Richard Lack working in his studio.

Richard Frederick Lack (March 26, 1928 – September 27, 2009) was an American artist, educator, and writer. He is known for his work in every major genre of traditional art. It combines the drawing of the nineteenth century academic painters with the color and atmosphere of the Boston impressionists. He founded Atelier Lack in 1969 to train students interested in learning the skills necessary to create fine representational art, and he initiated the use of the term “Classical Realism” as an artistic designation. He trained thirty-one artists who taught or opened ateliers and earned the title “father of the atelier movement.”[1]

Background and Education

Richard Frederick Lack was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on March 26, 1928, the only child of Frederick and Mildred Lack. He grew up among primarily Scandinavian immigrant families living near Lake Nokomis in the southern part of the city, an area made famous by Longfellow’s poem The Song of Hiawatha. Lack’s first acquaintance with art came from book illustrations by N. C. Wyeth and others like him. At the age of four he received an illustrated set of volumes called My Book House by Olive Beaupré Miller. Its principal illustrator was Donn P. Crane, and throughout his grade school years he studied the illustrations and later copied them. These illustrations inspired him to become an artist.[2] He graduated from Minneapolis’ Roosevelt High School in 1946.

Lack’s artistic training began at the Minneapolis School of Art (now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design), but his interest in fine representational art led him to look for practical training in New York. While copying in the Metropolitan Museum of Art he met Robert Cumming, a student who was studying with Boston artist R. H. Ives Gammell. In 1946 Gammell had written Twilight of Painting, an educated and insightful analysis of artistic education and trends in the first half of the Twentieth Century. At Cumming’s advice, Lack went to Boston and was interviewed by Gammell.[3]

The Atelier of R. H. Ives Gammell, Boston

Horse Study, 1949. Charcoal, 22 x 28. Private collection.

Based on the quality of the drawings Lack did of horses at the police station stables in New York Gammell admitted him into his small private atelier. Gammell had studied with Boston artist William McGregor Paxton, who had studied in Paris with Jean-Léon Gérôme. Gammell’s teaching combined the drawing and form of the nineteenth century academic tradition with the color and atmosphere of the Boston impressionists. Lack studied with Gammell in the Fenway Studios from 1950 to 1956.

In 1951 Lack’s training was interrupted for two years of service in the U.S. Army where he was deployed in the Korean War as an intelligence specialist. He returned to Boston in 1953. Gammell did not charge his students tuition, but Lack’s G.I. Bill helped cover supplies and living expenses. While studying at Gammell’s summer studio in Provincetown, Lack met Katherine Vietorisz. Katherine was born in Budapest, Hungary, and her family had emigrated to the United States in 1950. She was an accomplished artist in her own right and crafted unique, handmade jewelry. In 1955 Lack traveled to Europe on a scholarship to study the Old Masters, particularly Peter Paul Rubens, whose work greatly influenced him in both style and method.[4] Shortly after he returned Lack painted a portrait of Katherine wearing a hat he purchased for her in Italy. Later that year he and Katherine were married.

The Italian Hat, 1955. Oil on canvas, 24 x 19. Lack family collection.

Return to Minnesota

In 1957 Lack and his wife moved to Minnesota. In 1958 he received a grant from The John F. and Anna Lee Stacy Scholarship Fund.[5] The Lacks purchased a home in Glen Lake and in 1959 he built a studio designed to simulate the lighting conditions recommended in the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. Throughout the next four decades he created a large body of work in a variety of genres: portrait, still life, indoor and outdoor genre, landscape, and imaginative paintings based on myth, history, and the psychology of Carl Jung. Lack worked in oil, watercolor, pastel, and printmaking and gradually gained a considerable reputation among those who appreciated fine representational art.

During the first part of his career Lack was a member of the Provincetown Art Association, the Guild of Boston Artists, and the American Artists Professional League. In the 1970s he helped organize the Twin Cities Guild of Painters, Sculptors, and Printmakers.[6]


Lack in the studio with his portrait of Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.


Through Ives Gammell, Lack became part of the Boston tradition. Boston painters such as William McGregor Paxton, Edmund C. Tarbell, and Joseph R. DeCamp were among the finest American portrait painters of their generation. Throughout his career Lack was a highly sought-after portrait artist and painted many notable individuals in business and medicine. He began his career painting six portraits for the Kennedy family in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.[7] He later painted a portrait for England’s sixth Eardley-Wilmot Baronet,[8] and Minnesota Governors Wendell Anderson and Albert Quie.

