Dimensions: 74.5 x 62 cm
Medium: oil on canvas
Collection: Niland Collection
Provenance: Presented by James A Healy, 1975 (Josephine C Healy Memorial Collection
The American painter and printmaker, Eugene Higgins was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to Irish immigrant parents. When he was four years old his mother died and he had his father, who was a stone cutter, moved into a boarding house in St. Louis. Higgins had little formal artistic training and his earliest influences were reproductions of the work of Michelangelo, whom his father deeply admired, and illustrations of Millet’s work that he discovered in a local magazine (1). His childhood was one of relative depravation and growing up in Missouri he would have witnessed the annual floods which brought much suffering to the poorer inhabitants of the State. Many of his images reflect his experiences of human hardship and portray the poor and downtrodden with dignity, compassion and understanding.
Although Higgins eventually gained recognition as an artist, in 1914 the Irish-American patron John Quinn received a letter from a New York dealer introducing Higgins and suggesting that he was very poor and willing to sell his work for almost nothing (2).
Family Group is an image of middle-class domestic harmony that would have been particularly attractive to an artist who had grown up poor and motherless.
1. Vincenza Uccello, ‘Introduction’, Eugene Higgins, 1874-1958: Artist of Honor, exhibition catalogue Saint Joseph College Gallery, September, 1997, reprinted by The Traditional Fine Arts Organization, www.tfaoi.com.
2. Martin Birnbaum, Berlin Photographic Company, New York, to John Quinn, 3 June, 1914, John Quinn Memorial Collection, New York Public Library.
Written by Riann Coulter