Hudson Mindell Kitchell

Title:  “Mountain Trail”

Artist:  Hudson Mindell Kitchell (American, 1862-1944)

Medium: Oil on canvas.

Size: 16” high x 20” wide.

Date: Late 19th-early 20th century

Signature: Signed lower right, H M Kitchell

About:  An oil painting of men on horseback on a mountain trail in the Grant Tetons, Wyoming.    Condition: Cleaned, minor in-painting, and relined.

Item  B147





B147 Hudson Kitchell Western web 1b

Hudson Mindell Kitchell Biography

Hudson Mindell Kitchell was born in Madison, New Jersey in November 1862.  Little is known about the artist’s childhood and formal art education.  Historical records indicate that Kitchell married Lydia Pierce of Rhode Island in September 1880, when he was just seventeen.  The young couple had a son, Percy, four years later. In the early part of his career, Kitchell worked as a contract painter in a Newark art factory.  He was listed in local directories as a “painter and decorator” throughout the 1880s.

Kitchell is known primarily for his ethereal landscapes and forest scenes.  His distinctive work is often compared to that of the Tonalist master, Ralph A. Blakelock.  In fact, the lives of the two artists are inextricably entwined.  Blakelock and Kitchell first became acquainted at the art factory, Meekers, where they worked closely together for some years:

“To help with expenses, he (Blakelock) took a menial job painting plaques, trinkets, and mass-produced landscapes in an art factory, E. C. Meekers Art Novelty Shop, in Newark…. Of course, the other artists knew whom he was.  H. M. Kitchell …was part of the (Meekers) team, and became a friend and imitator.  Kitchell, a strongly built man and a heavy drinker, was called ‘the mick’ and was said to keep a quart of whiskey on his easel.  He ‘could uncork it and take a drink with his left hand while still rubbing color with his right.’” [Source: The Unknown Night: The Madness and Genius of R. A. Blakelock by Glyn Vincent]

In the late 1880s, Kitchell left Meekers to set up a paper business with several investors. In 1890, the artist established the Kitchell Embossing Company in Bayonne, N.J., which he sold six years later.

From 1889 to 1904, the Kitchell family resided in Brooklyn, New York.  They subsequently relocated to nearby Long Island where the artist set up a new studio at 305 Fairtown Park in Hempstead.  At that time, Kitchell became embroiled in an art scandal widely publicized by the press.  It was alleged that the artist was part of a forgery ring that produced copies of Blakelocks.  However, these charges were never substantiated.  Recent biographies on Blakelock address the counterfeiting allegations that pursued Kitchell throughout his latter years:

“So abundant were the forgeries that the authorities began an investigation.  John T. Dooling, an assistant district attorney of New York City, was quoted in an newspaper report as saying that ‘there is a factory somewhere in Brooklyn where clever artists are turning out scores of Blakelocks….’  After his meeting with Blakelock, Dooling investigated a former student and associate of the artist, H. M. Kitchell, a painter and  a decorator, who had known Blakelock thirty-five years earlier, when they had worked for the same furniture maker. They had collaborated on decorating panels, screens and furniture with Blakelock doing the landscapes and Kitchell, the still lives. After the furniture maker went out of business, Kitchell became a paper salesman and later a painter.  Through much of his forty-year career, Kitchell painted typical Blakelock subjects such as moonlit forest scenes with thickly painted trees, forest interiors, and Indian encampments which he rendered more prosaically… Although Kitchell admitted having touched up one painting Blakelock identified as spurious, Dooling did not press charges.” [Source: Ralph Albert Blakelock by A. A. Davidson]

“Mrs. (Beatrice Van Rensselaer) Adams, however, pressed on with her own investigation. She was convinced that the Young Gallery in Chicago was responsible for selling a number of fake paintings made in the New York area.  About a month after Dooling gave up, Adams, accompanied by a detective, went to Lynbrook, Long Island, and paid a surprise visit to the studio of H. M. Kitchell, whom she suspected of supplying Young with fakes…. The art periodicals rallied to Young and Kitchell’s defense, portraying her (Mrs. Adams) as a philistine who had long exploited Blakelock for sensationalistic purposes.  But Adams, this time, was not far off the mark.  Kitchell, it turned out, was none other than the ‘mick’, the painter who had once worked alongside Blakelock in the art factory in Newark in the early 1880s.  Kitchell did indeed paint like Blakelock and admitted to supplying Young with dozens of paintings.  Kitchell, though, said he signed his own name to his work.” [Source: The Unknown Night: The Madness and Genius of R.A. Blakelock by Glyn Vincent]