Lack possessed the rare combination of gifts necessary to do portraits well: the ability to draw and characterize a head; the facility to draw with the brush; a method that captured the luminosity of flesh; a grasp of the formal elements of design; and the ability to put sitters at ease. From the beginning of his career Lack could paint flesh with an almost startling look of truth. He had an excellent eye for seeing values and a particular sensitivity for discerning the subtle differentiations of warm and cool. Some of his most intimate and charming portraits are the personal chronicle that he painted of his wife and family.

Lack’s aim was to capture the contemporary personality through hairstyle, clothing, gesture, and accessories. The older masters inspired his compositions. He strived to achieve an intensity of workmanship and paint handling, along with good impressionist color and values that distinguish his work as a product of the Twentieth Century. Some of his students and their families or other acquaintances from Atelier Lack commissioned portraits. Several of these are among his finest.


Governor Wendell C. Anderson, 1982. Oil on canvas, 48 x 36. Minnesota State Capitol. Minnesota State Historical Society.

Dr. Barbara Long, 1984. Oil on canvas, 30 x 24. Private collection.

Governor Albert Quie, 1985. Oil on canvas, 54 x 37. Minnesota State Capitol. Minnesota State Historical Society.












Still Life

Kuan Yin, 1982. Oil on canvas, 48 x 30.
Private collection.

Lack continued the great Western still life tradition. “I don’t think that I brought anything unique to the Boston still life tradition. What I brought was something personal, my kind of still life, and my kind of design. Katherine used to say that my still lifes were Baroque, flamboyant, when compared to my contemporaries in Boston. Their still lifes were quite polished, but I wanted mine to have a painterly flair. I was interested in the Baroque painters, especially Rubens, and wanted my work to be a little more animated. As a painter gains skill and experience, he tries to give his paint quality a certain look. It’s an expression of the artist’s personality.”[9]

Peonies in a White Vase, 1967. Oil on canvas, 30 x 20. Private collection.

Lack painted flowers rapidly and well. The subject suited his natural ability for dexterous paint handling. As his career developed, he utilized flowers from his wife’s extensive gardens. “I wanted to capture the freshness of flowers,” he explained. “I’d sketch them in a couple of days from a full bouquet to get the color and design, then finish from individual flowers. After the composition and spotting was there, I’d paint them alla-prima.”[10]

Almost every spring Lack painted a resplendent peony still life, and these became a favorite of collectors. Oriental objects and motives appear frequently and illustrate the variety that he achieved with similar subjects. The method in Lack’s still lifes varies considerably. Some are painted with thick pastes of paint and others are painted with great subtlety.


The Harvest Table, 1972. Oil on canvas, 24 x 36. Private collection.


Indoor and Outdoor Genre

The Stamp Collector, 1974. Oil on canvas, 20 x 24. Private collection.




Genre painting (indoor or outdoor works of people doing everyday tasks) is the category of painting for which the Boston impressionists are justly famous. The attitude of the Boston painters is reflected in Lack’s genre works. “I didn’t choose subjects for their psychological or sociological significance. I painted them as arrangements, a way to create beauty,” he stated.[11]

Lack was a fine musician and played the violin in a local orchestra. His wife and family were also musicians. Lack loved music and the beautiful shape of stringed instruments, so many of his genre works have musical themes. Throughout his career Lack combined his landscape and figure painting into delightful outdoor works of his family and friends.




Trio, 1977. Oil on canvas, 24 x 36. Lack Family collection.


Reading, 1961. Oil on canvas, 42 x 48.
Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, WA.

The Jack-O’-Lantern, 1965. Oil on canvas, 24 x 32.
Lack family collection.











Evening: Jet Trails, 1963. Oil on canvas, 24 x 36. Private collection.











Johnson’s Barn, 1989. Oil on canvas, 24 x 36. Private collection.

Lack loved to be outdoors. His training with Gammell, his love for color, and his enjoyment of nature impelled him to train his eye to see outdoor color. Lack’s extensive landscape oeuvre attests to both his interest and industry. He painted most of his landscapes within a fifty-mile radius of his home. The rural landscape of central Minnesota provided him with an almost endless source of material. He painted the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul with their many beautiful parks, the Minnesota and Mississippi River valleys, and the surrounding farmland.

