Monday, October 29, 2012

In His Own Words: An American Artist Studies in France -- Otis William Oldfield (1890–1969)

Born in Sacramento, California, Otis William Oldfield (1890–1969) was the 3rd child of the master grainer (coach painter) for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Oldfield left school in 1906, to apprentice at a local print shop. Restless, he boarded a train & job-hopped from California to Nevada & Montana & Idaho. He then enrolled in Best's Art School, San Francisco in 1909, working nights as a bellhop to support himself. He left for Paris in 1910, where he studied in for 15 years, attending the Julian Academy, Rue Fromentin.

Otis William Oldfield (1890–1969) The Artist and His Wife

Of his arrival in Paris, he said, “Well, I noticed on the sign there, it had been Bouguereau’s Academy at one time. But at the time I was there, Tony Robert-Fleury was the master there. He’d come in once a week. And it was very funny, when the master came in the word with him was “silence” and we had to be very quiet. He would never go to anyone except those who had worked with him for a while and then we would group around him and listen…”

Otis William Oldfield (1890–1969) White Dress 1936

Early on, Fleury reviewed Oldfield’s work, “At that time I was new there and I had to have an interpreter. The master just looked me over, and then he looked at the painting and he said, “All right, you’re an artist.” I felt it was very nice afterward when I thought about it…”

Otis William Oldfield (1890–1969) Telegraph Hill

“Tony Robert-Fleury, was , he had gone into Impressionism, and we were taught in that manner. You see, you get taught in a certain manner and I think that stays with you. You can try to get in or out of it, but what you have is kind of stamped there. ..

Otis William Oldfield (1890–1969) The Yellow Dress 1929

“We didn’t pay the master, we paid the fee, and I think it was, you give it by six months or you give it by the year. As I remember it now, the first six months they advised me to take it that way, I paid twenty-eight dollars.”

Otis William Oldfield (1890–1969)

“We went to work at eight o’clock in the morning and we worked all through the week until five, Saturday included. Then in the evening we’d go from five to seven, quick sketching, we’d pay for that, it cost a franc – twenty cents. Then after that we’d meet at somebody’s studio and talk a little bit, and then we’d go out and find a cheap restaurant and eat there…And then free night school, we went three times a week with only a male model, and during that time we would go to night school until eleven o’clock…And Sunday we’d take a streetcar ride with our paint boxes and go out to Meudon, or some place at the end of the line, you know, and sit down and paint – the group of us – you know. And we’d take a little lunch or we’d stop at one of those bistros and have something…”

Otis William Oldfield (1890–1969) Purple Sweater 1933

“…at first I was with four boys. We rented a studio, and then that got too expensive so we took a little flat next door that had two rooms. And so we divided up that way, and we would cook our meals sometimes….that’s where we slept and where we worked and where we were at home. But as I say, if the weather was good, we took the streetcar for a ride. You could ride pretty far and pretty long for the fee that they took. Of course we visited all the places around there, like Rodin’s [Auguste Rodin] place [Villa des Brillants, Meudon, France] and whatnot, I mean we were interested in their work.”

Otis William Oldfield (1890–1969) Little Four-Year-Old Girl

“… the Louvre on our Sundays, that was sort of a ritual, see, if it was bad weather we went to museums and we’d just stay pretty near the whole day there…And then we would go to the Luxembourg and see what was there, because in there it’s the living artists, you see. When they’re dead they go into the Louvre. And then of course there were the trips across the water. We were from Montmartre, you see we were Montmartrois, and we’d go and see the boys over in the Latin Quarter side…Although none of us had much money, we were young, we could do a lot of things that you can’t do otherwise, unless you’re young and can do it that way.”

Otis William Oldfield (1890–1969) the-The Bluff of Telegraph Hill

Upon returning to the U.S., Oldfield settled briefly Sacramento before returning to San Francisco to accept a post as a teacher at the California School of Fine Art. Oldfield developed a bold modernist style. He married artist Helen Clark who often modeled for him. In 1936, Oldfield was one of a group of San Francisco artists chosen for a WPA project to paint murals in San Francisco’s Coit Tower. Following WW II, Oldfield taught at the California College of Arts & Crafts in Oakland. He died in San Francisco in 1969.

Otis William Oldfield (1890–1969) The Pink Dress 1935

Oral history interview with Otis Oldfield, 1965 May 21, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.