James H. Daugherty WWI modernist watercolor for lost War Bond banner
Watercolor, 19" square, signed/dated 1917
Photo of Army mural, original destroyed by the artist
World War I poster designed by Daugherty
Flight Into Egypt, ca. 1920, oil on canvas,
Allentown Art Museum collection
James Henry Daugherty (1889-1974) had a singularly productive artistic career that included illustration, writing, easel paintings, murals, and military posters (see image above.) I learned about Daugherty in graduate school, focusing on his early 1900s abstract, colorful easel paintings, which were published and displayed in pivotal 1970s exhibitions at the Whitney Museum and Delaware Art Museum. The first painting I purchased on behalf of the Allentown Art Museum when I was chief curator, was Daugherty's iconic painting Flight Into Egypt (see image above) which remains in the permanent collection galleries 16 years after its purchase. (This is either an indication of its importance or the slim collections at the museum!) Fast forward to my departure from the museum world to launch an independent career; at the same time a group of Daugherty artworks came onto the market from his estate and I purchased this large watercolor, intrigued by its vivid colors and the fact that it is a modernist treatment of a World War I theme. Also, it had a rather extensive history of exhibition and gallery representation, summarized in labels on the back. With the help of a Daugherty family friend, I realized that my purchase was an important rediscovery. The watercolor is a preliminary study for a banner painted in support of the Army but destroyed by the artist. The Navy banner, 20-odd feet wide, is preserved at the Navy Museum (see above). The Army mural was destroyed by the artist but is recorded in an old photograph (see above). No corresponding watercolor is known for the Navy mural. The banners were painted to display in store windows along Fifth Avenue (called Avenue of the Allies during World War I) or on monumental arches or parade stands along the avenue. Likely, the parade was held in support of a War Bond Drive, and Daugherty's banner was probably exhibited in 1918. This watercolor is an Orphist- and Cubist-influenced interpretation of a patriotic banner, making it very rare, perhaps unique, in the canon of American art.