His landscape oeuvre is extensive, comprising the largest percentage of his paintings. Every year he painted at least six landscapes, in all types of weather and all seasons of the year.



Evening, Lake Superior, 1974. Oil on canvas 20 x 30.
Private collection.



As a change of pace, one of Lack’s favorite places to paint landscapes was the North Shore of Lake Superior. It was picturesque and quiet, a lovely environment in which to paint. He went there often in the summers throughout his career. He also made four trips west and painted landscapes in Glacier National Park, Montana, Estes Park, Colorado, and Zion Canyon, Utah.[12]



Lake Saint Mary, Glacier National Park, 1977. Oil on canvas, 36 x 44.
Private collection.



McGregor’s Ranch, Estes Park, 1989. Oil on canvas 30 x 36. Private collection.










Imaginative Figure Painting

Medea, 1970. Oil on canvas, 60 x 29. Private collection.

Imaginative painting is a broader term used by Ives Gammell, and subsequently Richard Lack, to describe work that had formerly been designated historical or poetical painting. It includes subjects that cannot be completely set up in the studio and painted directly from life: historical, religious, mythological, allegorical, fantasy, mystical, and symbolic art. This contrasts with impressionism, where artists have the subject in its entirety before their eyes and attempt to render the proper relationships they see in front of them. Lack was careful to make a distinction between these two ways of working.[13]

Golden Apples of the Sun, 1987.
Oil on panel, 63 x 36. Private collection.


Lack studied the paintings of Rubens and the Flemish masters as well as those of Veronese and the Venetians. As a result, he gained the practical knowledge to paint in both the bistre and Venetian methods. Most of his imaginative paintings are executed in these methods, with the additional quality of observed color. The subjects of his early imaginative works were traditional, primarily taken from history and literature. His goal was to paint pictures guided by his imagination, with myth as a subject, imbued with personal psychological meaning. In his opinion, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was the key figure in twentieth-century psychology. Gammell had discovered Jung in the 1930s, and the new and arresting imagery in his works inspired Lack to study Jung in more depth. Lack’s studies of Jung “became a key that unlocked new possibilities of subject matter and images that could be used in my art. . . . I am trying to find a personal imagery that expresses the archetypes in twentieth-century man.”[14]

Lack considered the Day of Wrath triptych and The Interior Journey his most important works.[15] He labored on these two series of paintings for over thirty years and spent much of his creative career developing the complex iconography of these symbolic paintings. He felt that he was building upon Gammell’s artistic foundation and further developing the depiction of universal ideas through symbolic imagery. The artistry of these works is sophisticated, and he combined the methods of the Flemish and Venetian painters with brilliant, impressionist color to create works of decorative beauty and expressive power.


The Interior Journey, L-R: Descent into the Unconscious, 1988; The Dreamer, 1990; Demons, 1996; Trial by Fire, 1990; Trial by Water, 1998. All works oil on canvas, 81 x 51.

Triptych, L-R: Revelation to Saint John, 1980, oil on panel, 67 x 38; Day of Wrath, 1990, oil on canvas, 67 x 135; Final Destruction, 1992, oil on panel, 67 x 38.






Etchings and Prints

Lack also practiced the etcher’s art. He admired the works of Maxime Lalanne and developed a sustained interest in the Japanese Ukiyo-e tradition, and the work of nineteenth-century Japanese printmaker, Utagawa Hiroshige.[16] He used evenings, the time after the light for painting had failed, to work on his etchings, aquatints, and woodcuts. Although his output was modest, his etchings and aquatints are dramatic and highly skilled.

Refugees, 5⅜ x 4⅜.

Old Woman, 2¾ x 2½.

Ecce-Homo, 6⅝ x 5⅝.

Rigoletto, 3⅝ x 2¾.









Revelation to Saint John, 1967. Sanguine, 24 x 14.         Private collection.

Drawings and Studies

The drawings and studies of Richard Lack are masterpieces of their kind. They exemplify the expressive power and beauty of the finest artists working in the Western tradition. Lack did many preparatory studies and drawings for his imaginative paintings. He rarely did drawings for their own sake and executed most of them in preparation for his paintings. He drew in charcoal and pencil while studying with Ives Gammell. When he got on his own, he still used these media, but preferred to work in colored chalks on toned paper. This medium had been used beautifully and effectively by the older masters and provided Lack with a quick and easy way to obtain the necessary information. His best drawings exhibit the freedom, dexterity, and beauty of his favorite master, Rubens.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1973.
Sanguine and charcoal heightened with white, 18 x 22.
Private collection.











