The Living American Art, Inc., 55 5th Ave., New York (1936-1940) was founded by Charles Boni (1894-1969) in 1936, with the help of several artists, who banded together for the purpose of disseminating reproductions of American art works to the general public, using the high-end photographic process of collotype which captured the vivid colors of the originals.
Boni devised a mail order brochure of the prints and set up approximately 250 exhibitions of the prints at colleges, universities, and museums around the country for publicity, with editions limited in number (quantities unknown). At the time, it was the most ambitious venture ever undertaken to widespread distribution fine art in America and was praised as one of the greatest innovations in modern art. He also published a periodical which carried brief biographies of artists whose works were chosen for reproduction, thus attempting to generally educate the “average” American in issues and history of American art. Every four months 12 important American pictures were selected for collotype reproduction in limited quantities in four installments (Forty-eight prints total per year) by jury selection of four well known artists to include; Louis Bouche, Alexander Brook, Adolf Dehn and Hughes Mearns. The collotypes sold for $5- each at the time, which equals about $84- in today’s dollar—certainly not cheap at the time, and the artists got up to 10% royalties “regardless of the ownership of the original”. Some of the prints were also “processed” with a protective finish.
The first batch of ‘Colorprints’ were exhibit in late 1936, throughout 225 cities in 46 states. The 2nd group was exhibited in February 1937 in 300 colleges, museums, libraries and schools. Eventually the venture was discontinued when World War II began in Europe since the reproductions were made in Vienna by Max Jaffé’s firm, up until about July of 1940.
Many prominent and well known American artists had their works represented by Boni with the 'Colorprints (collotype)' series and included painters such as; Peter Blume, Henry Varnum Poor, Henry Lee McFee, Eugene Speicher, Karl Fortess, Calvert Goggeshall, Kenneth Hayes Miller, Arthur Dove, Joseph De Martini, Joseph Stella, Maurice Sterne, John Carroll and many others. Over the next several years, Boni added to the series with other notable American artists, before WWII forced the company out of business.
(Compiled & written by Mark Strong of Meibohm Fine Arts, Inc., East Aurora, NY, meibohmfinearts.com, sources: beta.worldcat.org, "Archivegrid: Smithsonian Institution - Archives of American Art; Publication information 1937"; norman.hrc.utexas.edu, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin, "University of Reading: FOB Firms out of Business; Boni and Gaer; newspapers.com, online digitized newspaper article, The Cincinnati Inquirer (Cincinnati, OH), Pg. 7, Sunday, April 11, 1937; newspapers.com, online digitized newspaper article, The Daily Mail (Hagerstown, MD), Pg. 28, Thursday, May 6, 1937; books.google.com, "Catalog of Copyright Entries, Third Series, Vol. 22, Part 6, Number 1: Renewal Registrations; Works of Art", July-Dec, 1968.)