Dangerous Liaisons: James Drummond Herbert’s Fascination with the Figure (1896 - 1970)
James Drummond Herbert (1896 - 1970) was among the many highly trained artists recruited to Rhode Island to instruct at the Rhode Island School of Design. In 1947 he left New York City and his art position at Pratt Institute to join the RISD faculty and teach figure drawing and advertising. This Bert Gallery exhibit, curated by Elizabeth Sawtelle, explores Herbert’s fascination with the human figure in varied states. Through his series of sketches and watercolors, as well as oil paintings, he highlights the elegance of the model’s body, whether posed nude or dressed in costume for a theatrical performance. Herbert’s artistic sensibilities reflect the influence of French culture and artists with whom he worked while in Paris, as seen in his romantic depictions of ballet dancers. The exhibit displays an evolution of style from the early studies of mythological characters to his sleek and modern fashion illustrations from the 1950s.
James Herbert grew up in New York City where he attended the Art Student’s League from 1920-1929, taking several years off to study in Paris. Among his Art League instructors were Robert Henri and Kenneth Hayes Miller. Classmates, such as Reginald Marsh, joined Herbert in exploring the figure within new imaginative contexts unlike previous art generations. There was an emphasis on the simplicity of line to capture movement and form. However, it was Herbert’s Paris study that would influence his work profoundly. The layers of colorful washes emphasize the fanciful and exotic costumes often seen in his painted dancers and models paying tribute to French European masters such as Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732 - 1806).
Herbert enjoyed a successful career and exhibited in many important art venues, including the Salon d’Auton in Paris, Kraushaar Gallery, Chicago Art Institute, National Academy of Design, Society of Illustrators, Newport Art Museum, and the Providence Art Club.