Day of Wrath, hooded figure study, c. 1988. Sanguine, 24 x 20.
Private collection.

Day of Wrath, study, 1988. Oil on canvas, 20 x 24.
Private collection.

Final Destruction, angel study, 1991. Oil on canvas, 20 x 24. Private collection











Lack (far left) at Vesper George School of Art helping to judge paintings submitted for the student show.

In Boston, Lack taught an evening painting class at the Vesper George School of Art. After he returned to Minnesota in 1957 his long-time friend, artist Don Koestner, recommended that the Bureau of Engraving hire him as a teacher at Art Instruction Schools, a home study correspondence school located in downtown Minneapolis. At the time, the school was noted for alumnus Charles Schulz who had taken their courses and later created the popular comic strip Peanuts. Lack met Schulz and they often played tennis together. Lack was associated with Art Instruction Schools for 10 years. His experience under Gammell enabled him to improve their curriculum. He rewrote and illustrated much of their material and eventually became their Dean of Painting.[17]

Atelier Lack

“To see is the student’s first and last concern. Without a well-trained eye a student can never rise above mediocrity. . .” Richard Lack[18]

Atelier Lack’s final Hennepin Avenue location.

The Seeker, 1977. Oil on canvas, 24 x 18. Private collection. Portrait head study demonstration.

In 1967 Lack wrote On the Training of Painters, an examination of the training of painters throughout Western history, and his judgment about the superiority of the atelier, or studio system. He received three grants from the Elizabeth T. Greenshields Memorial Foundation in Montreal, Canada, “to help initiate an atelier for the purpose of training young students in the traditional craft of painting.”[19] In 1969 Lack founded Atelier Lack. It was incorporated as a non-profit corporation in 1971. Atelier Lack was a small studio school of drawing and painting with an apprentice program based on the principles of the nineteenth century French ateliers and the teaching of the Boston impressionists. It was this dual academic/impressionist tradition that made it unique. Passing this tradition on to talented students was important to Richard Lack. He was grateful to Gammell for the training that he had received. Lack firmly believed that it incorporated the finest qualities of representational art that were nearest to his time and provided a solid foundation upon which contemporary painters could create a truly modern art.

Lack’s sound training, experience with diverse painting methods, and mastery of so many genres of painting made him a uniquely qualified teacher. For many years his atelier was the only place outside of Boston where students could be trained in that tradition. From 1978 to 1988 a former pupil, Stephen Gjertson, assisted him teaching the full-time students. Lack had many male and female students who went on to have successful artistic careers.

The Characteristics of Lack’s Teaching

Lack critiquing a figure drawing by Thomas Mairs, 1973. To his right are Stephen Gjertson, Charles Cecil, Gary Hoffmann, and Allan Banks.

The strength of an artistic tradition lies in its ability to impart the fundamental knowledge and skills necessary to produce fine work without becoming dogmatic and dictating exactly what that work should be. A vital tradition provides and upholds a healthy standard of artistic and technical excellence while allowing and encouraging individual creativity and experimentation. Good training is a hands-on process, a language that is communicated to the pupil by the master through exercise and example. The essence of Lack’s teaching was training the student’s eye to “see.” Seeing was the difficult process of learning to perceive the shapes, values, and color of nature. This sophisticated seeing and rendering of nature must then be incorporated into an appropriate and harmonious design. These principles were at the core of his art and teaching.

In conjunction with the full-time atelier program, the school offered comprehensive part-time evening classes taught by Lack and a selection of former or advanced students. On Saturdays, Annette LeSueur taught young people’s classes. Don Koestner and Gjertson taught landscape sketching classes.

