Youth and Beauty: Two Featured Artists with Cleveland Roots

Two artists featured in Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties hailed from Cleveland.

George Ault (1891-1948)

George Ault

Born in Cleveland to a well-to-do family, Ault moved to London at the age of eight, when his father’s printing ink company established inroads there. His family cultivated his interest in art by taking him to various museums in Europe.

As a young man, he studied art making in London before returning to the United States in 1911. Ault spent his career in New Jersey and New York. Although trained in the style of Impressionism, his mature works feature streamlined compositions that take cues from avant-garde trends as well as folk art. Two paintings by Ault from the 1920s are featured in Youth and Beauty.

A series of family tragedies deeply affected the artist. One of his brothers committed suicide in 1915; his mother died in a mental hospital in 1920; and his two remaining brothers committed suicide in the wake of the stock market crash of 1929, which had dissipated the family fortune.

An alcoholic, Ault often exhibited moody and difficult behavior. During the 1930s he became a recluse of sorts, even while working in Woodstock, New York, amid a thriving art colony. Specific details regarding his death remain a mystery; whether he died by accidental drowning or suicide is not known.

Ralph Steiner (1899-1986)

Image of Artist Self Portrait

Eventually I discovered for myself the utterly simple prescription for creativity: Be intensely yourself. Don’t try to be outstanding; don’t try to be a success; don’t try to do pictures for others to look at – just please yourself.” ― Ralph Steiner

Cleveland-born Steiner discovered photography while studying chemical engineering at Dartmouth. After moving to New York City in the 1920s, he took courses in photography and launched a freelance career. Toward the end of the decade, he met fellow photographer Paul Strand , whose work was such a revelation that Steiner began teaching himself better craftsmanship and mastering new techniques. Four photographs by Steiner—as well as four by Strand—are highlighted in Youth and Beauty.
During the late 1920s, Steiner became interested in cinematography, and he soon established himself as an important avant-garde filmmaker. He continued to work in both photography and film for several decades afterward.

On Wednesday, July 25, at 7:00 p.m., the Cleveland Museum of Art will host film historian Bruce Posner, who will present an illustrated lecture devoted to modernist painting, photography, and film. He will screen two short films: Manhatta (1921), a collaboration between Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler; as well as Ralph Steiner’s Mechanical Principles (1930).

-- Kesha Williams


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