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JOHN CARROLL: WOODSTOCK ARTIST OF ANOTHER WORLD

Updated: Dec 9, 2022

By Bruce Weber

George Bellows (1882-1925)

John Carroll, 1923

Unknown Photographer

Frank Duveneck Room,

Cincinnati Art Museum, c. 1920s

Cincinnati Art Museum Archives


John Carroll was born in 1892 on a railroad train as it was passing though Wichita, Kansas. His parents Veda and Hur Carroll were heading west from Maryland, where his father planned to establish a branch of the Cudahy packing company. By the time he turned 11 his family had settled in San Francisico. Displaying an early talent for drawing he then spent four years studying at the Mark Hopkins Art Academy. From 1913 to 1915 he attended the San Francisco Academy of Art, where, admittedly, he mostly quarreled with his teachers. In 1915 he viewed the display at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco honoring the Cincinnati artist Frank Duveneck’s achievement as a painter, and decided he wanted to study painting with him at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Eventually, Duveneck expelled him from his class for insisting he knew more about painting than Duveneck did. Years later they became friends over a glass of beer.


During World War I, Carroll served in the Navy where he made anatomical drawings, and lithographs of the fleet in action. Following the war he worked in the Georgia State Sanitarium. a psychiatric hospital in Macon, Georgia, making drawings of the patients for a study of Pellagra (a skin condition). Carroll authority Touran Latham has remarked that the artist's "short term exposure to different states of madness left him with a deep and lasting awareness of the 'hidden things of the mind,' . . . . and forever permeated the tone of Carroll's portraits."("John Carroll," CSRA Forum: The Newsletter of the Cataloue Raisonné Scholars Association, No. 13 [Winter 2004]: 1).


Carroll then moved to New York City where he produced theatre portraits, and copied Old Master paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, selling them for whatever money he could get. In 1919, Carrol attracted widespread attention with the publication of theatre personality portraits in Town and County Magazine. In 1922, Carroll had a solo exhibition at the Daniel Gallery in New York, and in 1924 he received the Purchase Prize at the annual exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

John Carroll (1892-1959)

Inez, c. 1928

Lithograph on paper

Woodstock Artists Association

and Museum

John Carroll !1891-1959)

Dora (Inez), 1923

John Carroll (1892-1959)

Around the Table, 1928

Lithograph on paper

Clockwise from upper left: Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Inez Carroll, Adolf Dehn,

John Carroll, Katherine Schmidt,

and Mura Dehn.

John Carroll (1892-1959)

Portrait of e. e. cummings, 1927-1929

Lithograph on paper

John Carroll (1892-1959)

Katherine Schmidt, 1928

Lithograph on paper

New York State Museum, The

Historic Woodstock Art Colony:

Arthur A. Anderson Collection


It is not clear what initially brought Carroll to Woodstock, where he was active by 1920. He may have been drawn there by his association with George Bellows, or on the occasion of his first wife Dora Inez Gill (known as Inez), a talented classical pianist whom he married in Cinncinnati, coming to perform at the Maverick Concert Hall, which she did regularly. In addition to Inez and himself, the lithograph Around the Table includes Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Adolf and Mura Dehn, and Katherine Schmidt - all young artist, musician or dancer arrivals in Woodstock in the late teens or early 1920s, who also associated with one another in Paris, where this lithograph was created in 1928. Carroll had spent time in Paris with Inez in 1924, and three years later a Guggenheim Fellowship enabled him to spend a year in Europe, when for a period he established a studio in the French capitol. In the late 1920s Carroll also executed a series of lithographic portraits of creative people that he knew, among them Schmidt, and poet ee cummings. At this time he began showing in New York at the Frank Rehn Gallery, along with several other Woodstock artists, including Eugene Speicher, Henry Mattson, and Bradley Walker Tomlin.

Unknown Photographer,

George Bellows, John Carroll and

Eugene Speicher, 1920

Woodstock Artists Association Archives

Unknown Photographer

Construction of Bellows’ Woodstock Home, 1922

Amherst College Archives

and Special Collections

Detail of Wetterau Map of Artist Houses of Woodstock with John Carroll House, 1926

Former John Carroll House

213 Upper Byrdcliffe Road


A skilled carpenter, Carroll quickly found work in Woodstock making frames and doing odd jobs for other artists. He made frames for Speicher and assisted George Bellows in the building of his house. He also built his own house, a wooden structure in the style of an early American farmhouse, the first house on the left traveling up Upper Byrdcliffe Road to Byrdcliffe off of the Glasco Turnpike (see detail of Wetterau map). Carroll also liked to take a turn as a popular entertainer, playing a midget accordion, and a short necked banjo.

John Carroll (1892-1959)

Lady in Blue, c. 1924

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

John Carroll (1892-1959)

Parthenope, before 1925

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

George Bellows (1882-1925)

The Picnic (Cooper Lake), 1923

Baltimore Museum of Art, Permanent

Loan from the Peabody Art Collection


George Bellows and Robert Henri took special interest in Carroll. They reached out to the Los Angeles art collector William Preston Harrison on his behalf. Lady in Blue of about 1924 is a portrait by Carroll of Harrison’s mother Sophonisba, which is based on an old photograph. It is now part of the Harrison collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Parthenhope is also in the museum’s collection, and ranks as one of Carroll’s most complex figural composition’s. It was constructed using the design principles of the “whirling square rectangle” as propounded by Jay Hambridge, a system also utilized by Bellows. Interestingly, the background landscape resembles the distant chain of Catskill Mountains in the backdrop of Bellows’ painting The Picnic.

