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Art Students League.jpg

Figure 19. Art Students League

One might surmise that the unyielding support of Frank Buller for his eldest daughter’s pursuit of an artistic career, was in turn passed to Audrey through Cecil’s example. “She tried being a Montreal debutante, gave it up to study at Manhattan’s Art Students League.”[100]  It is not known the influence of the Beaver Hall Group’s closing of their studios or that Hewton was no longer an instructor at the Art Student League had on Audrey Buller. Following a similar path of her half-sister Cecil, Audrey chose to move to New York to attend Art Students League from 1923 to 1928.[101]

During the 1920s there was an emergence of an expanding role for women. One could argue that this change began with the hallmark success of the passing of the 19th amendment and the Women’s Suffrage Movement in 1920. Women started being seen and written about in new roles as community organizers, scientists, pilots, and government officials. They were also receiving greater acclaim in the arts.  Women such as Edith Wharton, Gertrude Stein, and Willa Cather were noted with high acclaim for their writing.[102] A new generation of women also emerged in the fine arts in New York City. [103]

Art also had a great transformation in New York City during the 1920’s. The modern art movement began to blossom with New York as its center. Embodying the spirit of the 1920’s, the American artists started breaking away from following the European masters and began pushing the boundaries of what was considered art.  In 1929, the Museum of Modern Art was constructed. [104] Shortly after, the Whitney Museum of American Art was opened in 1931.[105] Ironically, during the Great Depression artistic experimentation continued to expand. Franklin Delano Roosevelt assisted 5300 artists through the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Due to this support, there are few pre -1940 public buildings without a mural or a painting found within it. [106] “The [Art Students] League reflected the American ambition to achieve a cultural plane equal to any of the European countries, that it reflected the spirit of a nation successful in science and finance and anxious to succeed in art.”[107]

Art Students League Painting c 1926.jpg

Figure 20. Art Students League Library, c.1926

In the spring of 1875, rumors began that the only art school in New York, The National Art Academy, was going to shut down due to economic issues. Professor Wilmarth from the school met with a group of concerned students and created the Art Students League. They sent out an announcement to the press that July stating their intentions for the League.[108] With 70 students, the League opened the fall of 1875 as the first independent art school in the United States, and the only school hosting daily still life classes. The league as an institution held strong the value of individuality. [109]

The individuality of the artist is his most precious possession. He must constantly be on guard that this individuality be retained. That it is not polarized or cheapened. He must be true to himself according to his standards. He is in grave danger from those who seek to regulate him and force conformity upon him. His is the last free spirit in our society. It is the responsibility of the League to protect and encourage this spirit, - in our time more than any other [110]


Each teacher at the school was himself an artist, many of which retained the league’s philosophy of individualism. The League had an inclusive feeling as there were no entrance prerequisites “because it believes it is impossible recognize talent before it develops”.[111] Instead, “membership of the League is limited to artists and students of either sex, who intend to make art their profession; but classes are open to all who have attained the required standard in drawing.”[112] Contrary to other academic institutions, the League showed progressiveness for the era admitting ladies in addition to gentlemen.[113]  However, the classes were not co-educational, the 3 hours class sessions were held at different times of the day for each gender.[114] When Audrey attended the league the price of her classes ranged from $12.50- $26 dollars per class.[115] She typically took one to two classes a month.[116] Despite the separation of gender during class time, great friendships were created within the League. “Active social life within the League did much to create and to maintain the group spirit. From the earliest days of the school, exhibitions of works by members and students were held regularly”.[117] Some of Audrey’s closest friendships were made at the League including Lloyd Goodrich, Katherine Schmidt, Isobel Bishop, Sue Wise Walker, and Reginald Marsh.[118] At the League she met her greatest friend, her future husband Lloyd Parsons.  Katherine Schmiidt who attended the league at the same time recalled,

Lloyd Parsons who was a very good friend of mine… later Audrey Buller came down from Montreal and Lloyd Parsons fell in love with her -- they both had come from Montreal but they did not know each other in Montreal; they met in New York apparently. And they were married.[119]


The league had a progressive approach of letting the student choose their curriculum. The emphasis was on mentorship allowing the student to follow whichever teacher they felt would best help them reach their fullest potential.[120] Two important teachers for Buller were Kenneth Hayes Miller for figure drawing and Henry Ernest Shackenberg for still life.[121] Due to the number of literature references of Miller teaching Buller, one would surmise that he had the greatest influence on her painting.  Miller began teaching at the League in 1911.[122] He was described as  “a man of remarkable intellectual powers, he has an analytical gift and lucidity of expression rare among artists”.[123]  Katherine Schmidt said of Miller:

