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(Patrick) Eugene Higgins

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(Patrick) Eugene Higgins

(Kansas City, Missouri, 1874 - 1958, New York, New York)

Eugene Higgins grew up in Saint Louis, Missouri, where his father, a stonecutter, took him after his mother's early death. In 1890, at age sixteen, Higgins briefly attended night classes in life drawing at the Saint Louis School of Fine Arts. By 1892 he was working in an architect's office. In 1897 he went to Paris, where he studied at the Académie Julian under Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens. He secured admission to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1899 and studied another two years under Jean-Léon Gérôme. It was while living and working in the French capital that Higgins developed his skill and technique in etching, which early in his career would be his best means of earning a living and attracting recognition. In 1904 Higgins returned to America, going first to Saint Louis for about a year and then settling in New York. From 1922, about the time he married Anita Rio, and for the rest of his life he maintained his studio on West Twenty-second Street. The Higginses lifelong pattern of summering in Old Lyme, Connecticut, also began in 1922. Higgins's investigations of the bleak, desperate lives of the poor and oppressed consistently elicited critical comparison to the work of Jean-François Millet. Like those of Millet, Higgins's figures were sculptural, massive, generalized, and anonymous. Mary Fanton Roberts recounted that she had [block quote:] asked Mr. Higgins why his work carried such a vigorous suggestion of sculpture, as though the full human figure were on the canvas, a quality so richly possessed by Jean François Millet in his paintings of the peasants of Barbizon. "I think," he said . . . "that it must be because my father was a stonecutter, and because for years, as a little chap, I worked for him in the stonecutter's yard, and also, perhaps, because my father was a hero worshipper-and the idol of his entire life was Michelangelo. As I remember those days it seems to me I knew Michelangelo as well as I knew my father-we three were pals together. My father showed me pictures of his sculpture to study and we often talked about him as we worked. He never mentioned any other artists that I can recall. I was quite grown up when I first saw a book about Millet. And I was astonished to find any artist in the world as important as my old Italian friend. These men, Millet and Michelangelo, have influenced me more than all the years spent in the Paris ateliers; through them I learned poise and solidity and strength and sureness. And from Millet I learned also the beauty of simple elemental conditions truthfully portrayed." [end of block quote] Given the character of Higgins's work, he probably found the opportunities to create murals particularly congenial during the Depression era. He executed The Armistice Letter (1938), The First Settlers (1939), and Early Settlers Entering Mount Pleasant (1942) for the post offices of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania; Shawano, Wisconsin; and Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, respectively. Higgins participated diligently in the National Academy's exhibitions. His work was first included in the annual and winter exhibitions of 1916. Then, after a gap of four years, he was represented in every Academy winter and annual exhibition from 1920 through 1950. He was awarded the Benjamin Altman Prize in the winter exhibition of 1931 and the annuals of 1942 and 1953. His other awards were the Andrew Carnegie Prize in 1937, the Thomas B. Clarke Prize in 1945, and the Anonymous Prize in 1949. RP (from

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