Welcome to the Russell Cheney website. This accomplished and well-traveled artist enjoyed high visibility especially during the 1920s through his death at age 64 in 1945. He was represented by top New York galleries (Babcock, Montross and Ferargil), exhibited extensively in cities across the country and received critical acclaim for his work, which spanned landscapes, still lifes, portraits, and domestic scenes featuring details of building interiors.
Cheney fell into relative obscurity after the 1947 retrospective exhibit organized by his longtime partner, F.O. Matthiessen, the famous Harvard scholar and professor. In 1978, Louis Hyde, Matthiessen’s Yale and Skull and Bones friend, published Rat and the Devil, excerpting the journal letters of “Matty” and Russell between 1924 and Cheney’s death. (This correspondence and other letters to and from the poet Phelps Putnam, Cheney’s niece Helen Knapp and her Yale Bonesman husband Farwell Knapp and others now reside in the collection of Yale’s Beinecke Library.) While the book drew interest in Cheney and Matthiessen’s life together, it did not touch off a renewed interest in Cheney’s art. His works were not shown in a major exhibit again until 1996 at the Portsmouth Athenaeum.
He actively sold his work, but he also gave many pictures away, and there are dozens owned by various members of the large and widely scattered Cheney family. My role as president of the Cheney Cemetery Association, with access to extensive genealogical information, made it possible to begin to piece together a more comprehensive picture of my great uncle’s life. The Internet and email have been invaluable.
But, I am an amateur sleuth. And so it was providential that I should meet Richard Candee, whose professional credentials and experience as an historian and scholar propelled the catalog raisonné project to a whole new level. Coincidentally Richard had simultaneously begun his own research, and it only made sense to join forces. He has painstakingly built a database of some 1,150 painting records, along with a deep and fascinating collection of personal and professional information from original source material in diaries, letters, albums, exhibit records, newspaper reviews, and anecdotes as well as from personal and museum collections.
This website serves as an introduction to Russell Cheney’s life and work. Our hope is that it becomes a forum for discussion and a “lost-and-found” for paintings you own or know about. Please contact us with additional painting records, information, questions, and observations. We would like to be in touch with you.
—Carol Lispenard Cheney