NEW YORK, NY -- The son of a Baptist minister, Roger Medearis was born on March 6, 1920. During his childhood, his family moved from small town to small town throughout Missouri and Oklahoma. As a boy he greatly admired and painstakingly copied illustrations from The Saturday Evening Post. When he was 18, despite his family’s reservations, he decided to formalize his training as an illustrator by enrolling in the Kansas City Art Institute, where he came under the tutelage of Thomas Hart Benton.
Under Benton’s guidance, Medearis studied the methods of the Old Masters, learning to work in such Renaissance techniques as egg tempera painting. Benton also introduced Medearis to American Regionalism, a movement that he would adhere to for most of his career. Although Benton’s influence on his work was powerful, Medearis’s Regionalism would develop a distinct voice that was very different from that of his teacher’s. His paintings more fully embrace the familial and the personal, rather than Benton’s more overt social criticism.
Medearis’s education was interrupted by World War II. At first, he served the war effort as Benton did, by producing a series of works depicting Fascist atrocities. Then, as Benton had done during the First World War, he worked for the Navy as an illustrator. Finally, he enlisted in the Army, where he worked producing artillery charts.
After the War, Medearis settled his family in Connecticut and set out to become a serious professional artist, using the connections he had gained from his time in Benton’s orbit to forge a career in New York. Although he enjoyed a moderate success both critically and commercially, the art world was changing in the post-War period. Realizing that with the rise of abstraction his beloved Regionalism was waning in the popular consciousness, he abandoned his brushes for almost twenty years to dedicate himself to work in sales. He was successful in business, eventually settling in California.
In the late 1960s, however, Medearis’s life took a surprising turn. Philip Desind, an art dealer in the Washington, DC area, rediscovered his work and persuaded him to return to painting. Medearis and Desind developed a 30-year partnership that lasted up until Desind’s death in 1996.
Doyle will offer Milking Time, a classic Regionalist work by Medearis, in the April 18, 2018 sale of American Paintings, Furniture and Decorations (lot 27). The painting is in egg tempera, the Renaissance technique that Medearis had mastered under Benton’s instruction at the Kansas City Art Institute. Here we see a lone farmer walking toward his cow barn on a quiet winter day. The muted palette and meticulous description of the forms communicate a sense of the empathy that Medearis must have felt for his subject’s labors. Milking Time is dated 1947, and thus belongs to the artist’s post-War period, when he was living and working in Connecticut. It thus is a splendid example of the work the artist produced at the period of his life in which he was most dedicated to his craft.
Auction: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 at 10am
Exhibition on view April 14-16
Roger Medearis (American, 1920-2001)
Milking Time, 1947
Signed Medearis and dated 1947 (lr); signed Roger Medearis, dated 1947 inscribed with media and as titled on the reverse
Egg tempera on board
14 x 18 inches
Provenance: Berry-Hill Galleries, New York