Jersey Reflections: Artist, Discovered


Jersey Reflections

By Vince Farinaccio

A Columnist for the Grapevine

Charles K. Landis dedicated an evening at his home to an exhibition of son Richard’s paintings.

The recent discovery by the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society (VHAS) that Richard Landis is the artist responsible for the portrait of Matilda Landis, his aunt, has considerably increased the historical significance of the artwork, which has hung in the Society’s Landis Room for years.
Richard, who was born in Vineland March 22, 1873, the third child of Vineland founder Charles K. Landis and his wife Clara, began his artistic lessons at an early age in Vineland. Encouraged by his father, who believed it was important for his sons to be well-read and engaged in artistic endeavors, Richard continued his interest in art as a student at the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1890s and then made several trips abroad to advance his studies in Germany, Spain and Italy.
According to an article in the VHAS archives from an unidentified and undated newspaper that clearly derives from the same general period that produced the Matilda painting, Charles K. Landis dedicated an evening at his home to an exhibition of Richard’s paintings. Landis, it is reported, opened his home to friends, giving them the “privilege of enjoying the paintings of his artist son, Richard W. M. Landis.” Forty pieces of art were exhibited, some of them originals and some copies of other works of art, but Matilda’s portrait was not among those listed by the newspaper. However, a painting of Richard’s younger brother James was displayed that evening.
It’s apparent the newspaper reporter recognized Richard’s talents immediately, proclaiming, “There is in every detail unmistakable evidence of genius and genius of the highest order…Although barely a youth, our Vineland boy has applied himself with such earnestness that more than forty pictures, his own work, graced the walls of his father’s handsome residence; and these pictures are not crude efforts, but have the inspiration and brush of a master. Probably, the best were the portraits; they were the most enthusiastically praised by the connoisseurs…”
Richard may have been in Europe when he painted the portrait of his aunt, but the mystery of exactly when in 1894 he worked on the painting is open to as much speculation as his choice of Matilda as subject.
“It’s interesting that Richard would have taken the time to paint this image of his aunt because their relationship did rollercoaster,” said VHAS curator Patricia Martinelli. “Sometimes it was good and sometimes it was not so good.”
The curator conjectures that expediency or experimentation may account for Richard’s selection of Matilda, but she also posits that it may have been a way “to smooth the waters” of a strained relationship. Tension between Richard and Matilda certainly existed within this overall timeframe as a letter in the VHAS archives from Charles K. Landis to Richard in 1895 indicates: “be pleasant and kind to your aunt [Matilda]. She has done much for us, has been your savior and protector. Now do something for her. I shall not only thank you, but God will help you for it.”
It’s doubtful Richard felt that any help was extended to him when, upon the death of his father, he and his brother James were cut out of the will. In the ensuing legal battle, the final remnants of his relationship with his aunt were shattered irrevocably. Matilda, who inherited the most from Landis’ will, remained in Vineland until her death in 1932; Richard and James departed, never to return to their hometown.
But Richard’s artworks have continued to grace various exhibitions throughout the following century with such paintings as Still Life with Newspaper and Still Life with Pipe and Stein, remarkable pieces that are almost photographic in style and that demonstrate a keen eye for detail. Richard’s Grist Mill of John Roberts III, Oak Lane, Gladwyne, Pennsylvania is another example that suggested a promising artistic career, which was cut short with the artist’s death in 1912 at the age of 39. Richard’s continued recognition is all the more reason for the restoration of his portrait of Matilda.
Ruth A. Shropshire, president of the VHAS Board of Trustees has stated, “It’s especially important to us to conserve this painting. We’re hoping that area residents will consider donating to this project to help Matilda get a ‘face lift.’ ” Pledges, the Society has said, which have helped the VHAS in the past, “are welcome, no matter what the amount.”