Art + the Sea -The Early Paintings of Edward E. Boccia

Edward-Boccia, American-Art, American-Painting, Painting, American-Painters, Modern-Art, Contemporary Art, Ed-Boccia, St-Louis-Artist, WUSTL

fig-3-boccia-1958-dreams-of-sea-mythEdward E. Boccia Dreams of Sea Myth, 1958, oil on canvas diptych, each panel 47 x 23, Collection of The Artist Trust

Fresco like matte surface is matched by a whirling fluid dynamism in Boccia’s early paintings such as Sea Myth, 1958. In the exhibition catalog published on the occasion of one of many retrospectives, the artist comments on the significance of the sea in his work:

“And yet, it is the sea—that vast and primal home of early origins—which revitalizes, in its ebb and flow, the very soul wherefrom my stirrings take their form.” He elucidates that as well the white sail is the “torn spirit” the upturned boat is a metaphor for birth, what the artist calls a “world embryo” who will stop Nereus’ abduction of the bird woman.” (Some Notes by the Artist” in E. Boccia A Retrospective Exhibition. October 30 – December 8, 1960. The Pius XII Memorial Library, St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri).

Edward Boccia Nereus Reborn 1960 .jpgEdward E. Boccia Nereus Reborn, 1960, oil on canvas triptych, center panel 93 x 48 and side panels: 93 x 25, Collection of University of St. Louis, Missouri


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Painting Pictured Above Edward E. Boccia Vivaldi

All Rights Reserved, The Edward E. Boccia and Madeleine J. Boccia Art Trust.

A Poem in memory of the artist by Alvin Horst….

Edward-Boccia, American-Art, American-Painting, Painting, American-Painters, Modern-Art, Contemporary Art, Ed-Boccia, St-Louis-Artist, WUSTL

September 13, 2012


Alvin Horst’s Poem

Contribute as the Cataloging Project Continues

The trust conducts an ongoing cataloging of the artist’s work and encourages all owners to share information about any Boccia work in their possession.

We are currently seeking information about the whereabouts of paintings and drawings by Edward Boccia, including the four paintings commissioned by the First National Bank in St. Louis in 1966, photographs or archival information is welcome.

Please contact us with any relevant information.



Internship Program


We offer a range of internships for university students in the fields of archival studies, art history and museum studies. At this point in time, the internships are unpaid, but offer critical training to students seeking professional development and experience.

If the student is currently enrolled we can work with the student and his or her supervisor to develop independent projects or thesis credits.

Much of the research based work may be performed remotely, but the student should be available for phone calls about 2 x a month. You should have access to a university library and electronic sources for research. We are flexible about the amount of time spent, but require a commitment of a minimum of 3-6 months, and a minimum of approximately 3-6 hours a week.

While all candidates are welcome to apply, we particularly seek to offer training opportunities to women and minorities interested in entering the art historical or museum field. We are seeking to support our efforts through grant programs and foresee collaborations with non-profit youth organizations concerned with art education.

Prospective interns may contact us via email with full application materials including:

  1. Statement of Intent or Cover Letter.
  2. Resume with full contact information.
  3. 2 (3 maximum) letters of reference in your field of study including email addresses of the referees.
  4. Transcript(s) if available.
  5. Writing Samples (academic only please).

Please send all materials as ONE WORD or PDF attachment here with the subject line BOCCIA INTERN APPLICATION


Boccia was a professor at Washington University, St. Louis for over thirty years; following the steps of mid century art world illuminati such as Philip Guston and Max Beckmann.

As part of the influential development of a vibrant arts culture at Washington University, Boccia was deeply dedicated to teaching and rigorous training, the artist instilled in his students not only the drive to experiment, but also discipline and industry as a means to successful creative vision.

In recognition of this legacy, the trust is committed to providing specialized training and education opportunities to university students in the arts in order to create learning and professional self-efficacy.


