Work of the Week – January 20, 2014
by Adrian Etheridge
George C. Aid (1872-1938) probably could not have guessed how his art work would change when he first began his career as an artist. The artist was born in Quincy, Ill., but his family moved to St. Louis in 1880 where Aid attended the School of Fine Arts. Aid began his career working as a staff artist for the St. Louis newspapers and then in 1899 moved to Paris to study at the Academie Julian. The illustrator remained in France for 15 years where he built a reputation as a skilled artist. According to his biography, he was one of only 25 Americans whose work was illustrated in a special issue of The Studio on modern printmaking in 1902.
Aid continued to build his reputation, now in etching, garnering awards and putting on solo shows in places such as the Galleries Henry Graves. His fame spread throughout Holland, Italy and France, particularly because of his ability to depict the quaint buildings and townships of the countries. In fact, after his 1910 marriage to music student Mary Orr, Aid bolstered his portfolio of landscape and architectural drawings as he and his wife traveled the dirt paths of Europe on a tandem bicycle. The sights included picturesque villages and towering castles like the Chateau de Chinon.
Artist George Aid and his wife lived comfortably on the Italian Riviera until WWI erupted in 1914. Unfortunately for Aid, and art patrons around the world, few of his paintings made it to Europe when Aid and his wife fled to America. With his lost art, Aid also lost his reputation as a brilliant etcher and oil painter. However, after the Aids bought a vineyard in Tryon, N.C. in 1920, Aid took the opportunity to restart his notability, revamping his reputation in a new style.
This time around, Aid put French Chalk to paper gaining a reputation as a portrait artist. This unusual medium – a chalk stick of steatite material that had a characteristic dark orange color – created a stir among the sophisticated citizens of Western North Carolina. Aid carried out a lucrative business drawing commissioned portraits in a time when people were hungry for a new style more modern than the played-out oil paintings.
Aid is best known for his work The Baptism of Virginia Dare, his last large commissioned work before his death. However, his lesser-known pieces, such as untitled portrait (child with spoon) show an intriguing look into his style. The portrait, possibly commissioned by a young family to capture the youth of their adorable child, looks much like pieces drawn by street artists – in the best way – showing his possible influences from artists in European cities like Paris. Unlike oils, the chalk afforded Aid the ability to draw only the important parts of the figure, rather than every detail, while still capturing the essence of the subject. This drawing is one of my favorite of his because through his deliberately indistinct shading and only a few hard lines, the former etcher and printmaker creates the illusion of fleetingly catching a glimpse into a happy childhood memory. The child looks content, possibly enjoying a first tea party, and has almost a mischievous expression that lends an endearing air to the portrait.
Some people call the “deepest” and most elaborate artworks the best ones as they can make an audience question life itself (religious works such as anything by Michelangelo come to mind.) However, I think that pieces such as George Aid’s untitled portrait (child with spoon) certainly have a place among the top tier because they give us glimpes into the little moments that make up much of life.
Artwork above: George C. Aid, untitled portrait (child with spoon), French Chalk, 17.00 x 15.75 inches. Bequest of George C. Aid Jr.. Permanent Collection. 2006.25.04.22b.