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Roger Medearis (American 1920 – 2001)

Rabbit Hunters, egg tempera on Masonite, 12 x 9 inches, 1947, signed and dated lower left, signed, titled and dated verso “Rabbit Hunters Egg Tempera Roger Medearis 1947,” exhibited at Medearis' solo show at Kende Galleries, New York, in 1949 (Medearis’ record book, a copy of which is held by Vose Galleries in Boston, MA, indicates this is painting “No. 23” and that is was completed in 1947 and sold via Kende Galleries (at Gimbel Brothers) in New York in November, 1949, to a private New York City collector); presented in what is likely the original frame


Rabbit Hunters shows Roger Medearis at his best. Painted while the artist lived in Connecticut during the time in his life when he was most devoted to his artistic craft, the work combines the regionalism for which Medearis is best known with a meaningful dose of Magic Realism that sets his work apart from the late 1940s art of many of his contemporaries who also continued to explore the American Scene in a more straight-forward manner. Medearis uses his characteristic egg tempera medium to render a high contrast landscape with hunters and a dog pursuing their quarry. The undulating hills, spare trees, and rocky outcrops form an uneasy, but organic whole. The clouds in the upper center sit above the trees and form clearly delineated and unintelligible symbols in the sky. In the tiny details and meticulous brush strokes, we see the attributes which have caused scholars and curators to compare Medearis to the Dutch master Bruegel. Rabbit Hunters comes from Medearis’ most desirable period before he took a hiatus from the art world during much of the 1950s and 1960s. The painting was exhibited at Medearis’ critically acclaimed 1949 solo exhibition at New York’s Kende Gallery, where it sold to a private collector.

Thomas Hart Benton said that Roger Medearis was his best pupil at the Kansas City Art Institute during the late 1930s. The son of a Baptist preacher, Medearis was born in Missouri, where he spent the first eight years of his life before moving with his family to Oklahoma in 1928. Surrounded by illustrated magazines, Medearis was inspired to become an artist by the works of Norman Rockwell. At the age of eighteen, Medearis enrolled in the Kansas City Art Institute where he studied under Thomas Hart Benton and soaked up the prevailing regionalist aesthetic of the day. Medearis’ work focused on the people and places he knew from the Midwest. As a student, Medearis achieved quick success with representation in New York City by Associated American Artists. When World War II erupted, Medearis shifted his focus to propaganda leaning paintings designed to inspire support for the war effort. In 1942, Medearis joined the navy and worked for three years drawing naval and other charts for the armed forces. After he was released from service in 1946, he moved to Connecticut and devoted his energies to returning to life as a professional artist. He had two successful solo shows in New York and 1949 and 1950, the latter of which included his painting Family Reunion, which was selected for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition American Painting Today 1950-1951. Despite his success, Medearis became disheartened that the American Scene, even with his touches of magic realism, was out of favor as abstract expressionism took a firm grip on the art world. Medearis wrote, “It seemed to me that the New York artists had thrown off all restraint and were making whoopee with paint, while I continued to struggle with the American Scene. I knew that I could never part company with the Regionalists. Their people were my people, and their land, my land.” In the early 1950s, Medearis put his artistic career on pause, and he did not return to painting professionally until the mid-1960s. Medearis’ return to painting was a triumph, as he was able to sell most of what he painted during the last thirty years of his life. Medearis moved to Southern California and many of his later works explore the American West. Medearis’ work is in the collections of many museums, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Spencer Museum of Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens, which held a retrospective for the artist in 2012. Medearis is listed in Who was Who in American Art and other standard references.


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