Winold Reiss and Hans Reiss, 1934

The Studio Circle of Winold Reiss

A visitor to the Winold Reiss Studio in 1931 describes the master himself and life in the studio. Following are excerpts from P.W. Sampson, "A Modern Cellini—Winold Reiss," originally published in The Du Pont Magazine in March 1931, Vol. XXV, No. 3. The magazine graciously states that publishers "may reprint, with credit, all articles and illustrations except those carrying special copyright..."

Winold Reiss will not be classified. Name him one of the foremost interior decorators and you discover that he has gone to the Southwest to paint American Indians. Name him painter, and you find him designing a piece of furniture that you will live with later. Call him designer, and you find him busily illustrating a story for one of the quality magazines. If you look for him at his easel, you'll probably find him with his pupils.

His studio is on the ground floor on West 16th Street, New York City, and is painted an ultramarine bluethe name of which is probably known to Reiss alone. His name is boldly lettered above the door in vermilion.

Inside, work is everywhere. In one of the studio rooms a group of students stand, palettes in hand, before their easels, working under the guidance of Winold Reiss and his brother. It is another world from the one of automobiles, concrete, adding machines, and nervous people that the door has just closed on. It is a small firmament, revolving about Winold Reiss, who seems untroubled by the avalanche of work that threatens to engulf the studio.

Winold Reiss working on the
Steuben Tavern murals, 1934

Winold Reiss is a product of the Kunstgewerbeschule [School of Applied Art, Munich, Germany], in which the young Continental art student is given a thorough training in all the fields of artistic endeavor. This is unlike the American art schools, in which the student receives specialized training.

As we talk, there are half a dozen finished illustrations for the Crowell Publishing Company, fresh from Reiss's hand, waiting to be picked up. Before him on the desk of his own design is a specification chart he is making up which will show the subtle range of colors going into the Muralart-covered walls of a new show place in New York.

This inner room is given over to finished studies of Mexicans, Negroes and Indians. The range of his work is bewildering, until the Kunstgewerbeschule is remembered, and its aim to make each pupil Benvenuto Cellini-like in his grasp of all the tools of his art.

From the Kunstgewerbeschule and his father's studio, young Reiss went to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he studied under Franz von Stuck.

It had always been his ambition to paint the American Indian on his native heath; so it seems logical to see the young artist hopefully disembarking in New York in 1913. But the West was a long way from the seaboard and Indians were not to be painted with oils, palette and easel alone. It was some years before he could satisfy his original ambition.

In 1915 we meet him in the columns of the Modern Art Collector, a magazine of the new art edited by O.W. Wentz. This was the voice of the small but vigorous group of designers and artists who interpreted the new age in a new manner in their art.

The movement was born with the century in the studios of Vienna. During the World War its rising clamor was muted, until the mob horror of anything with a German accent had died away. But there was merit in the art and design of these people, and when the United States could look tolerantly on what they were doing, the public saw how thoroughly they had caught the new spirit and had set the rhythms of their hands in the same breathless tempo.

Winold Reiss was one of the prime movers, and he still remains in the forefront of the contemporary school of interior architecture and design.

His dream of painting American Indians was delayed, but not abandoned...

To ask Winold Reiss what he has done brings a helpless light to his eyes. At random he plucks interesting things out of his crowded memory. There is so much done-so much to be done. Another expedition to the West. Unfinished illustrating commissions from the art editors of magazines. There are color schemes, fabrics, paints, original designs for the public rooms of a new hotel.

Mrs. ... is on the wire. Reiss answers it. He explains laughingly when he is through that a woman had come to him for a design for a restaurant. "I gave it to her," he says, "lovely pastel tones, delicate, fine. Now she says: 'Mr. Reiss, I didn't want it in pastel tones, I want it blue, like Mrs. .. dining room'."

He looks at his work, shrugs, turns his palms outward. So much to do—two hands to do it with only.

As I go out, the students are still at their easels, working. The spirit of the studio is work.

Before leaving, I turn to look at the lettering on the door. There are a few particles of dust caught in the hardened vermilion paint of the name. Winold Reiss must have painted that himself on a windy Sunday morning when everybody else was at church.

Back to top

Home | Life | Works | Studio Circle | The Reiss Partnership

© 2005-2014 The Reiss Partnership. Last Updated: 6/14/14