WELCOME to the Russell Cheney website. This accomplished and well-traveled artist enjoyed visibility especially during the 1920s through his death at age 64 in 1945. He was represented by top New York galleries (Babcock, Ferargil and Montross), exhibited widely in cities across the United States and was favorably reviewed for his work, which spanned landscapes, still lifes, portraits, and domestic scenes featuring details of building interiors. After Cheney died, his longtime partner F.O. Matthiessen, helped organize retrospective exhibits in Maine in 1945 and major shows in Hartford, New York and Boston in 1947. He compiled a catalog, Russell Cheney, 18811945, A Record of His Work for these shows. While the book was well reviewed, Cheney's work was scattered across the country and largely forgotten as the contemporary art market changed. Only in his adopted home along the Piscataqua did his work remain a popular reminder of the artist.
In 1978, Louis Hyde, Matthiessen’s Skull and Bones friend at Yale, published Rat and the Devil, excerpting the journal letters of “Matty” and Russell between 1924 and Cheney’s death. (This correspondence and letters to and from the poet Phelps Putnam, Cheney’s niece Helen Knapp and her Yale Bonesman husband Farwell Knapp now reside in the collection of Yale’s Beinecke Library.) But the book did not touch off a renewed interest in Cheney’s art. His works were not shown in a major exhibit until 1996 at the Portsmouth Athenaeum, and finding a work at auction or for sale by a dealer was rare.
While he actively sold his work, he also gave many pictures away, and there are dozens owned by various members of the Cheney family. It is through this exposure to his work that I began to study his life and painting in earnest. 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 than had been handed down through family stories. The Internet has been invaluable. But, I am an amateur sleuth. And so it was providential that I met Richard Candee, whose professional credentials as an historian and scholar have propelled the catalog raisonné project to a whole new level.
Richard had simultaneously begun his own research, and we immediately decided to join forces. I am deeply indebted to Richard Candee for his tireless and painstaking work, and we are excited about inspiring a renaissance of interest in my great uncle. The story of Russell Cheney’s life is chronicled in Patricia Heard’s excellent essay, which first appeared in the catalog of the Athenaeum 1996 exhibition she curated, and recently updated by Richard Candee. We have provided a sampling of his work on this site, as well.
We hope you will contact us with additional information, questions, and observations. We would like to stay in touch with you.
Carol Lispenard Cheney