Louis Eilshemius Gallery
Born near Newark, New Jersey into a wealthy family, his earliest education was in Europe, after which he spent two years at Cornell University before his art studies began at the Art Students League of New York. He subsequently studied under Bouguereau at the Acad??mie Julian in Paris, and traveled widely in Europe, Africa and the South Seas, returning to the family brownstone in New York City where he was to live for the rest of his life.
His early landscapes, which show the influence of the Barbizon school and of Corot, George Inness and Albert Pinkham Ryder, gained him little recognition from critics or from the public. Around 1910, the element of fantasy in his work became more pronounced and his technique became coarser; henceforth, he often painted on cardboard instead of canvas. As his works became more idiosyncratic, so did his behavior, and he developed an unsettling habit of visiting galleries and loudly condemning the works on display.
His later, visionary works depicting moonlit landscapes populated with voluptuous nymphs caused his contemporaries particular consternation, due to their crudely rendered and often extravagantly smiling nudes. These are shown frolicking in forests or waterfalls, either alone or in groups, sometimes defying gravity by floating through the air. His paintings of New York rooftops are as lyrical as his pastoral scenes, and like them are often bounded by sinuous "frames" he painted onto his pictures.
Eilshemius also wrote verse and prose, composed music, painted, philosophized and became notorious for his numerous, often vitriolic, letters-to-the-editor of various New York City publications. His lack of public acclaim led him to desperate measures: suspecting that the length of his name was responsible for his neglect, in about 1890 he began signing his paintings "Elshemus" (he reverted back to the original spelling in 1913). On letterheads and in hyperbolic, self-published flyers he would proclaim his accomplishments: "Educator, Ex-actor, Amateur All-around Doctor, Mesmerist-Prophet and Mystic, Reader of Hands and Faces, Linguist of 5 languages", as well as world-class athlete and marksman, "Spirit-Painter Supreme", and musician whose improvisations rivalled the compositions of Chopin. All of this only reinforced the impression, already suggested by the peculiar imagery in many of his paintings, that he was either mad or a charlatan.
He was not without supporters, however. He was championed by Marcel Duchamp, who "discovered" Eilshemius in 1917 and invited him to exhibit with him in Paris that year. His work was generally well received by French viewers and critics; his admirers included Matisse. Duchamp subsequently helped to arrange Eilshemius's first solo exhibition in 1920, at the Soci??t?? Anonyme in New York City. The hostile critical reception to this exhibition, however, finally drove him to give up painting entirely in 1921, although there is a single known painting dated 1937. The remainder of his life was dedicated to self-promotion, and in 1931 he took to referring to himself as "Mahatma".
Injured in an automobile accident in 1932, he became increasingly reclusive. His health in decline and his family fortune spent, he died in 1941.
Since his death, Eilshemius's work has found a wider audience. One of the artist's few consistent patrons, Roy Neuberger, donated a large body of Eilshemius' work to the Neuberger Museum of Art located at SUNY Purchase College in New York State.