Louis Eilshemius was born outside Newark, New Jersey, in 1864 to a wealthy family. His early years were spent in Switzerland and Germany, before entering Cornell University to study agriculture. He began his artistic training at the Art Students League in 1884, and entered into private lessons with Robert C. Minor. He also took up studies with William Bouguereau at the Académie Julian, Paris, in 1886. His early work developed in the Barbizon style, and his agrarian scenes echoed the work of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. These paintings were well-received, and three works were accepted by the National Academy of Design in his early twenties.
Eilshemius traveled extensively from 1892 to 1895, venturing to the Samoa Islands and Morocco, as well as stops in Europe and the American West. After his return to New York City he turned towards producing expressionist paintings of female nudes, with an interest in dreams and fantasy. He also made efforts in poetry, music, and theater.
Eilshemius became a member of the Modern Artists of America, and in 1917 his works were received by the Salon des Artistes Indépendants in Paris. His paintings were praised by Marcel Duchamp and Katherine Dreier, leading to two solo shows at the Société Anonyme in 1920 and 1924. Famed critic and collector Duncan Phillips acquired a number of his works. His paintings also entered the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Luxembourg in Paris. His profile grew further in 1939, when his work was featured in three shows in New York, and a biography by William Schack, And He Sat Among the Ashes, was published.
Beyond the attention received for his artistic talent, Eilshemius was a famed eccentric who frequently wrote to newspapers of his career frustrations. After a 1932 car accident he became increasingly isolated, and died in 1941 at Bellevue Hospital. Though Eilshemius had not painted since 1921, his works endured and were celebrated for their introspection and imagination. Working outside the stylistic trends of the era, Eilshemius committed to expressing a unique vision.
Written by Zenobia Grant Wingate