JOSEPH PAUL VORST
The short and tumultuous life of Joseph Paul Vorst reads like a proxy for the 20th century. Raised in poverty, Vorst lived through two world wars (he fought and was injured as a German solider in World War I). After his immigration, he struggled through the Great Depression, witnessed the rise of the Nazis in Europe, and experienced prejudice against German immigrants in America. He met and drew heads of state including Prince Ferdinand of Germany, President Paul von Hindenberg, and before they seized power, a young Adolf Hitler and his lieutenants. Fleeing Germany alone as his renowned teachers were censored and labeled degenerate one by one, he decried fascism and was embraced by artists in America such as Thomas Hart Benton and Joe Jones— unfairly, perhaps, laboring in their shadow.
Yet he created a body of art that was exhibited often and admired widely, in his day. The following is a partial listing of his American museum exhibitions during his lifetime: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Library of Congress, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the New York World’s Fair, the Kansas City Art Institute/ Nelson-Atkins Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Carnegie Institute, the St. Louis City Art Museum, the Dayton Art Institute, the Toledo Museum of Art, the Golden Gate International Exhibition, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and even the White House. These are Vorst’s museum credits that occurred within a span of ten years in the United States. He also showed in commercial fine art galleries of distinction and historical importance in St. Louis and New York City.
After his death, although his reputation receded, his art entered into additional public collections of significance including the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Saint Louis Art Museum, and others.
Still, today few outside of the St. Louis, Missouri area, where Vorst made his home, know of his work. Like many artists before mid-century, Vorst’s paintings, watercolors, murals, prints, artist’s books, photographs, sculpture, and drawings spoke powerfully of his specific place and time. Now, removed from the immediacy of the politics of his day—particularly his concern for the disadvantaged and those affected by natural disasters, the Great Depression, and war—perhaps the artist’s images and life can be seen afresh. This monograph, the artist’s first, may serve as the opportunity for rediscovery and reappraisal.
Publication date: November 1, 2017
Author - Glen Nelson is a ghostwriter/author of twenty books, including four New York Times bestsellers. He founded Mormon Artists Group in 1999 and has created 31 projects with 83 artists. As a librettist, he has written three operas, five song cycles, two cantatas, and he has published poetry and essays and collaborated with artists on many projects. He and his wife have published a book on their art collection, The Glen & Marcia Nelson Collection of Mormon Art.
All images © Joseph Paul Vorst. Courtesy of Carl and Carole Vorst, St. Louis, MO