Attleboro, Massachusetts was the connecting link between these two artists and their wives. Both couples stayed connected to Attleboro over the years, visiting their parents who continued to live there.
Caleb Arnold Slade had been educated in the public schools of New Bedford, but his parents relocated to Attleboro around 1900 when Slade entered Brown University. He didn’t discover his future profession, however, until after his graduation from Brown when he happened upon the Hudson River art colony and began sketching. He met Irene Wells, an Attleboro resident, and married her in 1906. It was she who urged him to study the academic style of painting. Within four years of his first art class both the town of Attleboro and the town library purchased Slade’s paintings. The library featured him in a one-man show and purchased a mural from him in 1913.
Allen grew up in Attleboro and went through their public school system, graduating in 1907. He met Agnes just after she moved to town and later married his young bride the day after her graduation as valedictorian in 1913. Allen’s first bronze cast was a bas-relief, which he gave to the High School as a gift at his graduation. He was commissioned to do a lettered plaque for a town cemetery and a war memorial in bas-relief, still at the entrance to Attleboro’s Capron Park today. https://fwallen.com/attleboro-war-memorial-capron-park
Paris was also a link between the two men. Arnold began his formal education in the arts in 1907 in New York and went on to Paris to L’École des Beaux-Arts where he studied anatomy according to the academic tradition. The Slades rented a small apartment on the Left Bank and by 1909 Arnold was enrolled at Académie Julian, a school that accepted women into its classes. His wife was often a model for the students there.* After Frederick’s formal education in Rhode Island and Boston, the Allens traveled to Paris in June of 1913 and rented a small studio apartment, also on the Left Bank. He studied at the Académie Julian where C. Arnold Slade was enrolled as a student and there in Paris modeled the bas-relief of his friend. Arnold spent his summers in Normandy painting the peasants on the coast in the village of Etaples, so they only had two or three weeks together to complete the portrait before the trip. He did so in July and had it cast in bronze for 30 francs. * One of the Etaples paintings was bought by Isabella Stewart Gardner for her palace next to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts where Allen was teaching.(biographical information from “True Visions: The Paintings of C. Arnold Slade [1882-1961]” by Julie Carlson Eldred)
A third link was Maine, a destination of many artists traveling to paint its beautiful rugged coastline and ocean scenes. Later in life, Slade spent time painting in Ogunquit while Allen sculpted from the stones he found along the coast of North Haven Island in Penobscot Bay.
The original plaster cast was last sold by a dealer in 1989 who didn’t keep records. The portrait is still missing. The whereabouts of the bronze is also unknown, but it was exhibited at the opening show of the Guild of Boston Artists in November of 1914. Allen was a founding member of the GBA.
In this original photograph taken in 1913 of Allen and his wife in their Paris studio, you can see the clay sculpture of Slade on the easel in the foreground and what is probably a copy or an initial sketch on the wall just behind his head.
At the founding exhibit of the Guild of Boston Artists in 1914 (right), the Slade portrait was exhibited on the wall above the fireplace mantle to the left of the large painting.
Bas-relief (low relief) sculpture is difficult to do well. It involves carving an image in stone or clay, or raising one up from a flat surface with clay, using sometimes only one-eighth inch of depth in the modeling or carving. It is a challenge to show contrast, color, dimensionality, texture and detail in that shallow a depth while presenting a truthful likeness with personality. Sometimes called painting in clay, a bas-relief is almost a two-dimensional piece of art. Brushstroke effects can be created that are more difficult to achieve when carving in stone. Allen had good mentors to follow inheriting the legacy of Bela Pratt and Augustus St. Gaudens, both accomplished in their creation of coins as well as portraits and larger figures in relief.
St. Gaudens was a bas-relief innovator who passed his techniques on to Pratt and Pratt to Allen. Notice Allen’s use of St. Gaudens’ “trademark compositional devices: vertical formats, profile portraits, decorative inscriptions, and individualizing attributes.” * Notice in this portrait the brush and palette, symbols of the painter and the painterly background texture. Consider the contrasts that shape the face as if it were applied color, and the highlights and shadows that show details in an impressionistic way. *(Thayer Tolles from his essay on “American Relief Sculpture” from the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History)
The portrait relief of Slade is the sixth of over forty in our records accomplished by F.W. Allen in his lifetime. Slade himself was well known for his portraits, paying his parents back for his education with these commissions. Later in his life, in the 1930s, he supported himself by painting portraits of influential political and military figures and their families in Washington, D.C..
Slade had created Sladeville in Truro. He started with an abandoned church, moved to a hillside with sunset views, and made it into a studio and gallery surrounded by rental cottages for artists. Although there was much opportunity for socializing in his life, Slade was a quiet man and preferred the meditative atmosphere of his studio and the companionship of his friends. In Paris he was not a painter of the café life, but kept more to images of the French gardens and coastal subjects, religious figures and Biblical stories, compelling images of the war in France and colorful scenes from his travels. Both men died in 1961, Allen in his retirement home in Rumney, New Hampshire and Slade in his place of repose and creativity on Cape Cod.