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Alexander O. Levy

Alexander O. Levy

(1881-1947)
Born: Bonn, Germany

Alexander Oscar Levy (1881-1947) was a painter, illustrator, printmaker, and designer. He was one of the few American painters who worked primarily in the Art Deco style. Outside of a short sojourn in New York City, he spent his entire career in Buffalo, New York.

Born in 1881 in Bonn, Germany, Levy was brought to Cincinnati, Ohio at the age of three. He was a child prodigy; at age eight he won a citywide art prize awarded by a local newspaper; at twelve, he turned down a scholarship to study the violin in Europe. In his teens, Levy studied at the Cincinnati School of Music and the Cincinnati Art School under the artist Frank Duveneck.

His career began by preparing Spanish-American War snapshots for publication in the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain. Between 1902 and 1908 he attended the New York School of Fine and Applied Art. Levy took art classes from William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri which gave him a foundation for portrait painting; their influence can be felt in his later work. He also studied with landscape painter Ossip Linde.

Levy moved to Buffalo in 1909 to become art director for the Matthews-Northrup Company. His illustrative work appeared in popular magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Saint Nicholas Magazine and The Century. He worked as an art director at the Larkin Soap Company for 15 years and painted murals in the Larkin Administration Building as well as other city business offices.

By the 1920s, Levy was on his way to earning attention and national recognition. He developed an Art Deco style in his paintings. His compositions play on the relationships between independent entities in creating a complex whole, rather than a single thought.

He painted everything with self-confidence, energy, and originality. Peyton Boswell, the prominent New York art critic of the 1920s, described Levy as a “fantasist, expressing visions that originate in his brain and are free of natural encumbrances.”

Levy served as president of the Buffalo Society of Artists from 1933 to 1936. Albert L. Michaels notes that the painter “so angered the proponents of abstract art that they broke off to form the Patteran Society.” He was a member of the Buffalo Society for Sanity in Art and exhibited at the Salons of America, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, and the Albright Art Gallery.

In 1923, Levy had his first major exhibition at the Ainslie Gallery in New York City. He had one-man shows at the Cincinnati Art Museum (1924), the Babcock Gallery in New York City (1925), another show at Ainslie (1929), and two shows at the Albright Gallery in Buffalo (1923, 1929). He also exhibited works at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Art Institute of Chicago, Detroit Museum of Art, and Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh.

In 1975, the United States government selected one of Levy’s 1930s paintings, Negro Spiritual, to be part of a traveling bicentennial exhibition of American art. The next year, 1976, the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, held an exhibit of Levy’s work mainly from the 1930s. In 1982, Dana Tillou Fine Arts of Buffalo held an exhibition of paintings and works on paper, and in 2014 the Burchfield Penney Art Center instigated a deep exploration of Levy and Buffalo in the Art Deco period.

For more information on Alexander Levy, visit http://www.meibohmfinearts.com/artists.aspx?ID=18. See also the catalogue for the exhibition Alexander O. Levy: American Artist, Art Deco Painter (Burchfield Penney Art Center, 2014).