Classical Realism

By the early 1980s Richard Lack had trained a significant group of young painters. Vern G. Swanson, Ph.D., director of the Springville Museum of Art in Springville, Utah, invited Lack and his colleagues to organize an exhibition of their work that would originate at his museum and bear the title “The Other Twentieth Century.” He felt that their work had been neglected in the twentieth century in favor of non-traditional art forms. In 1982 they organized a traveling exhibition of work by R. H. Ives Gammell, Richard Lack, and a selection of their students and artists within their tradition.[20]

Swanson asked Lack to think of a term that would differentiate the realism of the heirs of the Boston tradition from that of other representational artists. In 1969 Lack had written, “Like most painters, I have a strong aversion to labels, but the overwhelming confusion of today’s art world makes them a necessity. The word representational conveys perhaps best the fact that I use the images of the visible world as a basis for my art.”[21] Nevertheless, for a solo exhibition in 1974 Lack had used the term “classical realism” to describe his work.[22] It was difficult, however, to find a term to describe the work of a diverse group of painters, even within a specific tradition. Although he was reluctant to use it, he settled on the designation classical realism to describe the work of the artists represented in the exhibition. The title of the show became “Classical Realism: The Other Twentieth Century.” The exhibition opened at the Springville Museum of Art, then travelled to the Amarillo Museum of Art, and closed at the Maryhill Museum of Art.[23]

“Classical Realism: The Other Twentieth Century.” L-R: Kirk Richards, Portrait of Linda; Don Koestner, Mississippi Valley, Autumn; Richard Lack, Portrait of Susanna; Allan Banks, In the Studio.

Classical Realism, as Lack envisioned it, was rooted in the basic artistic principles embodied within the European French academic and American impressionist traditions bequeathed to him by R. H. Ives Gammell. It was this dual tradition that differentiated Classical Realism from other American artistic traditions. To Lack, the artistic principles exemplified by the term were thorough artistic training, truth to nature, beauty, fine design, and skillful craftsmanship. In the spring of 1985, Atelier Lack began publishing a small black and white periodical. Lack again used the term “classical realism” and titled it the Classical Realism Quarterly. Most of the publication’s staff and writers were artists or students associated with Atelier Lack or their artist associates in Boston.

Entrance wall: center, Trio by Richard Lack; left and right Richard Whitney, Self-Portrait and Portrait of Sandy.

Since then, the term classical realism has been expanded by artists and art historians to include artists from many diverse traditions. It is now used throughout the art world to describe the work of traditional representational artists.



Realism in Revolution

In 1985 Lack and his wife edited the book Realism in Revolution: The Art of the Boston School. It contained twelve essays about art written by Lack and his students, including his essay, “Painting: Understanding the Craft.” He also helped with the design and direction of Heritage Art Gallery in Alexandria, VA.

In 1986 Heritage Art Gallery held its inaugural exhibition, the “First Classical Realists Conference, Realism in Revolution,” featuring work by artists represented in the book.


Atelier East

Atelier East.

Gjertson’s cartoons in place at Atelier East, 1985.

In 1984 Atelier Lack rented a large studio on the third floor of the Chauncey and Martha Griggs House, a Victorian home on Summit Avenue in Saint Paul. The Saint Paul School of Art had been housed in the building and in 1939 they installed a huge, angled north window that flooded the studio with magnificent light. That school had used the space until 1964. Richard Lack visited the home and arranged to rent the studio for “Atelier East,” a Saint Paul branch of Atelier Lack. During the 1985-86 school year Stephen Gjertson painted three large works in the studio and taught four students.[24] The next year four new students used the space, and both Lack and Gjertson critiqued their work. After that school year ended Atelier Lack closed the Saint Paul branch of the school. The studio was then used by several students who hosted exhibitions there in 1987 and 1988.[25]


The Imaginative Atelier

Lack was interested in training imaginative painters.[26] He encouraged advanced students who were interested in imaginative painting to extend their stay at the school and paint compositions in the bistre and Venetian methods. In 1988, Lack began teaching a small group of advanced students imaginative painting procedures and methods at Atelier LeSueur in Excelsior. The studio was large, and he utilized the space to work on his Day of Wrath triptych.

Lack required that each student spend a specified number of hours at the studio. They spent most of their time doing two projects: a single figure composition utilizing the nude, executed in the Flemish method, and a group figure composition using costumes, executed in the Venetian method. The rest of the time they helped Lack underpaint Day of Wrath. Lack operated the advanced atelier for two years. He retired from teaching in 1992 due to ill health. Former students Cynthia Wicker and Dale Redpath assumed teaching responsibilities at the school for two more years and then began The Atelier Studio Program of Fine Arts in another location.

