When Edward John Stevens, Jr. was featured on the cover of Life magazine in 1950 he was only 27 years old. He was chosen for the cover as an outstanding representative of the up-and-coming painters whose works were shown in an article titled “Nineteen Young American Artists.” At that time Stevens had already had one-man museum exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art (1948) and the Honolulu Academy of Art (1947) as well as six one-man shows at the Weyhe Gallery in Manhattan. He went on to have 24 one-man gallery exhibitions and his works were acquired by many museums including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Stevens lived and worked in New Jersey throughout his life, studied art at the State Teachers College in Newark and received a Master's degree from Columbia University.
From the time of his first exhibition, Stevens enjoyed the enthusiastic patronage of a wide variety of art collectors. Among the distinguished art patrons who acquired his work were Roy Neuberger, whose collection forms the Neuberger Museum in Purchase, New York, and Joseph Hirshhorn, who bought at least nine works and whose collection is housed in the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC. Fleur Cowles, revered tastemaker and editor of Flair, was a fan of Stevens' work, which she published in the magazine in December 1950. In November 1950 she wrote to Stevens, praising his paintings:
I have long admired your work, and pounced on the opportunity to publish it in FLAIR . . . About two years ago I practically tore your picture off the wall of the Art Institute of Chicago . . . It has a dominant place in my rather large collection of paintings at home and it never fails to cause widespread comment, and all good.
Stevens’ strange and delightful works depicted imaginary scenes of archaic cultures adorned with primitive symbols, fantastic interpretations of flowers and animals, and glistening, jewel-like landscapes and town-scapes. Stevens was a master of gouache (opaque watercolor) with which he rendered his vibrantly colored and meticulously detailed visions. Describing Stevens' gouache paintings, fellow artist and art critic Michael Lenson wrote, in 1955, of the “golden threaded tapestry of his painting technique."
Many critics observed that Stevens was able to adroitly meld a number of aspects of contemporary and ancient art. Jo Gibbs, writing in the Art Digest in 1947 wrote that "this young artist has absorbed more influences than one would think was possible--African primitive, Mayan, Byzantine, Cubism, Braque, Klee and Chagall, to name a few--and yet has come through with something that is strictly Stevens rather than eclectic."
Stevens work evolved and developed subtly over the more than three decades that he painted, however he maintained his own jewel-like fantasy style. The decorative archaism of his work of the 1940's evolved in the 1950's towards a greater range of color and more delicate details as well as subjects inspired by places he had actually visited on his many travels throughout the world.
Although appealing to many, Stevens' art gently drifted away from public notice by the late 1960's. Nevertheless, Stevens continued to paint, to travel widely and he found further personal fulfillment in marrying late in life.
With the rapidly increasing interest in mid-20th century design there is a growing interest in the art that hung on the walls of mid-century homes decorated in modern style. There are significant aesthetic and theoretical correspondences between Stevens' art and the work of designers such as Edward Wormley and Dorothy Liebes. Their syncretic, multi-cultural modernism is part of the "big picture" of mid-20th century art and design. Stevens' art is unique, in its exquisite aesthetic, but is also part of that bigger mid-century cultural picture. As rediscoveries are made and the art of the 20th century is re-evaluated, inevitably a new generation of admirers will come to appreciate the art of Edward John Stevens, Jr. For more information please visit www.edwardjohnstevens.com