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Stark, Otto Boy Sleeping, 1894


Otto Stark was born in Indianapolis. Like many households, his family had a cow for milk. Taking it to pasture one morning, Stark sprained an ankle and was unable to continue at his job as a woodcarver standing at a bench. Thus at 16 he apprenticed to a Cincinnati lithographer and went to night classes at the Art Academy. In 1879 he went to the Art Students League in New York City and supported himself through illustrations, designs, and lithography. When many of his friends were going to Munich to study, he attended the Académie Julian in Paris. He studied under Gustave Boulanger, who was noted for his Oriental subject matter. Stark is one of the Hoosier Group.

Stark returned to the United States in 1888 and worked in New York City and Philadelphia until his wife died in 1891; then he brought his four children back to Indianapolis. Children were among his favorite subjects. He portrayed them in candid situations doing simple, everyday tasks. In 1899 he began teaching art at Emmerich Manual Training School. He also taught at the Herron Art Institute. Many of his pupils went on to become artists or art teachers. Once, when the Indianapolis school board asked pupils to write essays on “Why We Take Pride in Indianapolis,” Otto Stark followed right behind James Whitcomb Riley in popularity.

Stark wrote about his craft, and it is interesting to note his definition of his style: “Impressionism to me has always meant the retaining of the first impression which nature makes upon us as we approach her, be it of tone, quality, harmony, light, vibration, force, delicacy, color, etc., and rendering this impression, if necessary, to the exclusion or at the sacrifice of details or other qualities and characteristics not so essential or vital, and rendering it unhampered by tradition and conventionalities.”

  • Boy Sleeping, ca. 1894
  • 18″ x 23 7/8″
  • Private Collection
  • Keywords: paintings, narrative, oil on canvas
  • Subjects: outdoors, people, boys, hats, toys, Hoosier Group

This painting is of Stark’s third child, Paul, born in 1890. It is painterly, with heavy brush strokes, and is Impressionist in style. A similar painting titled Tired Out has certain details changed. A wagon has been added behind Paul, and a crop lies under his left hand. Some details about the boy’s attire have also been altered. The hat and toy horse in the foreground in this painting have been omitted in Tired Out. Boy Sleeping shows an attention to detail that has the mark of a carefully crafted product. This version fits Stark’s conception of Impressionism. He has kept the background simple, almost atmospheric. He emphasized the boy, his hat, and his toy horse.

Some Points To Consider

  • Was Boy Sleeping painted according to Stark’s definition of Impressionism? Do you think he captured the relaxed, unposed sleeping boy, the shadows of the tree, the dappled light, and the atmosphere on a first impression? Why or why not? (Art 4.2.2)
  • What is happening in this painting? Do you feel the impromptu nature of this painting is a boy who has abandoned his toys and play and is too tired to continue? Does this scene hold your attention and remind you of a time that you have felt this way? (Art 4.5.1)