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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Julian and Julian

My great uncle was an anomaly on the Armenian side of the family, that came to this country at the beginning of the 20thc. The family was working class not by choice but by necessity, but Marvin was an artist and his sense of necessity was to follow the demands of his love of art. While still a young man in Boston, he befriended John Singer Sargent, who was working on the Boston Public Library Murals and received periodic instruction from him. He contintued his studies in Paris at the Academie Julian and came back to Boston, where he became a very successful portrait painter. Among his commissions were Admirals and Massachusett's Governors. Arshile Gorky, at that point known as Manouk Adoian, studied under Marvin at the New School for Art and Design on Boylston St, where he taught after coming back from France. He described Gorky as showman of sorts, who dazzled the female students with his ability to make perfect circles freehand. After Gorky moved to New York,  Marvin attended the opening of Gorky's first show in the city. According to Marvin, Gorky ignored him at the opening. My uncle felt that this response was due to some embarrassment by Gorky about his new work, which was no longer tonal but clearly influenced by the avant-garde. I learned from the film "Without Gorky" that Gorky did not want anyone to know he was Armenian and in fact his wife only learned of his heritage from the local grocer in Sherman CT. Even then when confronted with the truth he denied it. I suspect the presence of Marvin at his opening irked Gorky. Marvin, who knew he was Armenian, would have blown his cover as the son of Maxim Gorky. Hence the snub. I have subsequently studied the chronology of Gorky's life  on the Gorky Foundation website and noticed that Gorky borrowed Marvin's credentials as a grad of the Academie Julian and student of John Paul Laurent for his resume, when he was  a teacher at the Grand Central School of Art in New York.

Recently in Paris I was wandering  with my wife Alix on the West Bank, when we found ourselves by chance on the Rue du Dragon. Alix said that the school she attended, Ecole Met de Penninghen before going to the Sorbonne to study art education, was on that street. We decided to revisit her old haunts. When we walked into the courtyard I saw inscribed on the wall above the entrance:Academy Julian.There was a little confusion, as I tried to figure out what the connection was between the two schools, since Alix had never mentioned that the school she attended, which was rather new at the time, had been previously the Academy Julian. The school was out of session, but, by chance, we encountered a man who happened to be the director. He was interested in chatting with us in particular Alix, since she was able to recall some her fellow students, one of whom was now a teacher at the school. He explained the connection between the Academy and the current school, the details of which I don't recall. I told him about my ancestor who had gone there. The assistant director was writing a book on the history of the Academy.The director asked us to talk with him about Marvin. At this point the reader might have noticed that Marvin's last name is the same as the academy. Marvin's Armenian last name was Chooljian, just enough of a phonetic resemblance to swap one for the other.

The assistant director went through a data bank on his computer and found Marvin's name. He asked me to send him some information on him to include in the book.This is what I sent him:The list of some faculty at the Exeter School of Art in Boston from the 1930's.
an article from "The Boston Sunday Advertiser" from the 1930's

A Portrait of his father Hovaness

Another portrait of Hovaness,
Sarah:Marvin's mother.the painting that Tomas Jonnson refers to in his comment

Marvin in 1924

The photo on the top is of Marvin(Chooljian)Julian taken  from our family photos.The photo below is of Gorky and friends.It is taken from"Black Angel". The man on the right, identified as Felix Chookjian, looks a lot like Marvin. The photo is also published in Mooradian's "Adoian" with the man on the right identified as Felix Choolijian. Since they were all translating from the Armenian, spelling variations are to be expected..So far no one in the family remembers Marvin ever being called Felix.(Ellen Mugar,my sister, found the photo in "Black Angel" as well as the photo of Marvin).


  1. I thought the woman he is painting looks like Ceileidh

  2. I came across this query on Askart the online data base for auction prices:
    from tomas Jonsson in Sweden:

    In the early 1980's I lived in the same building as Mr. Julian who was elderly and quite frail at that time. Sadly, he was beginning to lose his sight, but still painted every day. In his small apartment he had several paintings, but all were portraits, none of them were still life or flower, which he seems noted for. The portraits were absolutely beautiful and I recall thinking they were reminiscent of Whistler; stark and severe but utterly beautiful. The most striking was a portrait of his mother, a large and imposing painting of a grey haired woman all in black. Since he lived alone I often looked in on him, bought him groceries etc. In 1981 he asked if he could do a portrait of me, which of course I still have. Marvin Julian was a fascinating man who near the end of his life lived a poor and isolated life, in a cold and empty flat on Newbury street in Boston. I wish I knew more about him and his early life.