John Carroll (1892-1959)

Wild Orchids, 1929

Woodstock Artists Association and Museum


In the early 1920s, Woodstocker Andrew Dasburg encouraged Carroll to paint Cubist still lifes. Wild Orchards may provide a clue to the physical appearance of these unlocated pictures. The painting may possibly have been inspired by the 1929 film of the same title, which was set in Java and includes a film score featuring Javanese music. The film starred Greta Garbo as a married woman whose older husband’s neglect eventually leads to her giving in to the advances of the young and handsome Prince de Grace, played by Nils Asther.

John Carroll (1892-1959)

White Lace, 1935


In the 1930s, Carroll became well-known for his paintings of languid, wraith-like young women with long necks and claw-like hands, originally inspired by his study of the figurative works of El Greco. One critic remarked that his delicate women, often dressed in diaphanous fabric, looked like they were made of “whipcream and moonlight.” The critic Lewis Mumford suggested that Carroll’s women “go on a diet of orange juice and calf’s liver. They look so forlorn.” In 1948, the artist Eugene Higgins remarked that “Maybe the people Carroll] paints are not of this world. But of whatever world they inhabit – they grip you, and arrest your attention while strolling through long uninteresting exhibitions.”

John Carroll (1892-1959)

Lilith I, by 1926

John Carroll (1892-1959)

Lilith II, 1926

Woodstock Artists Association and Museum


Lilith I and Lilith II are among Carroll’s most disturbing paintings of women. Lilith 1 was cut out of its frame at the 1926 Sesqui-Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia. Reportedly, the man was literally driven to possess the woman pictured in the canvas. Carroll created the second version as a replacement for the stolen canvas. Lilith is now even more sinister and sexually alluring. Her eyes are white, her hair is transparent, and her nude figure is visible under the see-through coverlet covering most of the lower half of her body. The subject of the femme fatale as the archetype of dangerous womanhood was a popular subject at the turn of the 19th century, when it was explored by many artists including Edvard Munch, Gustav Klimt, Franz von Stuck and Gustave Moreau. According to ancient Judaic myth, Lilith is a powerful, threatening, sexual woman who resists domination by men. She is often pictured as an evil temptress with long, flowing hair.

John Carroll (1892-1959)

Gloria Vanderbilt, c. 1949

John Carroll (1892-1959)

Gloria Vanderbilt, after 1949


Carroll was also very active as a portrait painter. In around 1949 he painted two portraits of Gloria Vanderbilt, both of which turn up in later photographs of the famous fashion designer, heiress and socialite. During the 1940s, Carroll’s rendering of the figure became crisper, and he began to apply lipstick and powder to the faces of his models.



John Carroll (1892-1959)

Morning, Afternoon, Evening, late 1940s

Detroit Institute of Arts


In 1930, Carroll was appointed as the head of the painting department at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts. He moved to Detroit following the summer, and in future years he only returned to Woodstock for visits. In Detroit he achieved success for his portraits of society women, and was awarded the (Scarab Club) Gold Medal from the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1936.


In 1934, Carroll acquired property in East Chatham, New York, across the Hudson River from Woodstock, in Columbia County, which included a 300 acre farm and a 150 year old farmhouse, located a mile from the Pittsfield Albany highway. Until 1943, Carroll appears to have resided most of the year in Detroit, while spending summers in East Chatham.


From 1944 to 1955, Carroll taught at the Art Students League of New York, and lived the year round at his home upstate. In the later 1940s he was commissioned to paint a series of three lunettes for one of the vaulted rooms in the American Wing at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The lunettes represent Morning, Afternoon and Evening. Carroll explained that he “wanted to fill the spaces beautifully. I felt that people who live their lives among machinery like to escape from machinery, so I strove for a poetic idea and tried to bring to this room a feeling of celestial shapes.”

Peter A. Juley & Son

Left to Right: Hervey White, Lucille Blanch, Farrell Pelly, John Carroll, Inez Carroll, Mura Dehn, Arnold Blanch, Ernest Brace, Reeves Brace, Adolf Dehn

(on floor), by summer of 1930

Smithsonian Museum of American Art

John Carroll (1892-1959)

Georgia Resting, 1936


As noted, in 1934 Carroll acquired property in East Chatham in Columbia County. While living there he became an active member of the Old Chatham Hunt Club. His second wife, Georgia Finkel, whom he had first known as an art student in Woodstock and married in 1936, became one of his favorite models. Known as Pinky, she was barely five feet tall and weighed around 90 pounds. A hard drinker, Carroll died of a liver ailment in Old Chatham in 1959.

--–---------------------------------------------------------------


Following the publication of this piece on Friday December 2nd, I was contacted by Touran Latham, who has been researching Carroll's life and career for many years, and is working on a biography. Initially, Ms. Latham helped clarify a few details about Carroll''s life, including the end of his time living in Woodstock, and the dates of his activity in Detroit. Over the course of the weekend she also provided a copy of her valuable article on Carroll, "John Carroll," CSRA Forum: The Newsletter of the Cataloue Raisonné Scholars Association, No. 13 [Winter 2004]: 1-3. The article provided additional details which I have drawn from.


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