Daugherty, James Henry (1887-1974)

James Henry Daugherty and John Steuart Curry were two popular artists when they worked for the Connecticut WPA Federal Arts Project. Daugherty is considered more of a Connecticut “son” because he spent so much of his life in Westport and Weston. Much has been written about Daugherty’s career which included many styles: abstraction, early modernism, fauvism, futurism, realism, and synchromism.

Daugherty was born in Ashfield, North Carolina in 1887. During his first years the family lived in Ohio and Indiana near Lafayette, Indiana. He grew up in a family that stressed culture. In the late 1890’s the family moved to Washington, D.C., and Daugherty attended the Corcoran Gallery’s Free School. He also attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia as a student of William Merritt Chase. In 1905 the Department of Agriculture transferred his family to Europe. Daugherty traveled in Europe and studied the art of the mural with Frank Brangwyn at the London School of Art. After returning to the United States in 1907, Daugherty moved to New York City and worked as an illustrator.

He went to the City’s famous Armory Show in 1913 and was inspired by modernist ideas. In 1915 he set up a studio next to Arthur B. Frost, Jr., who taught him “abstract techniques,” especially synchromism which focused on colors and their harmony. During World War I he worked in a camouflage unit and experimented with colors. By the early 1920’s Daugherty was known for his modernist art and use of color.

After 1922 he began painting in the realist/representational style and concentrated on murals. He knew Thomas Hart Benton, the great regionalist, and integrated the heroic style with bright colors. In creating figures in his murals, Daugherty remembered the paintings of Rubens, El Greco, and Titian. During the 1930’s he worked for a variety of Federal programs funding the arts including the Public Works of Art Project, the WPA Federal Arts Project, and the Treasury Relief Art Project. His murals are among the most popular art works produced during the Depression. Under the WPA, he completed murals in the Stamford High School begun under its predecessor, the Public Works of Art Project.

In addition to painting murals, Daugherty illustrated over fifty children’s books. In 1939 his book, Daniel Boone, won the John Newbery Award from the American Library Association. He and his wife Sonia, a writer, collaborated on several books. Daugherty was admired in Weston and the region. He was a member of the Silvermine Guild of Artists in New Canaan and the Darien Guild of the Seven Arts and exhibited his work at both venues. He also helped to found the Weston Arts Council. His works are part of collections at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Daugherty died in Weston in 1974.

Sources: WPA Artist’s Work Card; WPA Biography; AskART; Dorothy and John Tarrant, A Community of Artists; Westport-Weston 1900-1985(1985), pp. 64-68; “James Daugherty, Artist, Dead; Children’s Book Author Was 84,” New York Times, February 22, 1974; “J.H. Daugherty, Writer, Painter, Succumbs at 84,” Hartford Courant, February 23, 1974; “Two Prominent Westonites Die,” Weston Forum, February 27, 1974; “Daugherty, James Henry,” Lee Kingman, Joanna Foster, and Ruth Giles Lontoft, Illustrators of Children’s Books, 1957-1966 (Boston, 1968), pp. 97-98; Who Was Who In American Art (1985), pp. 149; Fielding’s Dictionary of American Painters (1986) p. 203.  The best single source biography of James H. Daugherty is Rebecca E. Lawton’s text in Heroic America: James Daugherty’s Mural Drawings from the 1930’s (Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, 1978).  This was part of a catalogue published by the Center for an exhibit of the same name that ran form April 3-June 7, 1978.  There are innumerable articles about Daugherty or that mention him in the New York Times.  The following cite useful summaries and assessments of his work: “James Daugherty Named Newbery Prize Winner,” May 29, 1940; “The Story of Honest Abe,” December 18, 1943; Hilton Kramer, “Paintings by Daugherty Recall an era,” December 25, 1971; Piri Halasz, “Art: Daugherty’s Progress,” February 18, 1973; William Zimmer, “Three Members of a Connecticut Family Share ‘A Color Heritage,’” March 10, 1991; William Zimmer, W.P.A. Murals, Aging with Grace and Growing in Value, ”September 27, 1998; Valerie Cruice, “ART; Mural From The 30’s Is Given Rebirth,” October 8, 2000.  There are manuscript collections of Daugherty’s papers at the University of Oregon, the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution, and The Children’s Literature Research Collection at the University of Minnesota

Images from the collection hosted on Flickr

James Daugherty

Works of Art Listed in CT Archives' database from James Daugherty:


Autumn (mural sketches): oil
Historical Episodes in a Connecticut Landscape: oil
Still Life- Vermont Valley: oil
Still Life- Iris: oil
Still Life- Dog Wood: oil
Sketches for Mural- Epic: tempera
History of Connecticut:
The Yankee Peddler: watercolor
Epic of Connecticut: History of New Haven:
Football and Basketball: oil
Education in Democracy: oil
Life Along the Mississippi:
Motor Car Peril Weston:
Horseless Carriage Panel -Life on the Mississippi:
The Cradle and the Plow:
Nursery Rhymes:
Daugherty, James