An Interview about the Artist Edward Boccia on Meural

FROM MEURAL’S Deep Cuts, Episode 6: “Being lost in the color and a sense of beautiful nothingness.” 6.21.17.


art, expressionism, st-louis, new-art, contemporary-art, Edward-boccia, rosajhberland, rosa-berland, contemporary-art, oil painting

Edward E. Boccia, Last Supper for Wayne, 1968, oil on canvas, 88 x 55 inches, Collection of St. Louis University Museum of Art, Missouri. Image courtesy of the Edward E. & Madeleine J. Boccia Artist Trust, St. Louis. ©

Today we are speaking with Rosa JH Berland, an art historian, author, and curator. For Deep Cuts, she’ll be discussing Edward E. Boccia, a late American painter and long time professor of fine arts at Washington University, St. Louis. Rosa is currently writing the first critical monograph on the artist in cooperation with the artist’s estate.

How would you describe Boccia’s work to the uninitiated?

I would begin by describing the artist’s career. Edward Boccia was a post war painter born in 1921 who had served in WW II as part of the elite subterfuge unit charged with creating visual distractions to trick the Nazis.

Boccia was from the NYC area, and studied art at Pratt and Columbia and went on to teach in the Bauhaus method, serving as the youngest fine arts dean at the Columbus School of Art. He was recruited by Ken Hudson to join the faculty at Washington University, St. Louis. Hudson was part of a circle in St. Louis that included expatriate artists, modernists, art collectors, teachers, and museum curators such as Perry Rathbone, H.W. Janson, Morton May, and the Pulitzers. Former Hudson recruits included Max Beckmann, Philip Guston, and Stephen Green.

Boccia would go on to teach for over 30 years at the university and his character and high standards of workmanship and artistic fidelity would influence hundreds of students who became artists. I also think it is important to note that the Midwest was full of monumental American painting including the great murals of Thomas Hart Benton. In fact, I was quite struck by the way Boccia’s work reminded me of the heroism of Mexican Muralism. And so, in my research I came upon Ellen Landau’s work on Phillip Guston’s connection to muralism. Guston traveled with Ruben Kadish to paint a large-scale mural in Moralia, Mexico in 1935. Boccia’s work shares the muralist emphasis on expression set within an architectural structure. The style of dramatic narrative and grandeur is a tradition that continues today with contemporary murals throughout cities worldwide.

To understand Boccia’s work, you must know that artist spent countless hours in the studio making large scale paintings, the most famous of which are triptychs –or panel paintings and measure up to six feet tall. They have a sort of shocking quality, in the sense that the technical aspect is remarkable, the subject matter at times is disturbing and gruesome, and absolutely imaginative. Recently the family uncovered a fascinating series of photos depicting the process of painting the monumental pictures, and this revealed a great deal about the artist’s way of working, the planning, the sketches, the technique of applying paint. It is as if you can see his ideas germinating and evolving as he works. I particularly find the 1979 wedding series fascinating. These paintings and studies were made the same year as the marriage of his daughter Alice. Like many of Boccia’s works, the series works within a rather enigmatic allegorical structure. There is an unsettling quality, and a density in terms of palette and detailing. Like Beckmann’s most well known works, you find yourself lost in the images, drawn to the spectacle, the color, the mysterious motifs, as well as a surreal form of brutality. Similarly Boccia’s iconography remains elusive, yet a rich source for analysis.

What distinguishes Boccia’s work from fellow neo-expressionists? Which of his contemporaries do you feel were also underrepresented?

Well, Expressionism changed the landscape of fine art, theater, and poetry in the beginning of the 20th century, and it transformed into many offshoots or neo-Expressionist forms allover the world. Most of the work is distinguished by disjuncture and fragmented forms often intended to create a certain dissonance, a rebellion of sort, and namely an emotional reaction.

As I mentioned Max Beckmann had briefly served as a teacher at Washington University, and the collector Morton May acquired the finest collection of Beckmann works as well as other important Expressionist pieces. This is important because May was also a great collector of Boccia’s work, and served as the artist’s most significant patron. As well, his family shared with me that he often visited May at his home, and was astonished at a carriage house full to the brim with Expressionists masterworks.

Therefore, we keenly see the influence of Beckmann and some other early 20th century Expressionists, particularly in Boccia’s works like Last Supper for Wayne, 1968. Nonetheless, I would add that later post war work like Boccia’s is inflected with a number of threads and styles including Magical Realism, historic painting, and post war politics. While I accept the label of neo-expressionist for the sake of situating his work, I actually think he has his own pictorial language that defies categorization entirely.

In addition, in response to your questions about underrepresentation, I imagine that there are, in fact, many artists in the world who may be underrepresented because they do not fit into a style that is deemed popular or avant-garde.

