Dictionary of Virginia Biography


Horace Talmage Day (3 July 1909–24 March 1984), painter, was born in Xiamen, China, and was the son of Daniel Jackson Steward Day, a Presbyterian minister, and Rachel MacKay Smith Day, who were both serving as missionaries with the Dutch Reformed Church. He graduated from the American School in Shanghai in 1927. As a boy Day had begun painting rural landscapes of southeastern China, and after moving to the United States in 1927 he enrolled in the Art Students League, in New York City. During the next four years his instructors included Kenneth Hayes Miller, Boardman Robinson, and Kimon Nicolaides, for whom he was an assistant. One of Day's drawings was included in Nicolaides's classic manual, The Natural Way to Draw (1941). The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation recognized Day's abilities with several summer fellowships early in the 1930s.

Day began exhibiting his work in New York galleries before completing his studies, and in 1931 one of his watercolors appeared in an international exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. From 1934 to 1935 he was artist-in-residence and art instructor at Lillian Wald's innovative Henry Street Settlement, in New York City. While in New York, Day established a lasting relationship with the Macbeth Gallery, a major commercial venue that mounted some of his earliest solo and group exhibitions in 1933, 1937, 1938, and 1939. During this period he spent summers painting in Vermont and was a founding member of the Southern Vermont Artists Association. Day was engaged as the first director of the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art in Augusta, Georgia, which opened in November 1937. During his five years in the Southeast, Day increasingly found inspiration in the coastal region of Georgia and South Carolina, where the features reminded him of the Chinese landscapes he had painted in his youth. His oil Live Oak, Beaufort, SC, was included in the display of American art at the New York World's Fair of 1939–1940.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s Day's work appeared in national exhibitions, including annuals at the Whitney Museum, in New York, and in exhibitions of Virginia artists at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. During the Great Depression, when the federal government established programs to produce public art, Day received a commission from the Federal Works Agency's Section of Fine Arts. Done in casein tempera paint with its surface built of thin layers of color, his mural Farm and Factory depicted factory workers passing a farm scene with the town in the background. The work was installed in the post office at Clinton, Tennessee, in the spring of 1940 and was transferred to Clinton's new post office in 1989.

While attending the Art Students League, Day met fellow student Mary Elizabeth Nottingham and later courted her while she was working in Richmond for the Federal Art Project (after 1939 the Federal Art Program). They married in Amherst, Virginia, on 31 July 1941 and had two sons. That autumn they joined the faculty of Mary Baldwin College, in Staunton, as co-directors of the art program. Day left to join the United States Army in February 1943. Assigned as a cartographer to a medical battalion of the 86th Division, he served in Europe until Germany's surrender. In paintings and almost daily sketches, Day recorded the scenes of soldiers, army maneuvers, and wartime destruction that he observed in the field. He also produced murals of camp life for the enlisted men's recreational center at Camp Howze in Texas; they later became part of the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection at Brown University. Day's works circulated in exhibitions during the war, and in 1944 three pieces were included in the exhibition Art in the Armed Forces at the National Gallery in London.

After World War II, Day resumed teaching at Mary Baldwin. Except for a one-year visiting appointment at the Kansas City Art Institute in 1946–1947, Day and his wife continued to teach and serve as co-chairs of the art department until her death on 2 April 1956. Throughout his career, Day preferred to paint outdoors and directly from nature. In rural settings he was often drawn to architectural features of old manor houses, farm buildings, and small churches, while individuals or groups often populate his work in urban settings. He was especially skilled in watercolor, ink, and oils, and he was known for his landscapes and city scenes as well as for portraits and figure studies. Day resisted the trend toward abstraction in modern art, although over time his style became more impressionistic, filled with color and texture. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts mounted a one-man exhibition of Day's work in 1949, as did the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences (later the Chrysler Museum of Arts and Sciences) in 1965. He took a sabbatical from Mary Baldwin during the 1963–1964 academic term to undertake a series of paintings of Virginia. He later commented that he thought he had worked in virtually all of the state's counties.

Day retired as professor of art in 1967 and moved to Alexandria with his second wife, Mary Mercer Catlett Kellogg, a widow whom he had married on 15 February 1958. In 1969 he was one of forty American artists whom the United States Bureau of Reclamation commissioned to depict the effect of the bureau's dams, reservoirs, and other water reclamation projects on the landscape of the West. Day continued to travel widely and paint in his retirement. After a long illness, Horace Talmage Day died in Alexandria on 24 March 1984. He donated his body to science, but a memorial marker was placed next to his first wife's grave in the Masonic Cemetery in Culpeper. Commercial galleries, universities, and museums exhibited his work into the twenty-first century. Day's art is in the permanent collections at the Chrysler Museum of Art; the Virginia Museum of History and Culture; the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; the Gibbes Museum of Art, in Charleston, South Carolina; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, in Kansas City, Missouri; the New Britain Museum of American Art, in New Britain, Connecticut; and the Smithsonian Institution's American Art Museum, in Washington, D.C.


Sources Consulted:
Biographies in Richard Lee Morton, comp., Virginia Lives: The Old Dominion Who's Who (1964), 257, in Horace Day and Elizabeth Nottingham Day: A Marriage in Art (2002), exhibition catalog, Hunt Gallery, Mary Baldwin University, Staunton, and in The Lowcountry Landscapes of Horace Day (2004–2005), exhibition catalog, Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, S.C.; correspondence, exhibition catalogs, and photographs in Horace Talmage Day Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; information provided by son H. Talmage Day Jr. (2005, 2007); Day and Elizabeth Nottingham Day, Some Examples of Architecture in Augusta County and Staunton, Virginia (1947); Day, "The Camera's Lens and the Artist's Eye," American Artist 23 (June/July/Aug. 1959): 78, 100–101; Marriage License, Staunton, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; Lynchburg News, 2 Aug. 1941; Richmond Times-Dispatch, 18 Sept. 1949, 14, 22 May 1983; Staunton News-Leader, 16 Feb. 1958, 25 Mar., 25 Apr. 1979; Richmond News Leader, 17 May 1983; Washington Post, 24 Apr. 2003; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Members' Bulletin 10 (Sept. 1949): 1–2; Ford Times 48 (Mar. 1956): 5, 9, 32–33, 41, 47; Commonwealth 25 (Feb. 1958): 2 (portrait); James C. Kelly and William M. S. Rasmussen, The Virginia Landscape: A Cultural History (2000), 175; obituaries in Alexandria Gazette, Richmond News Leader, Richmond Times-Dispatch, and Staunton Leader, all 26 Mar. 1984, and Washington Post, 28 Mar. 1984.


Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Ulysse Desportes and Sara Nair James.

How to cite this page:
Ulysse Desportes and Sara Nair James,"Horace Talmage Day (1909–1984)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2019 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Day_Horace_Talmage, accessed [today's date]).


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