Longtime Washington Artist, Political Cartoonist Paul Arlt Dies
Friday, September 23, 2005
Paul T. Arlt, 91, a painter, political cartoonist and graphic artist in the Washington area for many years, died Sept. 20 of congestive heart failure at his home in Rye, N.Y.
From the mid-1960s until 2002, Mr. Arlt's work -- in watercolor, silkscreen and acrylic -- depicted Washington landmarks and life in political Washington, including committee hearings on Capitol Hill and elected officials. He was represented for many years by the Franz Bader Gallery.
His watercolors and pen-and-ink drawings have been exhibited in museums and galleries across the nation, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Phillips Memorial Gallery, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of the City of New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 1940, The Washington Post noted that Mr. Arlt's "oils and watercolors have met with a growing appreciation, and this young Washington artist has won a definite place for himself." His work, The Post observed, was becoming more abstract, and in his landscape painting, he was simplifying the elements of sea, land and trees in a distinctly personal and powerfully emotive way.
An earlier Post review expressed enthusiasm for "Down Pennsylvania Avenue," a watercolor street scene with the balustrade of the Treasury Department in the foreground.
The 1940 article also noted that Mr. Arlt's talents were not confined to painting. "For two or three years this versatile young man has been running his own frame shop and has been highly successful in the making of simple and original frames."
Paul Theodore Arlt was born in New York City and became intrigued with painting during his last two years at Colgate University, where he received his undergraduate degree in 1933. After his graduation, he lived in New York City for a while and studied painting at Greenwich House, a pioneering settlement house and art school in Greenwich Village.
He moved to Washington in 1934 and studied at the Corcoran Gallery of Art with Samuel Burtis Baker and Eugen Weisz and later with C. Law Watkins at the Phillips Gallery School of Art.
In 1940, Mr. Arlt was awarded a commission from the Treasury Department's Section of Fine Arts to paint a mural at the post office in the small town of Enterprise, Ala. "The Section," as it was called, was a New Deal project to provide work for such young "starving artists" as Mr. Arlt and to provide murals for the many federal buildings constructed during the New Deal era. The project was in existence from 1934 to 1943.
Mr. Arlt traveled to Enterprise, made a number of portrait drawings of townspeople and incorporated the sketches into his mural, a lively street scene swirling around the town's downtown boll weevil monument. During "Art Week" in 1940, he worked on the mural in public in Washington's Interdepartmental Auditorium.
"Starting with his design roughly blocked in, he was able, in the course of Art Week, to advance considerably the painting of the mural," The Post reported. "This was done despite large crowds and many questions."
The Enterprise post office was torn down in 1991, but Mr. Arlt's mural, "Saturday in Enterprise," was preserved and now hangs in the Enterprise Public Library.
At the outbreak of World War II, Mr. Arlt built boats for the Navy in Annapolis for a few months. He then became a Marine Corps combat artist/correspondent, one of more than a hundred servicemen and civilians who accompanied units into combat and recorded what they saw with paintbrushes and pens. He depicted land, sea and air action in the Pacific, including a dramatic drawing that shows the gutted shell of the nine-story Great Eastern Hotel in Manila as it was being destroyed by retreating Japanese soldiers. In the drawing, U.S. Marine dive bombers circle the burning building.
He received a Purple Heart as a result of an injury suffered when he was hit by shrapnel in a foxhole.
After the war Mr. Arlt received commissions from the U.S. Economic Cooperative Administration, a precursor of the U.S. Information Agency, to do paintings in Paris and Copenhagen. He lived in Europe for two years.
Always interested in politics, he was an editorial cartoonist for the New York Herald Tribune from 1951 to 1956. He worked as the art editor for two trade publications from 1956 to 1964, resigning to devote his time to painting. He returned to Washington in 1965.
That year, NASA commissioned him to make paintings and drawings depicting the Gemini launch. His NASA work from the late 1960s is at the Kennedy Space Center and the National Air and Space Museum.
Mr. Arlt moved to Rye in 2001 to be near relatives.
Survivors include his wife of 65 years, May MacClaire Arlt of Rye; a daughter, Ronay Arlt Menschel of New York City; and three grandchildren.