Stanford University Museum of Art Receives Gift of Paintings by American Artist Theodore Wores

Contact: Hilarie Faberman, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Thomas K. Seligman, The John and Jill Freidenrich Director of The Stanford University Museum of Art, announced that the Museum received twenty-one paintings by the American artist Theodore Wores (1859-1939), the gift of Dr. Ben Shenson and Dr. A Jess Shenson of San Francisco. The brothers are both graduates of Stanford University (A.B. 1936, M.D. 1940 and A.B. 1942, M.D. 1950, respectively).

Theodore Wores, born in San Francisco of Hungarian-German parents, was one of the leading California painters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He went to Munich to study painting in 1875 and there became the youngest of the "Duveneck Boys," a colorful band of art students who traveled to Florence, Rome, Venice and Paris with Frank Duveneck, the leading American painter in Munich. After 1880, Wores abandoned the dark palette associated with the Munich style in favor of bright, Impressionist colors and he began to sketch in oils in the open air in addition to painting formal works in the studio. Returning to San Francisco in 1882, Wores broke new artistic ground by being the first serious painter to depict San Francisco's Chinatown.

A friendship with James McNeill Whistler led Wores to become interested in Japanese art and to visit Japan. His residence in Meiji Japan, from 1885 to 1887 and 1892 to 1894, among the first for an American artist, amounted to the most extended visit for any Western artist. In that time he produced scores of plein air oil sketches showing, temples, gardens, and scenes of village life largely unseen and unrecorded by Westerners.

In the late 1880s, Wores worked in New York City in rooms adjacent to those of William Merritt Chase in the famous Tenth Street Studio building. He exhibited widely, became a member of the Century Club, and concluded his peripatetic career with painting trips to Hawaii (1901), Samoa (1902), and Spain (1903) before settling in San Francisco. In 1907, he became Dean of Faculty of the San Francisco Art Association and San Francisco Institute of Art. Thenceforth, Wores painted only images of western North America. His later work included a series of large-scale depictions of Navajo and Hopi Indians, (now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History) and a large number of Impressionistic renderings of blossoms in the Santa Clara Valley.

Drs. Ben and A. Jess Shenson knew Wores as a neighbor when growing up in San Francisco. As boys they often visited the large gallery of his own works that Wores maintained in his Nob Hill home. Rose Shenson, their mother, and Carolyn Bauer Wores, the artist's wife, had become close friends through their interest in music. Several years after the artist's death, the Drs. Shenson helped Mrs. Wores distribute some of the artist's works, many of which were given to museums.

Beginning in the late 1950s, as the major American museums were relegating to storage or selling off the productions of academically-trained artists of Wores' generation, the Shensons, in an attempt to preserve Wores' artistic legacy, began to acquire Wores' works wherever they could find them. As art historians in the 1970s began to rediscover the forgotten generation of late nineteenth-century American artists, the Shensons made their collection available to scholars and lent their paintings to traveling exhibitions and to museums.

The twenty-one paintings given to Stanford represent each of the phases of Wores' career. They include plein-air oil sketches as well as formal paintings composed in the studio, among them Interior of St. Mark's, Venice (c. 1879), a rare document of Wores' time with Duveneck; A Lesson in Flower Arrangement (c. 1893), one of the most important finished compositions from his years in Japan; five landscape sketches made in Japan; and Ruins of the City Hall After the Great Earthquake and Fire in San Francisco, an austerely poetic image of the 1906 disaster.

The Shenson brothers' gift to the Stanford University Museum of Art was accompanied by extensive documents relating to Wores' life and work, which are housed at the Stanford University Library, Department of Special Collections. They included the artist's correspondence, early press reviews of his work, his travel diary, photographs taken on his travels, his writings on Japan, photos of his studio, and an extensive early photographic record of his work, which included paintings now lost. When told of the gift, Wanda M. Corn, Associate Chair for External Affairs in Stanford's Department of Art and specialist in American Art, said: "This generous gift allows Stanford to showcase a major San Francisco artist of the early twentieth century. As someone who studies regionalist artists, I'm delighted to have these works available for my students and the large community audience who comes to our Museum."

The Shensons' gift to Stanford joins those to other institutions in the Bay area, notably the California Historical Society and St. Francis Hospital, San Francisco; the Oakland Museum; and the Triton Museum, Santa Clara. Together, they will making the Bay area a center for the study of a painter, whose historical contribution, like those of others of his generation, is no longer questioned.