Collectors Hot on the Trail of Fox Prints
Back in the early decades of the century, most middle class Americans adorned their walls with prints by R. (for Robert) Atkinson Fox. Later generations considered them dated, and many frequently turned up in the windows of thrift shops. Now, the pendulum has swung again; Fox prints are avidly collected and prices are rising [circa publication in 1985], a sure sign of a hot collectable.
My collection of R. Atkinson Fox prints really started by accident. I bought my first picture, Nature's Charm, because of the beautiful blues and greens in the landscape, which went so well with the color scheme of my living room. The lovely ornate fram was an added selling point. A short time later, I found another picture with the same lovely blues and greens. When I discovered that the print Glorious Vista was also by R. A. Fox, I was hooked as a collector.
Fox was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1860, but immigrated to the United States somewhere between 1885 and 1890. A prolific painter, he worked as an artist both in Toronto and in the United States and appears to have enjoyed great commercial success during his lifetime. He worked for various publishers, including Brown and Bigelow of St. Paul, Minnesota, Edward Gross & Co. of New York, Master Art Publishers, Chicago, The Red Wing Advertising Company, and the Thomas D. Murphy Co. of Red Oak, Iowa among others.
His subjects ranged from landscapes, probably the most collectable today, to houses, gardens, portraits, Indians, ships, animals (horses, dogs, sheep, bears and foxes) and historic figures such as Washington, Lafayette, Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt. So far 400 Fox prints have been documented, with undoubtedly more to come.
Fox prints appeared on calendars and advertisements for railroads; some were done by framing companies. They showed up on postcards, puzzles, and even in the 1913 edition of the Farmers Homestead Almanac.
Fox was a talented and facile painter. He frequently painted from memory, aided by sketches, sometimes finishing a painting in a day's time. According to the research done on his work, many of his original paintings were oil on canvas.
Although many of his prints bear the signature R. Atkinson Fox, you will find many unsigned and untitled ones, due to the croppings of the print when framing it. Fox used pseudonyms as well. Perhaps he was unhappy with the way a painting turned out; sometimes the publisher insisted he use another name.
Fox married Anna Gaffney in 1903. They lived in New Jersey until about 1924, when he moved his family to Chicago and continued his work until his death in 1935 at the 74. Five of his eight children still survive and many of his paintings are still in their hands, as well as with private individuals.
I have heard many people say that Fox copied Maxfield Parrish. Although they were artists and illustrators during the same era, they had different styles and techniques. Fox was also the more prolific painter, with more than 400 pieces already documented.
Rita C. Mortenson has recently written a book about Fox (R. Atkinson Fox, His Life and Work) which documents much of his work. If you are a collector the book is a must for a reference guide. Mrs. Mortenson took on a tremendous task and has given us a better understanding about Fox as a man and as an artist, although her work is still unfinished as there are more Foxes out there to be documented. -Donna Hinton
A wide array of Atkinson Fox prints on display
in Star Center Mall: November 2004
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