The American Society of Classical Realism

In 1988, after almost a year of meetings, Richard Lack, Gary Christensen, Michael Coyle, and Annette LeSueur founded The American Society of Classical Realism. It was incorporated as a non-profit educational corporation in 1989. It was a professional, artist-run organization devoted to the preservation and promotion of traditional realism and impressionism. The goals of The ASCR included, among other things, education, exhibitions, publications, and scholarships. In 1991 The ASCR assumed publication of the Classical Realism Quarterly from Atelier Lack. The quarterly was eventually replaced by the bi-annual Classical Realism Journal. Richard Lack was an editorial advisor and wrote fifteen articles and reviews in the Classical Realism Quarterly and four in the Classical Realism Journal.[27]

ASCR Guild of Artists 2001. Seated l-r: Lindesay Harkness, Allan R. Banks, Gary Christensen, Michael Chelich. Standing l-r: Carl Samson, Kirk Richards, Paul DeLorenzo, Anthony Watkins, Richard W. Whitney, Stephen Gjertson.

The professional heart of The ASCR was its Guild of Artists. The founding members of the Guild were Richard Lack, Don Koestner, and Stephen Gjertson. They determined the structure of the Guild, the requirements for Guild membership, and elected the initial Guild members. There were eventually seventeen Guild members: Allan R. Banks, Peter Bougie, Michael Chelich, James Childs, Paul DeLorenzo, Stephen Gjertson, Lindesay Harkness, Gary D. Hoffmann, Robert Douglas Hunter (Emeritus), Don Koestner (Emeritus), Richard F. Lack (Emeritus), Steven J. Levin, Brian Lewis, Kirk Richards, Carl Samson, Anthony Watkins, and Richard W. Whitney.[28]

In 2003 the Classical Realism Journal ceased publication. After it ended the society continued to publish an expanded Classical Realism Newsletter. After two years The ASCR published a final, triple-issue Newsletter and ceased operation at the end of 2005.



Richard Lack at his Solo Exhibition, Heritage Art Gallery, 1986. To his right is a portrait by R. H. Ives Gammell.

During his career Richard Lack exhibited in eighty-seven solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States, including “The Academic Dialogue” at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Solo Exhibition at Heritage Art Gallery, Alexandria, Virginia, and “Beauty: A Rebirth of Relevance” at the Newington-Cropsey Foundation in New York.[31] In 1988 the Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington held a major retrospective of his work.

    Distinguished Company

In 2003 the city of Bloomington, Minnesota built a large complex that housed, among other things, the Bloomington Art Center. The center had a spacious, attractive gallery funded by Inez Greenberg. The director of the gallery read an article in a local paper about Richard Lack and in 2008 invited him to exhibit in the gallery. Lack, by now almost eighty years old and in declining health, asked Stephen Gjertson and Don Koestner if they would exhibit with him. Don Koestner was about to turn eighty-five, so Gjertson accepted responsibility to assemble and design the exhibition.

On the frigid evening of January 16th, 2009, Distinguished Company[29]: A Retrospective Exhibition of Works by Richard Lack, Don Koestner, and Stephen Gjertson opened to a large and very sympathetic audience. Don Koestner was unable to attend, and the Lacks and Gjertsons deeply regretted his absence. Lack attended in a wheelchair and was visibly moved to see his Day of Wrath triptych and The Interior Journey paintings hanging together for the first time.

Gjertson and Lack at the opening of Distinguished Company.

Richard Lack works. Left wall: etchings. Straight ahead: left: Spiritus Mundi, 1987; right: A Day in the Country,1984.

Left walls: Stephen Gjertson works. Right wall: Richard Lack, The Interior Journey. Straight ahead: Richard Lack, Day of Wrath, Final Destruction.








This was the last exhibition of Lack’s work during his lifetime. He died late in the evening on September 22, 2009, at the age of 81. He was interred in a private ceremony at Fort Snelling National Cemetery. On November first the Lack family held a well-attended public tribute, memorial service, and exhibition at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, Minnesota.[30] In 2018 the Maryhill Museum of Art featured “Richard F. Lack: The Interior Journey — Paintings, Drawings, and Studies.”[32]

“Richard F. Lack: The Interior Journey — Paintings, Drawings, and Studies.” Maryhill Museum of Art, 2018. Panoramic photo courtesy Steve Grafe.

“Richard F. Lack: The Interior Journey — Paintings, Drawings, and Studies.” Maryhill Museum of Art, 2018. Panoramic photo courtesy Steve Grafe.