Boccia achieved some fame, but you believe he flew under the radar. How did that happen?

He did achieve fame, exhibiting widely, his work is in over 600 private collections, as well as major museums in the United States and Europe, and as I pointed out, important collectors sought his work. In many ways he was fated to fly under the radar as you put it, he made work that was very expressive and engaged in the idea of the sublime and with a complex iconography. However, his work simply did not fit into contemporary ideas of what constitutes the avant-garde e.g. American abstract painting.

In addition to this hierarchy of style, I wanted to know more about the artist’s way of working and why he seemed to be so close to obscurity. The artist trust generously granted me access to the archives and studio work and I have read many of the artist’s journal entries and letters, as well as his written plans for artwork, and lesson outlines for his students. The first thing I would point to is the fact that the sheer toil of making classically rendered pictures is immensely time consuming. It is my belief that rather than spending time promoting himself or trying to make his work commercially viable, he simply worked. The rest of the time was spent teaching. Boccia was a very well read and thoughtful figure, and prodigiously intelligent. He was purposefully disengaged from the world of commercialism and much of art criticism. Moreover, Boccia was acutely aware that his work which after the war was primarily figural, was not “in style” as there was what we might call a hegemony of style in the art world, e.g. the preference of abstraction, and the invested idea that abstraction was the deeper form of art.

As time goes by, do you feel as though abstraction is taking over more of the canon retrospectively than what was true at the time?

It may not even be abstract painting taking over. I wish to say that I love abstract painting, and in fact, my first memory of painting was a blue Helen Frankenthaler picture. I remember being lost in the color and a sense of beautiful nothingness. Boccia’s work demands something different of you, it is far more confrontational, there is no getting lost in the ether, it requires engagement, questioning, a sense of repulsion, and wonder. I would say just because it is stylized, it would be entirely unfair if not foolish to argue it is not a new way of painting. It is immensely complex and engrossing.

Nonetheless, on the matter of complexity, there is also the matter of abstract thinking; by this, I mean the intellectual gymnastics of art critics, the key figures of course are Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg, and their many disciples, who in turn of formed the way we see modernism and the avant-garde.

Truthfully, I find such writing valuable, challenging, and even colorful, however, I think canons are often dictated by critics, who come to dominate the entire dialogue, art scene, institutional collecting practices, etc. I find too often artists are made to take a second seat to critical views. Nonetheless, the arguments of philosophers, literary critics, curators and etc. is in fact an expression of creativity in itself, and interesting because of that aspect. As an art historian, I try my best to engage in this dialogue, to enjoy the ideas etc., but also not to lose sight of understanding the artist’s way of working, and his or her motivation. My experience of using primary sources, interviewing the family, looking through racks and racks of artwork brought me to a place of meaningful investigation and well, ekphrasis.

Thank you for the interview, it is so very wonderful to talk about this artist and the book, which shall be the first of its kind. I am immensely grateful to everyone who has supported the project or contributed to the research including the artist’s widow Madeleine Boccia, his daughter Dr. Alice Boccia, Hilary Kaplan, CalTech, and CC Marsh, Lead Project Research Assistant, Emily May McEwan-Upright, American Painting Research Intern, and Wendy Timmons, German Expressionism Research Intern.


All Rights Reserved, Rosa JH Berland and The Edward E. Boccia and Madeleine J. Boccia Art Trust.

Rosecrans Baldwin’s Great Article + Interview with Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles about The Ghost Army, Morning News

APR 20, 2015

The Ghost Army of World War II, a new book by Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles, tells the story of a top-secret unit that waged war with fakery. Inflatable tanks, sound effects, and other tricks were the tools of someday luminaries like Bill Blass, Ellsworth Kelly, and Art Kane.


The Morning News:You grew up hearing about the “Ghost Army” from your father, William Sayles. What’s your appreciation of those stories like now that you co-authored this book?

Elizabeth Sayles:My father told us very entertaining stories of his time in the war, which contrasted sharply with what some of my friends’ dads had been through. His stories focused on how they would inflate the tanks at night, or how they would impersonate other army divisions. Or how Bill Blass re-sewed his uniform so it fit better. But after working with Rick [Beyer] on this book, and other projects, I see how dangerous their missions really were, and also how effective. So I am very proud of what they did.

