The Richard F. Lack Catalogue Raisonné is comprised of over 1,000 works, of these the Lacks documented 574 works on note cards. The remaining 463 works were not documented and required extensive research and cataloguing. Lack’s work is broken down by two major categories, documented and undocumented.
The documented works are from records kept by the Lacks. These are composed of:
130 Studies for imaginative paintings and other works
92 Still Life and Floral
29 Interior Genre
24 Outdoor Genre
24 Imaginative & Myth
5 New York City, Police Department Stables
574 Total documented works
The undocumented works, found in various portfolios and sketchbooks in Lack’s studio, as well as from various sources who shared works they possessed.
172 Studies for imaginative paintings and other works
79 Early drawings and student work
77 Misc. drawings
74 Concept sketches and thumbnail drawings
483 Total undocumented works
1,057 Total combined works
There are 932 reproductions of Lack’s work; however not all of these were photographed by a professional (see Photography section below).
After Lack’s death in 2009 Katherine Lack granted me access to his studio, portfolios, valuable files and records concerning the exhibitions he entered, numerous magazine and newspaper articles about his work, correspondence between Lack and his students, correspondence with R.H. Ives Gammell, and more. Countless hours were spent going through all of these files and the “discovered” works in his studio. A great deal more has emerged about Lack, his work and accomplishments that would otherwise have remained hidden from view. These works round out Lack’s career as a painter and provide a visual glimpse into how he worked out concepts and compositions for his most significant works. Mrs. Lack also spent countless hours with me discussing specific paintings and establishing dates for the undocumented works. The time spent was as much a pleasure as it was invaluable. Her detailed memory about the subject of each portrait he painted was uncanny as were other insights into his work.
Number and Date
The catalogue is arranged in chronological order, according to the date when the work was completed. Related works by subject matter were grouped, as noted by the alpha label listed as “Catalog File.”
No. 217, Going to the Sun Mountain, Glacier National Park
Cat. File: LSMTN 001
Within the body of Lack’s work this painting is No. 225. It is grouped within the LSMTN (Landscape, Mountains) category, and is painting number 001 within that category.
The alpha/number notations noted above were developed from the note card system created by the Lacks to keep track of his work. I continued this means of cataloging and documenting the other works discovered in Lack’s studio that hadn’t been recorded. All of these categories are noted below with an asterisk (*) after the alpha label for those works that weren’t documented in the Lack’s records.
Categories of works with corresponding alpha labels:
|New York Stable Drawings||NYPD|
|Lakes and Streams||LNDS LKST|
|North Shore (Lake Superior)||LNDS NRSH|
|Buildings & Structures||LNDS STRC|
|Early Drawings (age 15-18)||UNDOC ERLY DRW*|
|Student Work (with Gammell)||UNDOC STWK*|
|Woodcut Concepts||UNDOC WDCT*|
|Misc. Drawings||UNDDOC DRWG*|
Utilizing this system made Lack’s work much easier to manage during the course of my research and creation of the final catalog. This unique alpha system permitted quick cross-referencing of works in the catalogue with the Lack’s personal records and entries of who purchased the work, and other important facts.
The catalogue is arranged in date sequence earliest to latest work and alphabetically by title within each year.
The Lack Catalogue Raisonné is comprised of over 933 reproductions, of these 266 works were photographed by a professional photographer. The remaining reproductions come from a variety of sources noted below.
208 reproductions are scans of 2 x 2 inch sized Polaroid photographs (black & white, some in color) that the Lack’s took and attached to each painting’s note card as a visual reference. Later, the Lack’s took color slides to improve the quality of the image on each note card. This was later replaced with professional photography and color transparencies.
397 undocumented studies, drawings, concepts for imaginative work, sketches and paintings were photographed by me while reviewing the portfolios and other work discovered in his studio after Lack passed away. Last, others are digital images provided by the owners of the work.
The photography taken by the Lacks, as opposed to that of a professional photographer, is noted in the catalogue with an (*) after the name of the work; i.e., No. 57: Sail Boats Lake Calhoun*. This fact is also called out in the History of the work. In every case, these images are the only visual record the author could use. In many cases the quality of the photograph is very poor – the Lacks never thought the Polaroids or slides would be reproduced. Their aim was only to have a visual record of the work for their files. Fortunately, the transition to professional photography took place during the early to mid 1960s. Every effort to find these works and have them photographed for has been.
The reader will find that some of the scanned images show the tape used to hold it on the note card (see below Wash Day, “Before” image top left). The tape is visible along the top and bottom of the photo. When it was possible, the tape was digitally removed (see “After” below image top right). In other cases, it was obvious that digitally removing the tape would alter the appearance of the painting. In these cases the tape is still visible.
In every case the Lack’s Polaroid photographs and slides have been digitally “retouched” to improve their quality for reproduction. This was done in a manner that remains true to the work and done only to show the work to its best advantage. Examples of this are represented below, with “Before” and “After” noted in the captions for Wash Day, Birches at Gull Lake and Through the Pines.
The title chosen is that given to the work by Lack, either as noted in his records and files, as published in exhibition catalogs and other publications, or written on the work (some drawings have notations, including titles). If no documentation of a title could be found, the work is given a descriptive title based on its subject matter. These are enclosed in square brackets, for example:
No. 3. ERLY DRWG 004 [Dutch Boy Figurine].
Titles at times were changed by Lack. For example, the change in a title may have reflected a change in appearance or upon a work being published or exhibited. Lack would change the title to be more compelling. In the first example, text that was added to the title in brackets, and in the second example the title in brackets was used instead of the original title given in their records:
No. 219. Peonies [in an Oriental Vase]
No. 377. The Old Bridge [View of Minneapolis with Old Stone Arch Bridge]
The full size and media are given, with description of paper or canvas type with watermarks or other distinctive qualities, where possible. Lack acquired a distinctive collection of paper he used for his drawings and sketches. The most notable being watermarked paper created at the time of, and, presumably used by, Leonardo da Vinci.