  3. Another correspondence from Tomas who lives in California:
    I received, with pleasure , your email regarding Marvin Julian. How did you come by my name? I am surprised, since it was so many years ago that I had met Mr. Julian (as we all referred to him). I was his neighbor in an apartment on Newbury Street, back in the late 1970's/early 1980's. I used to take care of him; visit with him, fetch groceries sometimes, make sure he was okay in the cold. At the time I believed he was one step away from being homeless, and it broke my heart. As you say, he was extremely private and would not talk about much, except his painting. I can still picture his apartment, and smell it… had the strong smell of paint and linseed oil. It was like stepping in to another world, another era. His apartment was always cold in the winter, too cold for an old man with failing eyesight. He often wore a sort of blanket/shawl over his shoulders. I made him hot drinks, kept him company.
    One day he said he would paint me, and I was thrilled and bewildered. I didn't know what to expect. But I knew it was important to him, as his sight failed, and he needed to paint. And, I think, it was his way of saying 'thank you' to me, although he didn't need to, as far as I was concerned. To me he was a great man, mysterious, mercurial, but clearly brilliant. In his almost empty apartment (he insisted, one day, that I should take the area rug, something someone must have given him) he had two amazing portraits on the otherwise empty and dirty walls. One, which I was awestruck by, was his mother; dark and serious and very formal (I'm sure you know it). So, I sat for him, and very quickly he had a painting which I think captured me so well. I look at it now and find it funny and glorious, as who would not! I'm a young man sitting there, trying to look formal and serious myself, long 1970ish hair, wearing a formal tie and sport coat. I thought I should look the part for Mr. Julian.
    I moved house after two years there, and lost touch with Mr. Julian. Although I think he enjoyed my company, he was closed tight, didn't really know how to relate very well, and seemed, so sadly, to be alone and lost in the world and, frankly, waiting out his remaining time. I have always remembered him, always think kindly of him, always will.
    Mr. Julian told me that the National Portrait Gallery in D.C. has some of his paintings, do you know if that is the case? I would so love to see more of his work. John Singer Sergeant has always been my favorite painter, and I see the strong influence in Mr. Julian's work. I've always felt he should be celebrated more for his incredible work, do you know where his paintings are located, museums etc.?
    Thank you so much for your email, and I wish you well,
    Tomas C. Jonsson

  4. I attempted to send you a message via Facebook, but it alerted me that it would go to your "other" folder. I am not certain what that means, but do please check.

    Thank you,

    1. Hi,
      Do you have any questions? Try to friend me on facebook.

  5. Hello,

    I have a piece of your great uncles art and I want to give it to you or someone in your family.

    I know receiving a message from a stranger on Facebook can be disconcerting, but I really just want to see this piece with someone who is connected to its history.

    I am a sucker for trying to salvage things that others toss. I am also a believer in karma. I would rather take the time to help get this piece into the hands of someone it might have strong meaning for than to try to hock my found goods on Ebay or the like.

    I just happened to turn down an alley (in Santa Monica, Ca - where I live) and I found a large pile of random stuff....several framed pieces of art are what caught my eye. One of them is signed Marvin Julian. It is truly quite beautiful!!! Thankfully, I came across the items just as they had been put out by what appeared to be a cleaning crew of some kind. I Googled the name and then came across your blog post "Julian & Julian".

    It breaks my heart to see such beautiful works of art just cast aside next to broken furniture and old scraps of wood. So, here I am....sending a complete stranger a Facebook message in hopes that you or someone in your family will be brought joy by having this piece.

    I cannot stress enough that I do not want a thing. I am as normal as the next person. I am married, have two kids, work really hard... just like everyone else. I try to teach my children to keep the good alive....I try to lead by example.

    If you would like the piece, please let me know. If you are not interested, but have a family member that might be, feel free to pass them my contact information.

    I am sending a photo of the work... I could not find a date or a title. I found it in the original frame, but took it out to get a better photo.

    Very Best,
    Anastasia Navach

  6. The painting is now in the possession of my sister.It turns out that it is a pastel and how it survived being on the street in Santa Monica is nothing short of miraculous.We suspect that it may be a portrait of an actress done for a magazine.Marvin did cover work for nationally syndicated magazines.

  7. I have submitted a history of Marvin at the request of the magazine "Hyperallergic" that they said is in the queue for publication.In researching the relationship of Gorky to Marvin, which I refer to in my article on Cosima Spender's film on Gorky,I discovered his fraudulent resume he submitted to the Grand Central Art School where he taught after leaving Boston.It claims he taught at the Academy Julian under Jean Paul Laurent.Looks like he borrowed Marvin's credentials.

  8. My sister Ellen discovered on a letter of recommendation for Marvin to get a US passport in 1920. It was written by a teacher at the New School for Art and Design which is mentioned in the photo above of Gorky and fellow students .Marvin went to France and then came back several years later about the time that Gorky attended the school.At that point with his credentials he was a teacher and taught Gorky as I recall him telling me.

  9. My mother, Miriam Alice Hunt Fulton, studied portraiture under Marvin Julian. They used to dine in an Armenian or Greek restaurant in Boston on the second floor. I was too young at the time to appreciate what was going on. I still have my mother's self portrait that she painted under Marvin's guidance. They were good friends.

    1. Hi,
      I do recall a Greek restaurant that my parents took us to on Sundays that was a walk-up on Stuart St.Thank you for sharing your memory of your mother and Marvin.I will share it with my siblings and cousins,

      you might enjoy this blog on Marvin