I’m not sure they actually realized the scope of some of their deceptions. For example, they were just told to “set up dummy tanks here,” or “drive around town over there and pretend to be 6th Armored division.” But they weren’t necessarily told what the big picture was. My father actually learned a lot from watching the Ghost Army documentary and reading the book.

TMN:In your research, were there stories you hadn’t heard before, that really surprised you?

ES:There was so much I learned through working with Rick on this project. Rick had contacted my father in the late ’90s to interview him for the Ghost Army documentary. I hadn’t thought about those war stories in years, but I got interested in them again. Eventually Rick and I joined forces to mount a couple of art exhibits of the original artwork of the men of the Ghost Army. And then we collaborated on this book.

Most of the logistics and operations I had no idea about, but what was the most surprising to me was how much time they spent on the front line. I had no idea that they were right where the fighting was going on. They carried out several missions inside Germany, sometimes very close to Panzer divisions. They barely escaped the Battle of the Bulge, spent freezing nights sleeping in the cold in Belgium, Germany, and Luxembourg. And they were even shelled. My father had never told us any of that.

TMN:The tricks the unit pulled off weren’t just inventive, but effective as military maneuvers. Did you father and his colleagues see themselves as artists first? As soldiers?

ES:I think they always thought of themselves as artists first. The Army’s rules and bureaucracy were a source of frustration for most of them. Many of the ideas for the deceptions came from the men themselves.

TMN:Lots of the maneuvers were highly innovative.

ES:They innovated as they went along. They decided at one point to set up a fake headquarters, with fake MPs and even a fake general (which was definitely against Army rules). But it all had to be done perfectly and with precision, because the Germans were hard to fool and the consequences would have been dire if they’d been found out. But they never were.

TMN:For a long time, the Ghost Army’s achievements were classified information. How did your father adapt to civilian life? Was it difficult to carry the secret?

ES:My father was very happy to come back and resume civilian life. I think they all were. They were eager to restart their lives, begin their careers, and get on with it. I’m not sure he knew that it was supposed to be secret because he told us about it when we were kids!

TMN:Talk about the art produced by the group. It has the feel of close reporting, almost journalism, in the way that artists used to trail armies and work for the newspapers. There’s also the intimacy of the men being among one another, as both artists and soldiers, sharing this harrowing experience.

ES:The artists who were sent to the front by magazines and newspapers had only one job, and that was to document the war in paintings.

The artists of the Ghost Army, however, drew and painted in their down time in order to keep their sanity, and also because they were just in the habit of drawing all the time. I think for most they weren’t solely interested in documenting the war, they just drew what was there. They drew the shattered villages they passed through, and the people, and each other.

The artwork is amazing for how accomplished it is considering how young most of them were. Many of them were in art school at the time they enlisted, and they just carried their studies into Europe. They practiced drawing and they learned from each other. Ned Harris, who was 18 when he enlisted, learned how to use watercolors from Arthur Singer, who was already a working illustrator. He swears he learned more in the Army than at school. It’s interesting to see how several men would paint the same scene, but in different styles, and how some of their styles began merging.

In art school they were studying the theories of the German Bauhaus, and of course all the painters of Europe. The idea that they now found themselves at the center of the art world was actually very exciting to them, despite the fact that it was a war zone and they were sent there with fake weapons!

TMN:That’s amazing.

ES:My father was excited to go. It was the only way he would ever get to Europe because he had no money. When they got to Paris, of course all the museums were closed, but they could still experience the city that has such a rich artistic legacy. They even visited the brothels so they could draw nudes, ala Toulouse-Lautrec.

And they saved their work. They carried it across Europe with them, sometimes shipped it home or traded it with each other. It has been interesting tracking the work down. And it’s exciting that we keep finding new pieces.

TMN:The variety of the men’s backgrounds, including all these significant artists, is striking. Did the group maintain connections over the years?

ES:The Ghost Army was an interesting mix of artists from the Northeast and a large contingent of coal miners and mechanics from the South.

After the war many of the art students went back and finished their degrees and became a network for each other as they began their careers. My father and Arthur Shilstone had a design studio together in New York in the ’50s. Bill Blass, Jack Masey, my father, and others all kept in touch for awhile. Ned Harris and my father are neighbors and remain friendly to this day.