Well, he was a very strange rather tight man with a gimlety blue eye and a long nose. He seemed to smell your painting. And was rather inclined towards intellectual pronouncements and aphorisms. But they always had some meaning. This was both emotionally and intellectually more demanding ...  but I think Miller's object really was to bring out in you what was best for you to do; also to help you understand the precepts upon which painting is built as he understood them. [124]

According to art historians Susan Baker and Mark Cervenka, “It was Miller who advised Buller to follow the old masters, as she seemed to do so in the subjects she chose to depict.”[125]

One way in which Buller remains aligned with Miller … is in the way she frequently quotes a rich European art historical past. She had a particular interest in Ingres, Vermeer, and Valasquez…… her vast knowledge of the history of art adds to the luxuriousness of her imagery[126]

In Buller’s Nude in Doorway “the play on mirrors, the multiple spatial compartments, ambiguity of meaning is similar to what is found in Velasquez’s Las Meninas.”[127]

He was a traditionalist, not influenced by current trends but rather focused on “fundamentals of form and design”.[128] Baker and Cervenka suggest “Much of her consideration of solid form as the basic structure for opulent ornamentation is rooted in Miller’s artistic theories.[129] Miller as an artists had a “highly developed sense of relationships of the interrelations of forms and of colors, and the harmonies that they create.”[130] Audrey was critiqued about use of color in her early work, “Kenneth Hayes Miller told her that she could improve her flat, over bright pictures by confining her palate to very few colors. To this good advice she credits the three- dimensional reality of her pictures.”[131] “Yet her colors are more intense, her palate is lighter than Miller’s, and she emphasized textures for a greater sensual effect”.[132]

Beyond form Miller may have been an influence on Buller with his subject matter.

Miller applies his formal gifts not to ideal subject matter but to the material of the real world, especially the everyday life of the city. He believes that there need be no antagonism between the forms of reality and those of art, that on the contrary the most familiar is richest both in associations and in plastic possibilities.[133]

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Figure 21. City Flowers, c.1936

Following the crash of the stock market in 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression many artists including, Buller’s friends, Marsh, Bishop, and Miller began altering the focus of their work to the social realities of the time.[134] This social consciousness was not evidenced in Buller’s art. Buller’s daughters Penelope and Jennifer, say that she was not making large social comments like her peers.[135] Reginald Marsh in the forward for her 1936 show at the Feragil Gallery wrote, “Today, when the artist seems obliged to portray the grim social and economic forces seething from Mexico to Greenland and beyond the seas, Miss Buller seldom strays beyond the front door”.[136]  Many of her early subjects are depicted in apartments almost a scene from a day in their life, with the hint of New York in the background i.e. Sleeping Girl and City Flowers.  Several of her later works subjects from her environment in Rhode Island i.e. Morning Glory, Sakonnet Rocks.

Although her work does not speak to a social philosophy her nudes do lead the observer to note their sensuousness. It is difficult to believe that she wasn’t consciously or unconsciously celebrating the changing role of women in the 1920’s-1930s. The 1920’s saw a backlash against Victorian ideals for women and an embracing of female sexuality.[137] Her daughters both deny she was making a social statement. They say that she was more enamored with capturing the sensuousness of women.[138] “Her children believe that such sensuality correspond with her great love for the decorative arts and a desire for opulence in every aspect of her surroundings”.[139]

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Figure 22. Sleeping girl, c. 1936

Henry Ernest Schnakenberg was also an influential teacher for Buller at the Art Students league. “I remember the first time I ever saw Henry Schnakenberg. He was still in army uniform. He had come back from France.”[140]  He had studied at the Art Students League with Kenneth Hayes Miller and instructed there from 1923-1925. [141] Schakenberg was renowned for his painting of nature. “His art is not the expression of subjective emotions or a social philosophy, but the work of a man who looks upon the external world primarily for its aesthetic content, its offering of pleasurable places and objects and figures to contemplate and paint”.[142] His art was noted to be far removed from academic conservatism.[143] His influence can be seen in Buller’s work as many of her paintings were of nature whose detailed aesthetic should be meditated upon.  A review of a 1952 show said,

The meticulous realism of Audrey Buller’s hard, shiny paintings at the American British Gallery is utterly detached except when coyness breaks in. Her accurate eye will count the petals of a flower, harmonize its colors with steady elegance, and her hand will paint it as if atmosphere had never existed. She occasionally arranges forms in an improbable juxtaposition, which lends a vaguely surrealistic effect, but it as a painter of trompe l’oeil that she excels.[144]


