Academic painter Douglas Volk was remarkably accomplished, though the coming of modernism would force him into the background. Today, however, his works are enjoying a resurgence in popularity and recognition. His skills as a draftsman, and his elegant compositions distinguished him from his contemporaries, and his unique subject matter and settings give his work a variety that is outside any particular genre.
He was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, but relocated to Rome with his family at the age of fourteen. He began his formal art training in the city, and then at the age of twenty-three he headed to Paris, where he studied with Jean Leon Gerome at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. His first exhibition was only two years later, in 1875, at the Paris Salon. Additionally at this time he was sending works for exhibition in the United States, and was the youngest accepted artist in the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876.
Volk returned to the United States in 1879 and began his second, and lifelong, career in teaching. He began at the Cooper Institute, and then was asked to establish the Minneapolis School of Fine Art. Volk served as Director until 1893.
While in Minnesota he was commissioned to paint two large murals in the state capitol, which were in the Governor's Reception Room, and completed around 1905. He would return to New York to around 1906 where he again taught at Cooper Union and National Academy of Design as well. In 1919 he was again given a prominent public commission to paint portraits of distinguished American and Allied leaders for a pictorial record of World War I.
Volk received membership in the most prominent societies of his day, and his works are in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Academy of Design among others.