Washington U. professor Edward Boccia left legacy of images -St Louis Post Dispatch


By Calvin Wilson, Post Dispatch February 16, 2013

Edward Boccia described his art as dealing with “love, lust and life,” and anyone who has stepped back and taken in his creations would be hard put to disagree. With a vividness that reflects the influence of artists from Max Beckmann to Paul Cézanne while adhering to a unique sensibility, Boccia’s paintings and drawings just about reach out and pull the viewer inside them.

For many years a professor at Washington University’s School of Fine Arts, Boccia died last September at his home in Webster Groves. Boccia was 91, and he had seen a lot, including action as a soldier in World War II. And he transformed quite a bit of what he saw into a legacy of countless images.

Boccia’s work, which attracted the backing of nationally renowned art collector Morton D. “Buster” May, is the subject of two exhibitions: “Edward Boccia: Figurative Expressionist,” through March 3 at the St. Louis University Museum of Art, and “Edward Boccia: Early Work,” opening Friday at the Sheldon Art Galleries.

edward-boccia-the-encounter-1979 Edward E. Boccia The Encounter, 1979

“He created his own world through his art,” said Petruta Lipan, director of SLUMA. “And his world is very complicated and multilayered.

“You look at his artworks, and you think you know what you’re looking at. But the more you look at it, the deeper and deeper it gets, because he mixes mythology and religion and literary themes within one work. And that’s what makes his work so interesting.”

Philanthropist May (of the May Department Stores, which owned the Famous-Barr chain) was an important figure in getting out the word about Boccia, said the artist’s daughter, Alice Boccia, who is an archeological conservationist.

“He was a huge art collector here in St. Louis, and every year he would come over to the house and look at all the work Dad had done for the past 12 months,” said Boccia, who now lives in Los Angeles. “From, say, 1952 until he passed away in 1983.”

May purchased hundreds of Boccia’s works, keeping them for his collection or giving them to museums, universities and acquaintances.

The exhibition at SLUMA focuses on Boccia’s large-scale paintings, including triptychs (three-panel paintings). The works are displayed with just enough room for spectators to stand back and ponder their meanings. Particularly striking are “Low Tide” (1983), which depicts a bearded man reading a book while impaled on what appear to be sticks rising out of the water, and “The Absolved” (1984), a portrait of a male and a female who have fish heads but human genitalia.

In contrast, “Edward Boccia: Early Work” is more intimate in scope. Olivia Lahs-Gonzales, director of the Sheldon Art Galleries, said the exhibition — which focuses on drawings and paintings made between 1941 and 1969 — sheds light on a different side of Boccia’s artistry.

“It gives people another view of what he was like as an artist, and his interests,” she said. Among the pieces are “drawings that he made during World War II, or right at the end of World War II, of fellow soldiers and people that he met in France and other places.

“You can see the influence of the Old Masters in his work,” Lahs-Gonzales said. “Also, people like Van Gogh.”

Boccia was born in Newark and studied art at Pratt Institute in New York (where he met his future wife, Madeleine Wysong). He is estimated to have created 4,000 paintings, and his work is included in more than 600 private collections, as well as being part of the permanent collections of SLUMA, the St. Louis Art Museum, Washington University’s Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, the Denver Art Museum and the National Pinakothek in Athens.

It was through May that Boccia became familiar with the work of Beckmann, a German expressionist painter who taught at Washington University in the 1940s, and who had his first U.S. retrospective in St. Louis in 1948.But whereas Beckmann merely passed through St. Louis, Boccia – who came to Washington University in 1951 as an assistant dean – spent most of his life here.

“I can look at his work for years, and I still find something new,” Lipan said.

‘Edward Boccia: Early Work’

When • Friday through May 18. Opening reception is from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday; galleries open until 8 p.m. Regular hours are noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday, noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and beginning an hour before performances and during intermission.

Where • Sheldon Art Galleries, Nancy Spirtas Kranzberg Gallery, 3648 Washington Boulevard

How much • Free

More info • 314-533-9900;

‘Edward Boccia: Figurative Expressionist’

When • 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; through March 3

Where • St. Louis University Museum of Art, Aronson Gallery, 3663 Lindell Boulevard

How much • Free

More info • 314-977-2666;

All Rights Reserved, The Edward E. Boccia and Madeleine J. Boccia Art Trust.

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