Buller’s bread and Honey, from 1948 …

 Is full of a variety of sensual, tactile objects. The eggs, the bread, the cheese, and the translucence of the honey jar with the golden light streaming through it, are crystalline in their depiction and as carefully wrought as if the life existence of the object depended on it. Yet the mannequin’s head, the human element, exists as the one false element. Is the surface of objects more knowable than the complexity of human life? Bread and Honey seems still and timeless with the only movement coming from day light, giving the viewer time to fully examine the rawness of his or her sensory perceptions. The resultant ever lengthening gold light pierces the jar of honey- a kind of timelessness not sought by many of Buller’s Abstract Expressionistic contemporaries”.[145]


Audrey Buller did not follow the popular trends of her peers.  In contrast, she infused the style of Magical Realism in her paintings. This style was not contained in a known school but rather, by individual artists creating their own path.[146]

Figure 23. Bread and Honey, 1948

[100] “Art: Clean, Opulent World” Time Magazine, Time Inc., New York, May 11, 1936, accessed March 4, 2013,

[101] “Registration Papers for Audrey Buller at the Art Student League” ,1923-24 registration #1400,1924- 25 registration # 430, 1926 registration #502, 1926-27 registration # 1291,1927-28 registration # 830.

[102  Kenneth W. Wheeler and Virginia Lee Lussier, Women, The Arts and the 1920’s in Paris and New York, (New Brunswick; Transaction Books, 1982), 5.

[103] Wheeler and Lussier, 39-40.

[104] “Museum of Modern Art”, accessed April 11, 2013,

[105] “The Whitney Museum of American Art,” accessed February 22, 2013, http://

[106] The Art World, A seventy-five year treasury of ARTnews, (New York: ART News Publishers, 1977), 99.

[107]  Marchal E Kandgren, Years of Art; the story of the Art Students League of New York, (New York: Art Students League, 1940), 94.

[108] For Art Students League letter see Appendix 1.

[109] Kandgren, 17-20, 21, 96.

[110] The Metropolitan Museum of Art Presents the 75th Anniversary Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture by 75 Artists associated with The Art Students League of New York, (New York: Art Students League of New York: 1951), viii.

[111] Art Students League of New York,vii.

112]  “The Art Students League,” New York Times (New York), June 13, 1879, 5.

[113] Art Students League of New York, vi; Nancy F. Cott, The Grounding of Modern Feminism, (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1987), 22.

[114] Kandgren, 21, 27.

[115] Registration papers, Art Students League.

[116] Registration papers, Art Students League.

[117] Kandgren, 69.

[118] Atwater, Nate, 2; “Oral Interview with Penelope Harris.

[119] “Oral history interview with Katherine Schmidt”, 8-15, December, 1969, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian institution, accessed May, 17, 2013,

[120] Art Studnets League of New York, pvii.

[121]  Susan J. Baker, Mark Cervenka, “A Modern Reality: Audrey Buller in Retrospect,” Paper presented at the College Art Association 95th Annual Conference, New York City, New York, February 2007,3.

[122] Art Students League of New York, 33.; Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.) American art of the 20's and 30's, [New York: Published for the Museum of Modern Art by Arno Press, 1969), 61.

[123] Art Students League of New York, 33.

[124] Oral history interview with Katherine Schmidt.

[125] Baker and Cervenka, 8.

[126] Baker and Cervenka, 4.

[127] Baker and Cervenka, 8

[128] Art Students League of New York, 33.

[129] Baker and Cervenka, 3.

[130] Art Students League of New York, 33.

[131] Time Magazine May 11, 1936.

[132] Baker and Cervenka, 4.

[133] Art Students League of New York, 33.

[134] Baker and Cervenka, 4.

[135] Oral interview with Jennifer Sims

[136]  Howard Devree, “In Local Art Galleries. New York Times (1923-Current File), May 3, 1936, accessed March 12, 2013.  Http: //; Baker and Cervenka, 4.

[137] Cott, 151.

[138] Oral interview with Jennifer Sims; Oral Interview with Penelope Harris.

[139] Baker and Cervenka, 4.

[140] Oral history interview with Katherine Schmidt.

[141] Art Students League of New York, 60.

[142] Art Students League of New York, 59.

[143] Art Students League of New York, 60.

[144] "3 Women Artists Display Paintings," New York Times (1923-Current File), Apr 25, 1952.; Merriam Webster defines trompe l’oeil as “1. style of painting in which objects are depicted with photographically realistic detail; also : the use of similar technique in interior decorating ,2: a trompe l'oeil painting or effect 3: something that misleads or deceives the senses : illusion”.

[145] Baker and Cervenka, 9.

[146] Edward Alden Jewell, “American 1943 Art Show Subject, “February 10, 1943.

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