Edward Middleton Manigault

Fellowship Parkway Artist Fasted for Sake of Vision

By Dave Ptach

Former Echo Park resident Edward Middleton Manigault (1887 – 1922) had a brief but acclaimed career as a modernist painter, ceramicist and furniture maker. Believing that fasting could heighten his sense of awareness and creativity and allow him to “see colors not perceptible to the physical eye,” he would fast for extended periods while working on paintings.

While Manigault did show an amazing palette, this practice eventually led to his death by starvation at age 35. Following his death, Manigault faded into obscurity for many years, largely due to the scarcity of his works known to exist (at one point, he destroyed up to 200 of his works because he felt that they were unworthy of his signature).

Recently, however, there has been renewed interest in his oeuvre, sustained by a small, devoted circle of scholars and collectors. Manigault was born in London, Ontario, to prominent parents who encouraged his interest in drawing. At the age of 18 he was commissioned by his hometown to make renderings of public buildings, which were reproduced and sold as postcards.

In 1905 he moved to New York to attend the New York School of Art, where he was mentored by Kenneth Hayes Miller. In a short time Manigault became the hit of the New York art scene, his art collected by J. Paul Getty and Arthur Jerome Eddy and featured in prestigious shows at the Armory and the Whitney. As a painter he was versatile and highly emotional.

In 1915 Manigault’s life turned sharply in a different direction when he interrupted his successful career as a painter to volunteer as an ambulance driver in World War I. He was sent to Flanders, site of some of the heaviest fighting. After being exposed to mustard gas, he suffered a nervous breakdown and was discharged. From this point on his health would slowly deteriorate. Returning to New York he found it difficult to concentrate on painting. Helping him through his bouts of depression was his wife, Gertrude, whom he had married just days before going off to war. Despite his declining health, Manigault did continue to experiment and create some brilliant works.

Seeking a milder climate and slower pace, the Manigaults moved to Echo Park in 1919, purchasing a house on Lemoyne St. in Fellowship Park. This change led him to focus more on decorative arts, and he produced beautiful ceramics as well as furniture. He also received a lucrative commission to design flatware for Oneida.

Beth A. Venn writes in Middleton Manigault: Visionary Modernist, a catalog published by Hollis Taggart Galleries in New York: “It seemed that almost immediately upon his arrival in California, Manigault enthusiastically embraced the basic premise of the Arts and Crafts movement – that craft and handiwork could be elevated to the aesthetic level of painting.”

Manigault’s fatal mistake came when he accepted a job in San Francisco. With Gertrude in Los Angeles, there was no one to monitor his fasting. On August 25, 1922, Gertrude received a telegram saying that Manigault was very ill. She took the train to San Francisco and arrived to find him emaciated and semi-conscious. After checking into the hospital, the doctor said it would be about a month before he would regain his strength. He never did.

On August 31 Manigault was pronounced dead of starvation and neurasthenia. He had essentially martyred himself for his art. Middleton Manigault’s work is part of the permanent collection at the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio and the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, S.C.

This article appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of the EPHS News.