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American Impressionist & Tonalist

By Michelle Sawyer and Jaimie Lilienstein

Table of Contents


Alexis B. Many was born August 10, 1887 in Indianapolis, Indiana to Chas J. and Charlotte de Fore-Filliere. Both parents were born in Paris of strong French lineage. His mother was related to the court of Napoleon I, while his father’s side was linked to the Church of Rome. Many had four brothers (John, Edward, Charley and Robert) and two sisters (Louise, and Fillette, who also pursued art), but little is known about the artist’s early childhood or what piqued his interest in painting.

At the age of fifteen, Many graduated from Shortridge High School in Indianapolis. Upon graduation, he left for the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, where he learned trades through the skill of his hands. The artist later went on to apprentice under fellow Indiana-native Otto Stark at the Heron Art Institute in Indianapolis. Stark trained Many in various styles and techniques learned from his career as a successful commercial artist in America as well as abroad.

After receiving his education, Many lived primarily in Washington, D.C., where he taught at McKinley High School from 1901 to 1936. While in the nation’s capital, Many was a member of the Washington Art Club, the Cosmos Club, the Art Students League, and the Society of Washington Artists. He also exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery Biennials of 1912, 1923, and 1930.

While living in the Midwest and on the East Coast, Many discovered the appeal of California’s brilliant landscapes and exquisite light provided by year-round sunshine. For years he devoted his summers to painting in Laguna Beach and even became a member of the California Art Club, a prestigious organization that included artist Guy Rose. In 1921, Many received first place in the club’s group exhibition, an award that identified his style as unique, and his work as “the finest” of his contemporaries.

Throughout his career, he entered exhibitions all over the United States and Europe. Apart from painting, Many had a long career as a high school teacher. He was also known to enjoy collecting antiques and was a skilled craftsman. His works appear across the nation, but especially in Washington, D.C. Several of his paintings are housed in the permanent collections of George Washington University and the Phillips Collection. The artist died in 1937 at the age of 59.


When considering the art of Alexis Many, it is most certain that the artist’s location, with its unique geographical and atmospheric conditions, as well as his exposure to the art of the region affected his method and palette. Many’s distinct style is a fusion of the techniques of the East and West coasts. His most popular paintings tended to be California seascapes.

To situate Many’s work in relation to the work being done by his contemporaries, one may want to compare Many’s art to that of William Merritt Chase, one of the most important East Coast Impressionists. Chase first traveled to California in 1914, visiting Carmel, Monterey, and San Francisco. Chase employed a plein-air, Impressionistic approach when rendering landscapes, but one of the artist’s California pieces, a plein-air landscape titled Monterey, California, is more representational, with defined structures. This painting demonstrates a tonalist manner, in warm hues of orange and brown, quite a departure from the rest of Chase’s work that was not painted in California.

Like Chase, Many painted in a tonalist manner while in California. He experimented with color, adding warm romantic hues to his landscapes, or conversely, cooler, more dramatic shades. Laguna Bluffs from 1921 is an example of the warmest palette from which Many painted. The predominant shades in this view of a cliff side facing the Pacific Ocean are violet, light pink, and reddish tones that capture the fading light, giving an impression of a perfect sunset. Many’s characteristic broken brushwork suggests tumbling purple foliage that comes toward the viewer, ascending over the bluffs and crowning them. Houses are depicted at the top of the peaks, looking down on a ragged and rocky pink cliff, which also serves as the work’s horizon, though it does not represent a reference point in terms of actual distance. The ocean is not visible, but Many’s colors demonstrate the unusual light. This painting ultimately shows why Many and so many other artists fell in love with California.

In contrast, is Down by the Cliffs a work also completed in 1921. This painting won first prize that year at the California Art Club. It is interesting to note that the California Art Club was still quite young (established in 1906) when Many (a painter from the East Coast) won its annual competition. Down by the Cliffs appears to be a companion piece to Laguna Bluffs as it depicts another beachside cliff-scene, this time facing south, with the cliffs on the left. The artist again depicts rocky cliffs, but this time they are rendered less romantically and in a tougher and more rugged manner. Many’s cool palette in Down by the Cliffs contrasts with the warm and rosy tones of Laguna Bluffs. The prize-winning piece shows a broader range of colors in blue and gray tones, offering a gradation of color as the eye moves through the picture. The blue-grey of the sky in the upper right blends with the blue and brown ocean comprising the middle-ground, and finally turns to a blend of peach, brown, green, and darker grays that define the cliff side and its foliage. The use of color brings the viewer’s attention to the brilliant harmony between the color choice and the artist’s composition. Ultimately, it is a very satisfying artistic arrangement. Together, Down by the Cliffs and Laguna Bluffs are representative of Many’s oeuvre and sophistication as an important American artist.


  • Phillips Memorial, Washington D.C.
  • Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, George Washington University

  • 1912, 1923, 1928, 1930 Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  • 1919-32 Society of Washington Artists
  • 1921 California Art Club
  • 1921 Laguna Beach Art Association, CA
  • 1934 Washington Art League

  • California Art Club
  • Cosmos Club, Washington, D.C.
  • Laguna Beach Art Association
  • Salmagundi Club, New York
  • Washington Art Club
  • Washington Society of Artists

  • 1921 First Prize, California Art Club
  • 1921 Second Prize, Laguna Beach Art Association
  • VII. Bibliography

    1. 1. Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire Critique et Documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. Paris: Gründ. 1999.
    2. 2. Corcoran Gallery of Art Exhibition Catalogues, 1923 and 1930.
    3. 3. Cosentino, Andrew J. and Glassie, Henry H. The Capital Image Painters in Washington, 1800-1915. Smithsonian Books, 1983.
    4. 4. Falk, Peter Hastings, Ed. Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975. Vol.II, G-O. Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press. 1999.
    5. 5. Fielding, Mantle. Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers. Poughkeepsie, NY: Apollo. 1995.
    6. 6. Hughes, Edan Milton. Artists in California: 1786-1940. Hughes Publishing Company. 1989.
    7. 7. Mallet, Daniel Trowbridge. Mallett’s Index of Artists. New York: R.R. Bowker Company. 1935.
    8. 8. Williamson, Stanley, Ed. Who’s Who in the Nation’s Capital 1934-1935. 1935.