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Art: Neoterics’ Acrobat

4 minute read

The Society of Neoterics is a group of arty Chicagoans who meet once a month to talk about art and their souls. At less frequent intervals they hold exhibitions in the basement of Chicago’s Auditorium Building. Only two of the Neoterics are well known outside Chicago: Art Critic Clarence Joseph Bulliet of the Chicago Daily News and Sculptor Maude Phelps Hutchins, wife of the president of the University of Chicago. An exhibition in the basement last week introduced a third noteworthy Neoteric to the world in the person of Torvald Arnt Hoyer, 63.

Critics promptly hailed him as the greatest U. S. primitive painter since Pittsburgh’s John Kane. There was much similarity in their work. Artist Hoyer, like Artist Kane, painted ingenuous landscapes of pink and yellow houses under cloudy skies with plenty of rich green trees. Also like Artist Kane, there was a great deal more shrewd technique in Artist Hoyer’s paintings than appeared at first glance. Pittsburgh’s Kane got much attention from the Press because he had once been a housepainter. Chicago’s Hoyer was the first able painter that anyone could remember who had been a professional acrobat. No tank-town curtain-raiser, he had played Big Time vaudeville for 24 years, was headlined from Copenhagen to Australia. Elderly booking agents still recall him as the only member of the Yoskary Brothers who was not a Yoskary.

It was Torvald Hoyer’s passion for painting that first made him an acrobat. Son of a well-known Copenhagen coal-dealer, he started posing for the Danish court painter Frants Henningsen at the age of 13, later studied in his studio. When Torvald was 19 and a great hulking youth famed as a school gymnast, his teacher suggested that he ought to travel, to see the great art galleries of Europe. Hoyer promptly picked up another muscular schoolmate named Max and formed a tumbling team. Vaudeville engagements came quickly. Soon they teamed up with four other tumblers, became the Montrose Six, moved on to acrobatic triumphs.

Always Torvald Hoyer was the Understander.* At the cry of ”Hep!” he would arch his chest, flex his muscles and allow the rest of the Montrose Six to swarm all over him, stand on his head, festoon themselves from his arms. This went on for years. Playing Switzerland one year, he met and married a Danish toe dancer.

All these years Hoyer never forgot his paints. Brushes and canvas traveled with him in the same trunk with his spangled leotards and high-laced gilt boots. Every minute that he could snatch from the theatre he spent in museums or sketching in the country. Strongman Hoyer likes to boast that he has seen every famed painting in the world. His sextet broke up a few years after 1902 when it first arrived in the U. S. Torvald Hoyer became Understander for the Yoskary Trio, an Italian act. In 1915 he put away liniment and leotard for good, settled in Chicago. At present he works four days a week in a factory, and at his show last week he introduced to the assembled Neoterics a dark, middle-aged man as his boss. Where the factory is and what Artist Hoyer does in it are his own secrets.

In painting, the late George Inness is his particular hero. “I understand Inness as though I were his son,” said Hoyer last week. Not for a minute, though, does he regret the years that he understood the Yoskary Bros. His eyes still flash and his chest goes out at the rum-tum-tiddle-iddle of the acrobats’ march, Entry of the Gladiators. And when stiff from painting he occasionally steps away from the canvas for a back-flip and a handstand.

*Another famed Understander to rise to higher things is onetime Strongwoman Mae West.

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