Florence Julia Bach

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Florence Julia Bach (American, 1887-1978) was an artist and instructor known for sculptures as well as portraits, figurative works and floral still lifes in oil and pastel. Florence “Flora” Julia Bach was born June 24, 1887 to electro-plater, John Lewis Bach (1864-1924), and Julia (née Spiesz/aka Spies) Bach (1859-1918) who were married July 8, 1886 in Buffalo, NY. Bach’s early education was in the Buffalo public schools, No. 45 and Lafayette High School. After graduating from high school, she studied at the University of Buffalo (now known as the State University of New York at Buffalo) and the School of Speech Arts under Professor Carl Wachter as well as privately with Madame Farine. At the same time, she began her formal art training at the Art Students’ League of Buffalo (later known as the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy or Albright Art School) at the Albright Art Gallery under Mary Bowman Wheeler Coxe (American, 1868-1921) and modeling instructor, Elizabeth Conkling McKinstry (AKA MacKinstry, American, 1878-1956) where her talents were immediately recognized and she was awarded a scholarship in 1908 to continue her studies at the Art Students’ League in New York City where she studied with noted portrait painters, William Merritt Chase (American, 1849-1916) and Frank Vincent Dumond (American, 1865-1951). Afterward, she studied at the École des Beaux-Arts at Fontainebleau in Paris, France under modelling instructor, Louis-Aimé Lejéune (French, 1884-1969) and received her diploma in sculpture. Afterward, she continued her studies in France and Germany. Upon her return to New York City, she was invited to teach modeling at the Art Students’ League, a position she held for two years.

In 1913, Bach returned to Buffalo, NY where she began her long teaching career as an instructor in antique drawing, painting, sculpture/modeling/casting, portrait, life and anatomy at the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy (Albright Art School) and was highly respected not only for her strong instruction thoroughly grounded in the academic approach, but for her art career as well. She maintained her studio and residence at 1000 Elmwood Avenue and later moved them to 1110 Elmwood Avenue where she stayed for many years and was in the same building where she first studied art, the site of the old Art Students’ League of Buffalo. Later residences included: 103 Anderson Place and then 557 Bird Avenue, both in Buffalo.

Alongside her teaching profession, Bach actively painted and was a member of several art organizations where she regularly exhibited her artwork and won several awards over the course of her long career. As a member of the Buffalo Society of Artists (BSA), Bach won many exhibition awards between 1915 and 1924, including the Fellowship Prize in 1917 and 1922. She became a member of the BSA Council in 1926, the same year she became a member of the Jury of Awards and Fellowship Prize for the BSA exhibition of 1926. Bach served as BSA President from 1929-1930. Additional awards included; The Buffalo Centennial Medal for service in the field of art in 1932, the Syracuse Regional Purchase Prize in 1941, the Popular Prize at the Carnegie Institute in 1949, and Gold Medal at the Catherine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club (CLWAC) in 1954, and she was also made an honorary member of the CLWAC. She was also an exhibiting member of the The Patteran Society of Buffalo and Charter Member of the Town Club of Buffalo, the latter of which, opened a gallery in the fall of 1927 under the chairmanship of Florence Bach (which was made available to all Buffalo artists), as well as a member of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors and the Art Alliance, a national organization with headquarters in New York City. She also exhibited at the Carnegie Institute and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT) in Pittsburgh, PA.

Many of Bach’s portraits in oil, pastel or charcoal included the likes of notable Buffalonians, artists, writers, patrons and friends alike, such as: Dr. Charles Cary as well as his wife Mrs. Charles Cary (Evelyn Rumsey-Cary), Ernest Fosbery, Mrs. James Crate, Miss Mary Frances Larkin, Miss Susan Fisk, Dr. William Warren Quinton, Miss Carol Keating, Mr. Frederick A. Kahler, Elsa Schmidt (daughter of Mrs. Hans Schmidt), Evelyn Christie Phelps Murnan, Jane Green Penfold, Maria Love, Margaret M. Blakeslee, and Mrs. Joseph L. Hudson. “Her portraits are rich, sensitive and romantic, with the pastel applied in a very lush style, with no attempt to disguise the medium. Each stroke is there to be admired and envied.”[1] (Quote from newspaper article by Norine M. Spurling, past president of the BSA, 1976) In 1928, Bach designed and executed a bronze tablet portrait of Arthur Victor, of Victor & Co., for their new department store located at Genesee & Main Streets in Buffalo, which was cast by the world-famous Tiffany & Co. (colloquially known as Tiffany’s), NYC. She stated that her definition of a good portrait included three things: One, it must first of all have good draftsmanship; Two, it should have the expression of color which comes from the intuitive sense of the artist; Three−It should be more than a likeness, it should be an artistic creation.

In the early 1930s, Bach traveled to Italy and France for further study and during her career, traveled throughout the United States including several study trips to California. Bach was a ‘lover of music’ and attended many plays and concerts and enjoyed listening to the great maestros and musicians on local radio broadcasts. In 1931, she stated that if she hadn’t been an artist, she likely would have been a musician and preferred the violin as it was, “nearest to the human voice.” During her time off from teaching, she spent many summers on her aunt’s farm, Mrs. Anna Phelps, near Bethel, CT along with her beloved Persian cat “Mitzie” who often traveled with her. It was there that she painted many of her still life and flower studies. When asked about modern art, she said, “In the modern field, in my opinion Charles Burchfield’s paintings are at the top. The fantasy, the intentions behind the brush and their rich color give me delight and satisfaction.”

In the summer of 1943, Bach briefly opened a studio in Newton, CT and after teaching for 30 years at the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy she resigned in September of that year with the intent of opening her own school in New York City. Around that same time, she briefly resided in Bethel, CT with Mrs. Evelyn C.P. Murnam to recover from a broken hip. After her rehabilitation, she moved to Manhattan where she opened a studio for portrait and other creative pursuits as well as continued to actively exhibit her work. From December 5-16, 1944, Bach had her first solo “Debut Exhibition” of floral still lifes at the renowned Grand Central Art Galleries (GCAG) in New York City due to the solicitation of Edwin S. Barrie, director of the GCAG, who had discovered her work in the New York State Exhibition at the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts in 1941 (Where she won Purchase Prize). Barrie was struck by their charm and artistic quality, and from that show she sold 11 paintings which ranged from $350-$800, as well as received orders for 11 more. Some of those paintings from the exhibit were purchased by prominent collectors to include, the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the editor of Reader’s Digest and the Encyclopædia Britannica collection. Bach was represented by the Grand Central Galleries for many years where her floral paintings sold extremely well and she followed up with another solo show at the GCAG in 1951, where she reported that everything she had sent was sold.

Bach later moved to Danbury, CT and eventually settled in Greenwich, CT, where she taught part-time to women at the Greenwich Country Club, although she hadn’t been painting for several years. Over the course of her long teaching career, she was fondly remembered by her students with great warmth and admiration for her strength, both as a teacher and as a person. Florence Julia Bach died on April 19, 1978 in Greenwich, CT. Her artwork is in many private, public and museum collections to include the Burchfield Penney Art Center, the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy as well as Buffalo General Hospital and previously in the prestigious Sellars Collection of Art by American Women (Alan and Louise Sellars, Marietta, GA) which is now in the permanent collection of the Huntsville Museum of Art, Huntsville, AL. 

(Written & compiled by Mark Strong of Meibohm Fine Arts, Inc., East Aurora, NY, Sources: Too long to list here and are available upon request.)