Praying Monk

William J. Forsyth (American, 1854-1935)

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William Forsyth was born in California, Ohio, not far from Cincinnati. His early use of the family's walls as a drawing board convinced his parents that their son need a specific space to express his creativity. When he was ten, his family moved to Versaille, Indiana and then to Indianapolis. Forsyth started his art studies with Barton Hays when he was fifteen. He earned his living painting houses with his brother and used his free time to explore his artistic talents. Forsyth became the first student in the newly established Indiana School of Art and later worked as an assistant instructor at the school. His desire for more formal training led Forsyth to follow his friend Theodore Clement Steele to Munich to study at the Royal Academy. During the summer he traveled around Europe and sent the paintings he completed during these trips home to sell at exhibitions. When Forsyth finished his studies, he stayed in Europe for another two years then returned to Indiana and set up a school in Muncie with J. Ottis Adams. After the school closed, Forsyth joined the faculty of the newly opened John Herron Art Institute where he worked from 1906 to 1933. Well into his seventies, but not prepared emotionally or financially for retirement, Forsyth took commissions from the Public Works Administration, which had been established to help artists during the Depression. In 1934 Forsyth had a heart attack and died a year later.

By 1881 modeling was an established profession in Munich. Models were in demand not only by the Academy but also by the hundreds of independent artists working in the city. Some professional models were painted as monks and possessed Carmelite cowls, which they brought with them to the artists' studios. Here Forsyth's model, with his bald head, flowing beard and robe, has the appropriate features and attire to make the ideal monk. The light falls on the bent head of the man, who emerges from the deep shadow with his hands clasped in prayer. The isolated figure in Forsyth's dark, unadorned interior expresses religious devotion in the dramatic, theatrical style promoted by the Royal Academy.


Martin Krause. The Passage: Return of Indiana Painters from Germany, 1880-1905, Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1990. ISBN 00-936260-52-1

Object Information

William J. Forsyth (American, 1854-1935)
creation date
about 1882-1885
oil on canvas
26-1/4 x 22-1/4 in. (canvas)
30-1/4 x 25-3/4 x 2-1/4 in. (framed)
mark descriptions
Signed in red, u.r.: W. Forsyth
accession number
credit line
Gift of Mrs. Ward Hackleman
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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