Louis Bosa: A Keen Eye and a Kind Heart celebrated the work of this distinguished painter and acute observer of the human condition. Focusing primarily on paintings in the collections of the Michener and the artist’s family, this exhibit was mounted in honor of the publication of an original essay on Bosa by Dr. Cher Krause Knight, the recipient of the Michener’s Helen Hartman Gemmill Research Fellowship in 2002-2003. (The book is available for purchase through the Museum Gift Shop. Please call 215.340.9800 for more information.)
Bosa (1905-1981) grew up in Codroipo, Italy, a small village only a few miles from Venice. After studies at the Accademia della Belle Arti in Venice, Bosa emigrated to the U.S. and studied under John Sloan, a member of the Ashcan School, at the Art Students League in New York. Sloan’s poignant vignettes of everyday life in the city would have a lasting effect on Bosa’s own style.
Bosa’s early works from the 1930s and 40s frequently depict New York City, at turns bustling, charming, gritty, and harsh. ‘His figures represent a matrix of emotional drama, comic relief, psychological presences, and physical being,’ as Knight writes. While many of these New York street scenes reflect a somber palette, Bosa’s artistic temperament was generally optimistic, and marked by a sincere affection for his subjects.
As Bosa once said of his own work: ‘I paint people as I see them — sometimes gay, but often wistful and even pathetic. They are so funny sometimes, they are sad.’ While he became known for witty character studies, highly stylized and expressionistic figures, Bosa never confined himself to one type of subject matter.
During the 1930s Bosa and his wife Theresa purchased a cabin in Upper Black Eddy, Bucks County, which the artist himself would repair over the years — working as a carpenter, gardener, tile layer, stone mason, and architect to fashion a retreat for the couple and their daughter Anne.
His first major award that brought notoriety was the John Wanamaker Prize at the Washington Square outdoor exhibition, given to him in 1938. Subsequent honors included an award from the Academy of Arts and Letters, and gold medals from the National Academy of Design, Audubon Artists, and the Legionnaires of Pennsylvania. He was featured in the 1948 Whitney Museum Annual.
Knight describes Bosa’s work as ‘genuinely quirky and honest, but neither deliberately self-conscious nor naïve in any way. He is both funny and serious, often at the same time.’
In 1951 Bosa was sent on assignment by Life magazine to visit his hometown in Italy. He had a chance to visit his ailing mother (whose death later that year would inspire the painting Procession) and revisit the home he had left decades earlier. The death of his mother shortly had a profound effect on Bosa, who responded to the loss with a variety of funeral-related subjects in his art. In Procession the focus is on the mourners, rather than the deceased – which allows Bosa to both reference his mother and yet to avoid specificity.
As with Procession, Bosa’s later works would be marked by vigorous displays of color and lively form. Despite his love for America, it was the scenery, people, light, color and architecture of Italy that would inspire him later in his career.
Knight writes of Bosa’s world as one in which humor and sadness are allowed to coexist, ‘further enhancing and even complicating one another.’
Bosa’s work is in the collections of more than twenty museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Sponsored by Mary Lou and Andrew Abruzzese, The Pineville Tavern.