Spanierman Gallery’s inventory of American works on paper includes watercolors and drawings by many talented men and women who achieved success and recognition during their own day, but whose careers have yet to be revived by contemporary scholars. This is certainly the case with Julius Delbos (1879-1970), represented at the gallery by one of his sun-filled beach vignettes.
In the course of my research on Delbos, I discovered that he was born in London, England, the son of a Frenchman from the Basque region who fled his homeland during the reign of Napoleon III. Little is known about his early life, other than the fact that he studied the piano as a boy and lived in London and Paris prior to his arrival in America in 1920. He resided in Lakewood, New Jersey, until around 1927, when he settled in New York City. Delbos taught art, music and French at schools in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Manhattan and spent most of his summers in Edgartown, Massachusetts (and elsewhere on that scenic coast), painting harbor subjects and depictions of outdoor recreation. He is known to have worked in oil, but watercolor was his forte, as evidenced by his participation in the annual exhibitions of the American Watercolor Society and the New York Water Color Club. During the 1930s and 1940s, his “expert water-colors” (Howard Devree, “A Round of Galleries: Current Shows,” New York Times, 9 December 1934) were also featured at Manhattan’s Gatterdam Gallery, as well as at Kleeman’s and the venerable Ferargil Galleries. I think the art dealer Frederic Newlin Price captured the essence of Delbos’s style when he referred to his “country skies and seas of Edgartown and Rockport” as being “personal without any puzzlements” (see Delbos, New York: Ferargil Galleries, 1948): as you can see from Family at the Seashore, Delbos was drawn to the clear colors and simplified shapes of modernism, melding them beautifully with the realist inclinations that were no doubt reinforced by his many years as a teacher of art. In viewing the piece, one gets a feeling of place, season and time of day, as well as a sense of the intimate bond between the mother and her children.
Julius Delbos lived a long life—teaching, painting, traveling and sometimes regaling his fellow members at the National Arts Club with piano performances. He died in a New Jersey nursing home at the ripe old age of ninety-one. A eulogy I found in the Delbos Papers at the Archives of American Art notes that, in addition to being the author of Historical Cambridge: Pencil Sketches by J. M. Delbos (1923), he “interpreted the farm lands in the West; the North East countryside, the water scenes in Etreta [sic], France, Rockport, Massachusetts, and especially Martha’s Vineyard.” Delbos’s obituary in the New York Times (6 January 1970) identified him, more succinctly, as an “artist who specialized in water-colors”—a fitting description of a painter who obviously took great delight in the fluency, transparency and spontaneity of this challenging yet highly popular medium!