Lack and his work won twenty-nine medals and awards, including the first Founder’s Award from the American Society of Portrait Artists. This award is “given to artists who have elevated and continued the tradition of fine portraiture, through works of exceptional merit and the consistent, thorough training of younger artists. Throughout his long and distinguished career, Lack’s work has exhibited the highest standard of both artistry and craftsmanship.”[33] The Aristos Foundation honored him with awards in 1969 and 1985 for his writing, teaching, and significant contribution to the visual arts.[34] He received the “Award of Excellence” from the California Art Club in 1995 for his outstanding work in the field of educating and encouraging the continuation of Traditional Painting.[35] In 2016 he was inducted into the Roosevelt High School Alumni Hall of Fame.[36] Richard Lack is listed in Who’s Who in American Art, Who’s Who in International Art and AntiquesWho’s Who in the Midwest, Who’s Who in American Education, and International Biographies.[37]


Summer on Medicine Lake, 1964. Watercolor, 13½ x 18.
Lack family collection.

Richard Lack created over 1500 paintings, watercolors, drawings, pastels, sketches, etchings, and woodcuts, an oeuvre that is characterized by an extraordinary richness and variety of subjects and themes. During his lifetime he taught ninety full-time students.[38] The legacy of Richard Lack lies in the exceptional breadth and quality of his own art, the art of his pupils, and the art of future generations of artists trained in his tradition. Lack’s art and teaching provided a living link to the great language of representational painting—a language that had passed from master to pupil since the eighteenth century.[39] His teaching enabled many younger artists to paint pictures with a refinement and skill that would otherwise have been impossible. Like R. H. Ives Gammell, Lack did not merely desire to revive past academic or impressionist painting. He sought, rather, to give young painters the tools necessary to visually express their own ideas and emotions about life in the contemporary world.


The artistic legacy of Richard Lack is documented in Richard F. Lack: An American Master, by Stephen Gjertson, published in 2001 by The American Society of Classical Realism. In 2016 Afton Press published Richard F. Lack, Catalogue Raisonné: 1943 – 1998, by Gary B. Christensen and Stephen A. Gjertson. This volume contains a comprehensive record of Lack’s life and work.

The Gammell Lack Institute of American Art

The Gammell Lack Institute of American Art was established in 2022 to preserve and promote the artistic tradition and legacy of R. H. Ives Gammell and Richard F. Lack. Its mission is to house, collect, and display artwork, memorabilia, and documents by artists within this tradition. It will sponsor exhibitions of work by artists, both past and present, whose work reflects the highest artistic standards of this tradition. The Institute will publish newsletters, biographies, books, articles, essays, and videos. It will also provide educational resources for those interested in the Gammell Lack tradition.

Richard F. Lack: Classical Realism is Born (video)

Richard Lack, American Artist (video)


[1] Emilio Longo, The Atelier in the Twenty-First Century, 2015 (revised 2018).

[2] Richard F. Lack, Catalogue Raisonné: 1943 – 1998, Gary B. Christensen, Stephen A. Gjertson, Afton Press, 2016, p. 4.

[3] Richard F. Lack, Catalogue Raisonné: 1943 – 1998, Gary B. Christensen, Stephen A. Gjertson, Afton Press, 2016, p. 11.

[4] Richard F. Lack, Catalogue Raisonné: 1943 – 1998, Gary B. Christensen, Stephen A. Gjertson, Afton Press, 2016, p. 21.

[5] Richard F. Lack, Catalogue Raisonné: 1943 – 1998, Gary B. Christensen, Stephen A. Gjertson, Afton Press, 2016, p. 28.

[6] Richard F. Lack, Catalogue Raisonné: 1943 – 1998, Gary B. Christensen, Stephen A. Gjertson, Afton Press, 2016, p. 464.

[7] Richard F. Lack: An American Master, The American Society of Classical Realism, 2001, p. 75.

[8] Richard F. Lack, Catalogue Raisonné: 1943 – 1998, Gary B. Christensen, Stephen A. Gjertson, Afton Press, 2016, p. 123.

[9] Richard F. Lack: An American Master, The American Society of Classical Realism, 2001, p. 28.

[10] Richard F. Lack: An American Master, The American Society of Classical Realism, 2001, p. 25.

