Louis Eilshemius was an eccentric painter who captured the interest of the avant-garde in the early twentieth century. Born in North Arlington, N.J., to wealthy German and French immigrants, Eilshemius briefly attended Cornell University but left to study art, first in New York at the Art Students League and privately, then in Paris at the Académie Julian. Returning to New York by 1887, Eilshemius moved into a brownstone on East 57th Street, where he lived for the rest of his life while maintaining studios at various locations in New York.
After being accepted into two juried shows at the National Academy of Design in the late 1880s, Eilshemius grew increasingly frustrated in his attempts to gain the recognition he thought he deserved. Efforts as a playwright, poet, writer of fiction, and lyricist proved equally unsuccessful. In the late 1890s and early 1900s he traveled extensively throughout Europe, North Africa, the United States, and to the South Seas. Upon his return to New York he began exhibiting strange behavior, printing self-aggrandizing handbills giving himself such titles as “Grand Parnassian” and “Transcendental Eagle of the Arts.”
Eilshemius was catapulted to unexpected prominence in 1917 when Marcel Duchamp praised work he had seen at the Society of Independent Artists First Annual Exhibition. Two one-person shows sponsored by Katherine S. Dreier’s Société Anonyme followed in 1920 and 1924, attracting the attention of Duncan Phillips. Phillips’s appreciation of Eilshemius was understandable: in addition to Eilshemius’s appeal as a neglected independent artist, he was a sensitive colorist and, in his romantic interpretation of landscapes and figures, an heir to several of Phillips’s favorite 19th-century painters, most notably Corot and Inness. The Phillips Collection owns twenty oil paintings and two pencil drawings by Eilshemius.