This Week in Armenian History

Birth of Hovsep Pushman (May 9, 1877)

Hovsep Pushman was a well noted painter in the New York in the 1930s, when his contemplative still lifes and sensitive portrait of women reached very high prices. 

Pushman was born on May 9, 1877, in Diyarbekir, where his family was in the carpet business. He showed early artistic ability. At eleven, he was the youngest student ever admitted to the Imperial School of Fine Arts in Constantinople.  

In 1896, the Pushman family emigrated to the United States and settled in Chicago, where Hovsep studied Chinese culture, immersing himself in Asian art, and began to teach at the age of 17. He then moved to Paris and studied at the Académie Julian. Pushman exhibited his work at the Salon of French Artists, where he won medals in 1914 and 1921. He returned to the United States in 1914 and two years later he moved to Riverside, California, where he lived until 1919. In 1918, Pushman and a group of California painters founded the Laguna Beach Art Association; the same year he was awarded the Ackerman Prize of the California Art’s Club.  

After his time in California, Pushman spent several years in Paris. He opened his own studio in 1921 and, with the encouragement of Tony Robert-Fleury, one of his teachers at Académie Julian, concentrated his efforts on exotic portraits and still lifes of carefully arranged objects he had collected. According to James Cox, former director of the Grand Central Art Galleries, which represented Pushman for much of his life, “his paintings typically featured oriental idols, pottery and glassware, all glowing duskily as if illuminated by candlelight. They were symbolic, spiritual paintings, and were sometimes accompanied by readings, which help explain their allegorical significance. Most important, they were exquisitely beautiful, executed with technical precision.”  

In 1923, Pushman returned yet again to the United States and settled in New York City. He joined the newly opened Grand Central Art Galleries, which represented him until his death. He set up his studio in the Carnegie Hall building, where he created the remarkable works that he showed at the Galleries. The only illumination allowed in his paintings were specially designed reflector lights attached to the rear of his carefully selected antique frames.  

In 1932, Pushman was honored with a one-man show at the Galleries. Sixteen paintings were on display, and all were sold on the opening day. The prices ranged from $3,500 up to $10,000 (the equivalent of about $228,000 in 2024). The same year, his painting “The Daughter of the Sheykh,” which had won a silver medal in Paris in 1921, was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

The 1940s and 1950s brought controversy and change to Pushman’s world. In 1940 he sued the New York Graphic Society for reproducing a painting without his permission. The ruling went initially against the painter, but it was eventually reversed, and the decision now protects artists’ creative works. He often turned down buyers interested in his work, reportedly once refusing an offer of $6,000 for a small canvas, and in 1942 he became only the second painter in 117 years to refuse entry into the National Academy. 

Hovsep Pushman passed away on February 13, 1966, in New York City. Three months later, Hulia Shaljian Pushman, his widow, followed him. They were both interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.