Staff Picks:

Kenyon Cox’s Sketchbooks

I am fortunate in that my daily job responsibilities allow me to interact with all of the objects in the Museum’s care. It also makes it difficult to choose just one object, above all others, as my favorite. So I won’t, I’ll choose five: Kenyon Cox’s sketchbooks.

Kenyon Cox (1856–1919) was born into a prominent Ohio family and from an early age he wished to be a painter. Despite a severe illness, Cox began his art training in Cincinnati before moving to Philadelphia in 1876 to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. His goal was always to study the work of his idols in Europe and in 1877, Cox moved to Paris. In addition to his academic studies, Cox spent the next five years traveling around Europe with these sketchbooks in tow.

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s five sketchbooks date from Cox’s time abroad, and represent this exciting and formative period in the artist’s career. I find them appealing because they provide a glimpse into his academic study, his thought process, and his interactions with the natural world. They also showcase his travels and his interactions with masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci and Donatello.

Finally, I enjoy that the sketchbooks provide ample opportunities for detective work. Not all of the subjects depicted on the pages are as easily recognizable as the Mona Lisa. In one of two ink drawings found in the sketchbooks, Cox presents an “Egyptian mask in wood- Property of Mr. Becker-” Mr. Becker was Georges Becker, an artist Cox assisted in 1881. In the photo below, taken in Becker’s Paris studio, Becker kneels in a chair, while Cox stands holding a cigarette. Click the photo and you will see the mask visibly hangs on the wall over the artist’s left shoulder, allowing us to date this sketchbook to that time period.

– Written by Maury Ford, Head of Exhibition & Collection Management

Credit: Kenyon Cox (American, 1856–1919) Untitled (Mona Lisa), ca. 1879; Untitled (St. George), ca. 1879; Untitled (Egyptian Mask), ca. 1881; Georges Becker and Kenyon Cox in studio, ca. 1881. Allyn Cox papers, 1856-1982. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.