Phillip W. Prugh (1889-1970)

Philip W. Prugh

Philip Wolf Prugh was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His family moved to Xenia, Ohio, in 1897 when Philip was eight. He finished high school there in 1908 and went away to Denison College, then spent a year at Yale, and finally moved to Chicago and took classes at the Chicago Art Institute. After 1932 Prugh moved back to his home in Xenia and gave up illustrating for painting. For about twenty years, he produced portraits as well as character studies and scenes from daily life, after which he shifted his focus and style, painting landscapes in the manner of the French impressionists.

Prugh's illustrations come from the period of his life when he lived in Chicago (1912 to 1932), when he worked as a freelance illustrator for periodicals such as Cosmopolitan, The Rotarian, and The Chicago Tribune. In his illustrations he developed several different styles. He worked in oil, watercolor, and pen and ink. His illustrations frequently feature high-society men and women in romantic or dramatic situations. The active and emotional aspects of this work suggest that they may have been influenced by his interest and involvement with drama as a teenager.

Philip W. PrughDuring the period Prugh painted portraits, he worked extensively on commissions but also painted family and friends. We can see continuity with his illustrations in many of his paintings. They go beyond portraiture, depicting groups of people, often active. Prugh's faces reflect more than physical or personal qualities; the viewer gets the impression that he was trying to convey transcendental ideas, not simply represent a person. It was during these years, while raising a young a son and daughter, that children become dominant features in his work. This domestic subject matter departs radically from the adult world of his magazine illustrations.

The landscapes he painted in the last decades of his career show more changes in his thinking as an artist. His subjects range from open countryside to verdant backyards, and they frequently include lakes, ponds, or rivers. In letters that he wrote about this time, he speaks extensively about composition and color. He studied French impressionists and experimented with their techniques.

Philip W. PrughThe extant work includes many studies and covers a range of media, which makes it possible for us to see how he developed his ideas. He worked slowly and deliberately, in stages, refining and reworking each element until he was satisfied. In his correspondence, he talks a lot about the importance of experiment and trial and error. He writes about the difficulties that he faced as he worked through problems of composition, form, and color.

All in all, Prugh's work demonstrates a variety of styles. It ranges from mannered and dramatic in his illustrations to domestic and contemplative in his later paintings. The illustrations tend to have sharper and more angular features than his paintings. In some works, line and pattern dominate, in others color, composition, and texture are the main features.

Prugh's known work is divided among family and friends of family. The widow of his son, Ruth Prugh, and her son David, have a number of oil paintings. Philip's daughter and her husband, Elizabeth and Fred Weldon, and their son, Stephen, have among them nearly three hundred inventoried items, among which are over thirty finished oil paintings, about forty watercolor illustrations, many drawings and studies in pencil, oil, and watercolor, as well as a number of original print publications. The rest of Prugh's known work is scattered among friends of family. It is unknown how many printed illustrations and commissioned works he produced during his long career as an illustrator and portraitist. Most, it is assumed, are unaccounted for.