David Ericson - Painter

Artist Biography

David Ericson (1869 – 1946) was born in 1869 in the little town of Motala on the Juta Canal in Ostergotland Province, Sweden. He was christened Axel David Eriksson. He was never called Axel although, on occasion, he signed a painting with that name. The spelling of the last name was changed when his father, Karl Erik Wilhelm Eriksson, who was a blacksmith’s helper, came to the United States to seek a better way of life for his family. After one year he sent for them and in 1873 his wife, Augusta Engman Ericson, their five children and Mr. Ericson’s mother arrived in Duluth, Minnesota. The oldest child, Charles, was twelve years old, Alfred was ten, Josephine was seven, David was three and Enoch was one. Later another daughter, Victoria, was born in Duluth.

By the time he was six or seven David was already showing a talent for drawing. Ericson was stricken with a crippling infection when he was nine, resulting in the amputation of his right leg at age eleven. Because of his affliction he was forced to spend much of his time in bed. A young woman, Emilie Sargent, brought him water colors and showed him how to use them. He learned to paint with oils, and at the age of sixteen, he entered a large canvas called Salting the Sheep in the Minnesota State Fair competition. It won a gold medal. The honor pleased his family and friends almost as much as it did the artist; it was decided that David must have further training of the talent which was beginning to prove itself. In 1887, when he was eighteen, a dream finally came true, and David left to study at the Art Student’s League in New York City.

Ericson stayed in New York for three years, working principally under the direction of William Merritt Chase, Kenyon Cox and Harry Mowbray. To support himself he did some designing of jewelry for Tiffany and illustrating for St. Nicholas Magazine and The Youth’s Companion. His studio was located in a popular artist’s neighborhood on East Twenty-Third Street, and he numbered among his good friends such men as Stephen Crane, John Henry Twachtman and Edward Dufner.

With the proceeds of a number of sales in his pocket Ericson was able to make his first trip to Europe in 1900. In Paris he enrolled in the atelier of James McNeill Whistler, whom he admired greatly, and felt that, for the first time, he had really discovered the magic of color. Whistler insisted that all of the colors in a painting be mixed first on the palette, and then qualified with a touch of pure color as they were applied to the canvas. Years later Ericson recalled, When I was new in the class, he stopped at my easel, shuddered at the sight of my messy palette and snapped, ‘You paint better that you lay out a palette-and that is inexcusable.’ In addition to Whistler Ericson studied for a time with the popular French painter, René François Prinet, and the animal painter, Emmanuel Frémiet, but soon found that he preferred to solve his artistic problems in his own way.

Returning to Duluth in 1902, Ericson married Susan Barnard. The couple soon moved to New York where they lived for six years and where their son, David Barnard Ericson, was born in 1904. The Ericsons moved to Europe in 1910 where they spent as much time as they could in Paris and beyond. Mrs. Ericson was herself an accomplished painter and she shared her husband’s deep affection for France, a country in which David’s work had been well received. When they were forced to return to the United States because of the outbreak of World War I, they lived in several places before buying a home and settling in Provincetown on Cape Cod.

By 1924 the Ericsons had returned to Europe. For the next fifteen years the family’s permanent address was Paris, although they traveled a great deal. Ericson returned several times to the United States for exhibitions and to teach.

At the beginning of World War II the Ericsons left their Paris studio to make their home, once again, in Provincetown. Mrs. Ericson had not been well for several years and died two years after their return to this country. Life without her was lonely and, after much urging from his friends, Ericson decided to go back to Duluth. At the age of seventy-seven work in his own studio still did not fully occupy the artist. He taught classes for the Duluth Art Institute and completed a series of twenty-four altar pictures for a Serbian Orthodox Church in Duluth. When asked by a Duluth News-Tribune reporter when he planned to retire, the artist replied: Retirement? Michelangelo and Titian both painted until they were about ninety. Death is the only retirement. Five months later David Ericson was struck down by a car and died on December 14, 1946 at the age of 76.

David Ericson’s honors include a Gold Medal, Paris; Silver Medal, St. Louis World’s Fair; Honorable Mention, Carnegie Institute, International Exposition; and First Prize, 1904 Minnesota Art Exposition. He was a member of the Provincetown Art Association and the American Art Association of Paris. The Tweed Museum in Duluth has the most extensive collection of Ericson’s paintings.

Work Available For Sale

David Ericson 01
David Ericson 01

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