Winold Reiss (1886-1953) was a German artist and designer. He was born September 16, 1886, in Karlsruhe, Germany, Reiss grew up with fine art. His father was Frits Reiss, one of Germany’s most famous portrait and landscape painters. The rich colours and fine draughtsmanship of Frits Reiss’s work influenced his son and helped the young man formulate the skill needed to record the new world’s character, faces, and features.

Influences

Influenced by the international modern art movements that had recently swept across Europe, he blended cubism, which used geometric shapes to create abstract images, and fauvism, which favoured the use of bold colours to suggest shapes, with interest in ethnography to create a unique style of portraiture that sought to reveal the subject more fully than the simple rendering of physical features.

First years in New York

During his first six years in New York City, Reiss devoted himself primarily to teaching students at the Winold Reiss Art School, which he founded in 1915, and accumulated design commissions. By chance, he met a Blackfeet, an American native, and asked him to pose for a portrait. Through a Native American friend, Reiss borrowed traditional Native American costumes for his subject’s dress.

Paintings of Native Americans

Dressing an American was a typical mistake with well-meaning but misinformed whites who had a more romantic than a realistic interest in native Americans. Fortunately, Reiss grew out of his early naivete and closely examined the exact dress of the native Americans he depicted.

Native Americans by Winold Reiss

In 1919, Reiss travelled to Browning Montana on a study trip, producing approximately 36 portraits of Blackfeet Native Americans. The following year, he took another study trip to Mexico, where he painted 40 portraits that eventually found their way to Survey Graphic, the social welfare journal. In 1922, he made a study trip to Germany and Switzerland, inspiring 55 portraits of peasants.

Harlem Renaissance

In addition to his interest in these ethnic groups, Reiss captured the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City in 1925. In order to illustrate a special issue of the journal, Reiss was asked by the editor of the Survey Graphic to portray prominent African leaders and those from Harlem Streets. This issue, called Harlem: New Negro’s Mecca, became the most popular to date, forging a personal and professional bond between Reiss and Alan Locke, Howard University’s renowned African American professor of philosophy.

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Langston Hughes by Winold Reiss (c.1925)

Interior Design

In the early 1920s, Reiss decorated Alamac Hotel’s Medieval Grill and Congo Room, New York. In 1920, he pioneered an American interior design motif for Crillon Restaurant, New York. In 1927 Crillon Restaurant at a new address. In 1928, became a member of American Designers’ Gallery, participating in its 1928 exhibition. In 1930, became a member of the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen, participating in its 1930 and 1931 exhibitions. He designed the exotic 31ft (9ยท5.m) high ballroom of the 1930 addition to St. George Hotel (Emery Roth, addition architect), Brooklyn; 1930-31-Cafe Bonaparte, Beaux-Arts Apartments, New York.

Thee Busy Lady
Bakery of 1915 by Winold Reiss

From 1935 he designed a series of Longchamps Restaurants including interior design and decoration (with Albert Charles Schweizer) of its 1938 restaurant (Ely Jacques Kahn, architect), Empire State Building. He was an accomplished mosaicist. He illustrated by the panorama at the 1931 Cincinnati Railroad Station (Fellheimer and Wagner, architects). 

Part of the Winold Reiss industrial murals.

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Peatross, F. C. Winold Reiss: A Pioneer of Modern American Design. Cincinatti Public Library. http://library.cincymuseum.org/topics/u/files/unionterminal/win-038.pdf.

To Color America: Portraits By Winhold Reiss. Newspapers.com. https://www.newspapers.com/image/69836295.

Wikipedia contributors. (2020, December 23). Winold Reiss. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:49, January 11, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Winold_Reiss&oldid=995833911

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