monument in her honor after returning to the United States. The artist taught at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, where he had some notable students, such as Ida Holterhoff Holloway, Edward Charles Volkert, Cornelia Cassady Davis, John Christen Johansen, Charles Mills, M. Jean McLane, and Bessie and Herman Wessel.
Elizabeth’s death can mark a slowing in Duveneck’s production. Since he was a wealthy man, he decided to live the remainder of his life in relative obscurity, living in Covington until his death in 1919.