On January 28, 1937, the New York Times printed a lengthy and celebratory obituary for painter, illustrator and graphic designer, Louis Frederick Berneker. Born in 1876 in Clinton, Missouri, Berneker was an art student at the St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Art after finishing high school in Clinton. Soon after graduation at this academy, Berneker traveled from St. Louis to Paris, France, where he enrolled in the Academy Julian where he studied with Academician Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921), an important sculptor and painter who was known for his re-invigoration of history and historical genre painting with religious and moral overtones during the Third Republic in France.
After his return to the United States, Berneker opened studios in New York City and Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he became an important member of the North Shore Art Association, painting throughout the Cape Ann area of the Massachusetts coast. Berneker exhibited widely with critically successful exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the National Academy of Design, New York City and the Art Institute of Chicago.
His style was a colorful and elegant synthesis of his academic training with Lauren in Paris, the new sinuous style of Art Nouveau, Impressionism as it reached the United States, and the new Social Realism being championed by Robert Henri and his followers at the Art Students League in New York City. Berneker’s work is included in a number of important museum collections, his most significant public commission is his total mural and painting decoration of the interior of the Church of St. Gregory the Great in New York City.
Louis Berneker was also a successful illustrator for a number of magazines including Pearson’s Magazine , founded in England a decade earlier and first printed in the United States in 1899. This avant-garde humanist publication contained new skeptical literature, art criticism and political discussions with a slightly socialist leaning. At Pearson’s Berneker met and befriended H. G. Wells who first serialized his War of the Worlds in Pearson’s Magazine. In 1906 and 1907, Berneker designed the covers for both January issues.
In 1931, six years before his death at his vacation home in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Louis Frederick Berneker was elected as an Associate of the prestigious National Academy of Design located in New York City since its founding in 1825. He is included in a long list of standard reference works on American painting including The Artists Bluebook, the Salmagundi Club Painting Exhibition Record, Davenport’s Art Reference, Art Across America and the exhibition records of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Chicago Art Institute, the National Academy of Design.
Submitted by Gary R. Libby, author, curator and art historian