As well as technical details, a brief visual analysis is given. Lack experimented a great deal with drying mediums. Some of these experiments resulted in “blossoming,” a light discoloration that appears in blotches on the painting’s surface. This is noted where it occurs. He often repainted the painting and destroyed the original version. When possible this is also noted. For example, Lack painted three versions of No. 295. The Jack-O-Lantern.
Works are dated as recorded in Lack’s card file. In some cases it is based on Mrs. Lack’s memory, in which case the year is noted as circa and is deemed accurate to within two years. Undated works were also related by subject, composition, technique, materials, or history; however, not all works fit conveniently into categories, and particular problems are discussed in the entries.
In some cases when a range of 4 or more years was as close as research provided, these dates are noted with a forward slash between the dates, for example: No. 389. After the Bath, 1973/1978.
In some cases I found that dates printed in publications conflicted with the record the Lacks had for the work in their card files. In these instances the date given is the date noted from their original records, with the different date used in a publication noted in parentheses; e.g., STL 006, Still Life with Chrysanthemums, 1959 (1960). The first date, 1959, is the date found in their records; the second date (1960) is the date used when it was reproduced.
Lack also studied the methods of the Old Masters with particular attention to the Venetian and Bistre Methods. These methods are described in detail in the Articles section of the Catalogue and noted when used.
The dimensions of each work are noted in inches, with height listed before width. If the measurements were not documented but there is confidence as to what they are, then these are noted within brackets; e.g., [12×14]. For example, Lack often used the same size canvas for still life and florals as well as other categories of work. In these cases there is a great deal of confidence in what the dimensions are for a particular work.
Signatures and Inscriptions
Important or prominent inscriptions are noted. Lack’s signature changed over the span of his work. His early works have his name written in a block script. Later this was changed to just the “L” retaining a script look and eventually the use of all block letters. The works that reflect the transition are noted, otherwise only the fact that there is a signature and where it is found on the painting is noted.
Below are examples of Lack’s signature by year and decade:
* Lack’s signature as it appears from this period forward.
From 1947 thru the mid 1960s Lack alternated between block printing and using script for his name. During the early 1960s he used the script version exclusively but settled on the block version from 1970 forward.
Records of the history of the work: when, why and for whom it was made, details of exhibitions, and ownership, along with sources, are given. The exhibition history of the work is included up to the year 2012. Katherine Lack made much of his work available to Lack’s friends and students after his death.
The history of each painting is given continuously, usually starting with the date at which it’s known or thought to have been completed. A date given with a forward slash between the years; e.g., “1965/70” means at some time between and including the years 1965 and 1970. A date listed as “c.1965” means that it probably, but not certainly, dates from 1965. Thereafter, a semicolon (;) is used to separate events which occurred under one ownership. Changes of ownership are signaled by a double colon (::). Gaps of over a year in the known ownership are marked by two dashes of omission between double colons (::—::). Unless noted, the date for when a work was acquired is the same as the date for when the work was completed. When a piece of work, literature, or manuscript is not dated, square brackets; e.g., , indicate an estimated date.
The bibliography is complete and literature for individual entries useful or interesting synopsis of the article written. Lack’s articles illustrated with works used in the original publication are included in the “Articles and Interviews” section found toward the back of the Catalogue.
Works are reproduced in full wherever possible. However, when a drawing or oil sketch takes up a fraction of the sheet or canvas, and the reproduction shows only the relevant area, it is labeled “Detail.”
In some instances when the original photography was very poor I decided to not use it for publication. In every case these works were impossible to reproduce or had other quality issues.
Where titles are not self-explanatory, it is sometimes necessary to describe the subject. Lack’s comments on a picture or the topic of picture-making are of primary importance and these are included when deemed important to the work shown. The source for this commentary is noted.
The scenes and locations shown in Landscapes, city-scapes and other structures, are noted whenever possible. Lack traveled out West to paint the various locations in the Rocky Mountains and these are noted. He also spent a great deal of time painting on the North Shore of Lake Superior during the summer. The entire family would camp out during these trips and entertain themselves while Lack painted during the day.
Lack was very self-critical, and the works in the catalogue include drawings many people who knew him would likely think he intended to throw away; specifically among the undocumented works found in his studio. If this were the case, why did Lack keep them? I believe the answer is obvious. He knew how important they were to reveal his creative process, the “work” behind the “works.”
R. H. Ives Gammell is known for offering this advice to his students: “Get your ideas down on paper. Write them down, draw them or make thumbnail sketches. When you’re young the ideas come fast and freely but you don’t have the skills required to execute them. When you’re older the ideas won’t come so easily but the skill is there to execute the ideas you recorded.” Lack certainly followed this dictum, which is evident by the volume of ideas recorded in the catalogue.
Lack kept the undocumented drawings, sketches and thumbnails knowing they would be revealed and studied after he passed away. For that we should be very grateful.
It is interesting examining these and their relationship to other works he gave more prominence. His standards were high. His work was rich in medium and subject matter. On one occasion he told the author that his landscapes, still lifes, florals and portraits were his bread-and-butter work, and that, while he approached all of his work with the highest of standards, his passion was focused on his imaginative painting.
It is my hope that this book will reveal aspects of Lack and his art that may have otherwise gone unnoticed by future generations.
Gary B. Christensen
Author, Richard F. Lack: Catalogue Raisonné