WILLIAM FREDERICK FOSTER, A.N.A.
(Cincinnati 1882 – 1953 Los Angeles)
...AND SHE FAINTED AWAY
Signed lower left: Will Foster
Oil en grisaille on canvas mounted on board
26 x 36 inches (66 x 91.4 cm)
Collection of Alan and Betty Goldfield; sale, Altadena, California, John Moran Auctioneers, Inc., date, lot 144.
P. S. Barton, William Frederick Foster, A.N.A.: Portrait of a Painter, Los Angeles, 1987, p. 61, plate 12.
At age 15 Will Foster first laid eyes on Albert Beck Wenzell’s opulent depictions of the Belle Époque, ultimately causing him to give up his dream of becoming a professional musician and pursue a career as an artist. The following year he enrolled in the Art Academy of Cincinnati. In 1902, Foster moved to New York City to study at the Art Students’ League and the New York School, the latter newly founded in 1896 by William Merritt Chase. The young art student supported himself by working for Lee Lash Studios painting props and backdrops for theatrical productions. While at the New York School Foster also studied with Robert Henri, who encouraged him to move away from the lavishness of the Gilded Age and look to the less genteel subjects that now occupied the Industrial Age. Though Foster gave up his beloved images of the Beautiful Era, he continued to explore idealistic modern glamor as illustrated by Charles Dana Gibson and Norman Rockwell. Foster’s professional success began just a year after arriving in New York when he sold the reproduction rights for three of his illustrations to LIFE magazine.
By 1908 Foster had become a much sought after artist, illustrating commissions for Collier’s, DELINEATOR, and Cosmopolitan magazines. He executed more than 55 illustrations, each of which was a full-scale oil painting en grisalle, measuring about 36 by 28 inches. In addition to an impressive output of work, 1908 was also an important year for Foster as he married May Middleton Bramhall. Although the couple would divorce in 1920, Bramhall was her husband’s favorite model for the duration of their marriage.
Without the context of a backstory …And She Fainted Away presents a rather confounding image. An unconscious woman lies on the floor while another woman of eerily comparable likeness calmly kneels over her body with a handkerchief, her arm in a vaguely presentational gesture. The model for both women is in fact Foster’s wife, a method he used to create a number of his compositions, such as in Teatime (Upstairs Downstairs), an illustration that appeared in the April 1910 issue of DELINEATOR magazine (Figure 1). As in our painting, Foster dresses his wife in different clothing in order to distinguish each figure from the other.