“Kitchell continued to cast his shadow. On March 24, 1923, Robert Vose wrote that he heard that Cora (Blakelock) had authenticated Blakelocks that ‘in the opinion of my informants were very bad.’  He was concerned that N.Y. and Chicago were being flooded with ‘pictures of the Kitchell brand,’ and because of this many dealers were afraid to handle Blakelocks.”  Letter from R. Vose to Allen Blakelock, 1924.  [Source: Ralph Albert Blakelock by A. A. Davidson]

The mystery of who painted the fake Blakelocks may never be solved.  Did Kitchell, who worked alongside Blakelock at Meekers, forge the work of his friend and colleague since Blakelock paintings were fetching record-breaking prices?  Did unscrupulous dealers “reassign” Kitchell’s work to Blakelock? Or were the counterfeit Blakelocks created by third parties unknown to either Blakelock or Kitchell?

Regardless of the answer to these questions, it is clear that the quality of Kitchell’s original body of work has withstood the test of time. The artist received a modest level of critical recognition and success in the 1910s and 1920s.  During this time frame, he actively exhibited his Tonalist paintings, which commanded respectable prices in the art market.  Unfortunately, it appears that the artist entered a period of obscurity after the twenties.  Like many painters, Kitchell may not have been able to comfortably support his family during the Great Depression that began in late 1929.  Allen P. Crawford, a dealer and expert on Kitchell, reported that the artist “died a pauper” in Providence, Rhode Island in 1944.  H. M. Kitchell was interred at the North Burial Ground in Providence, alongside his wife who passed away twelve years earlier.

Nearly four decades after Kitchell’s death, there was a resurgence of interest in his paintings.  Retrospectives of the artist’s work included an exhibition at the Barnwell County Museum (1980) and an exhibition by the Anderson County Arts Council, S.C. (1981).  Today, Kitchell’s haunting landscapes and seascapes are sought after by collectors of American Tonalism.

H. M. Kitchell is listed in numerous art reference books including, but not limited to: Beyond Madness – The Art of Ralph Blakelock: 1847-1919 (2007) by Norman Geske; The Artists’ Bluebook (2005) by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier; Davenport’s Art Reference (2005) by Ray Davenport; The Unknown Night: The Madness and Genius of R. A. Blakelock (2003) by Glyn Vincent; Who Was Who in American Art, 1564-1975 (1999) by Peter Hastings Falk; Ralph Albert Blakelock (1996) by Abraham Davidson & R.A. Blakelock; A Checklist of Painters c. 1200-1994 Represented in the Witt Library (1995) by the Witt Library & Courtauld Institute of Art, London; The American Painting Collection of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery (1988) by Norman Geske & Karen Janovy; The Society of Independent Artists: Exhibition Records 1917-1944 (1984) by Clark Marlor; and the Directory to the Bicentennial Inventory of Paintings (1976) by the National Collection of Fine Arts.

The work of H.M. Kitchell is in the following museum collections: Philbrook Art Museum, Tulsa, OK; Michigan University Museum of Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum; and Hibbing Library Collection – Hibbing, MN.

Referenced sources for this biography include: (a) Beyond Madness – The Art of Ralph Blakelock: 1847-1919 (2007) by Norman Geske; (b) The Unknown Night: The Madness and Genius of R. A. Blakelock (2003) by Glyn Vincent; (c) Ralph Albert Blakelock (1996) by Abraham Davidson & R.A. Blakelock; (d) Antiques Magazine, Volume 119 (1981); (e) Records of Allen P. Crawford, Anderson County Arts Council, South Carolina, 1981.

Crawford passed away in 2010.  He reported that Kitchell was born in Madison, NJ in 1862 and died in Rhode Island in 1944; (f) Art & Artist Files in the Smithsonian Libraries’ Collections (online); (g) Census & genealogical records; (h) New York Times archives; (i) Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries (online); and the (j) American Art Directory, Volume 14 (1918) by the American Federation of Arts.