[11] Richard F. Lack: An American Master, The American Society of Classical Realism, 2001, p. 37.

[12] Richard F. Lack, Catalogue Raisonné: 1943 – 1998, Gary B. Christensen, Stephen A. Gjertson, Afton Press, 2016, p. 109.

[13] Richard F. Lack: An American Master, The American Society of Classical Realism, 2001, p. 97.

[14] Richard F. Lack, Catalogue Raisonné: 1943 – 1998, Gary B. Christensen, Stephen A. Gjertson, Afton Press, 2016, p. 118.

[15] Richard F. Lack, Catalogue Raisonné: 1943 – 1998, Gary B. Christensen, Stephen A. Gjertson, Afton Press, 2016, p. 120.

[16] Richard F. Lack, Catalogue Raisonné: 1943 – 1998, Gary B. Christensen, Stephen A. Gjertson, Afton Press, 2016, p. 59. Richard F. Lack, Notes on an Atelier Program, Atelier Lack, 1979, p. 24.

[17] Richard F. Lack: An American Master, The American Society of Classical Realism, 2001, p. 125.

[18] Richard F. Lack, Notes on an Atelier Program, Atelier Lack, 1979, p. 15.

[19] Richard F. Lack, The Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Archives, Montréal, Quebec, Canada.

[20] Richard F. Lack, Catalogue Raisonné: 1943 – 1998, Gary B. Christensen, Stephen A. Gjertson, Afton Historical Society Press, 2016, p. 87.

[21] Richard Lack, Rochester Art Center, exhibition catalogue, 1969, p. 2.

[22] “The Richard Lack Exhibit,” Irene Filkins, The Minneapolis Star, 1974. Richard F. Lack, Catalogue Raisonné: 1943 – 1998, Gary B. Christensen, Stephen A. Gjertson, Afton Press, 2016, p. 453.

[23] The artists included in Classical Realism: The Other Twentieth Century were Kurt Anderson, Allan R. Banks, James Gilbert Coston, Thomas R. Dunlay, R. H. Ives Gammell, Jan Gendron, Stephen Gjertson, Stephen D. Hay, George Herman, Gary Hoffmann, Robert Douglas Hunter, Carl Johnson, Don Koestner, Richard F. Lack, David H. Lowrey, Thomas S. Mairs, Robert C. Moore, Lucinda Murphy, William McGregor Paxton, James C. Prohl, Kirk Richards, Samuel Rose, Anna Marie Van Demark, and Richard W. Whitney.

[24] History of the Nokomis Heights Anniversary Project.

[25] Richard F. Lack, Catalogue Raisonné: 1943 – 1998, Gary B. Christensen, Stephen A. Gjertson, Afton Press, 2016, p. 77.

[26] Richard Lack, “Training Imaginative Painters,” On the Training of Painters, With Notes on the Atelier Program and Article Supplement, The Atelier Studio Program of Fine Arts, 2009 pp. 61-63.

[27] Classical Realism Journal, Volume VIII, Issue 1, Summer 2003, pp. 44-45.

[28] “Classical Realism: A Living Artistic Tradition.”

[29] “Distinguished Company: A Retrospective Exhibition of Works by Richard Lack, Don Koestner, and Stephen Gjertson.” 

[30] Richard F. Lack Memorial video, Gandy Gallery. 

[31] “Beauty: A Rebirth of Relevance.” 

[32] Pressreader, John O’Hern, September 1, 2018.

[33] “Portrait Painting in the Boston Tradition: An Interview with Richard F. Lack,” Stephen Gjertson. 

[34] “The Aristos Award,” Annotated List of Recipients, compiled by Louis Torres.

[35] “Man of the Year Awards,” Richard F. Lack, California Art Club Newsletter, February 2000.

[36] Roosevelt High Foundation.

[37] Richard F. Lack, Catalogue Raisonné: 1943 – 1998, Gary B. Christensen, Stephen A. Gjertson, Afton Press, 2016, p. 464.

[38] Richard Lack, “Training Imaginative Painters,” On the Training of Painters, With Notes on the Atelier Program and Article Supplement, The Atelier Studio Program of Fine Arts, 2009 pp. 129-131.

[39] Jacques-Louis David, Antoine-Jean Gros, Paul Delaroche, Jean-Léon Gérôme, William McGregor Paxton, R. H. Ives Gammell, Richard F. Lack.