Hand a paintbrush to any of the men in the Cavaliere family, and you’re likely to get a portrait with different styles that yield the same result – scenic details that culminate in a flare for fine art.
“Whenever someone asks me what my best painting is, I always say it’s the next one I work on,” Dan Cavaliere, 53, said. “You learn and improve with each new work you do.”
Decades of the paintings exemplifying this passion will be on display for a month beginning April 6 with “Generations: The Cavaliere Family,” at the Z Gallery in West Chester. Like the Havertown resident’s family room walls, covered in portraits of settings from around the region, the art show will feature paintings from the family’s three generations of artists: Cavaliere, his younger brother James, their father Dan and their late grandfather, Raphael James, whom many referred to as “R.J.” or the shortened family name, “Cavi.”
For the Cavaliere family, the gallery exhibit isn’t just a chance to get showcase their contemporary work; the gallery allows the father and sons to celebrate the collective family creativity, which began with R.J. Cavaliere, who died at 96 more than a decade ago.
Following graduation from the Philadelphia Museum School of Art (currently the University of the Arts) in the late 1920s, Cavaliere went commercial with his art.
Dan Cavaliere, Sr., 83, said his father did artwork and illustrations for major magazines and newspapers of his time, such as the Saturday Evening Post, Lady’s Home Journal and Redbook.
On the weekends, while juggling work, R.J. Cavaliere would have his son drive him into Philadelphia so he could paint from settings observed in-person.
“One time he was painting the art museum, and because the street and traffic were in his way, he tied a rope around his waist and around a tree, adjusting himself to get the right view,” Dan Cavaliere, Sr. said. “He’d be down there painting or sketching the whole time. I’d get him four hours later.”
“The rest of us tend to work from photographs,” Dan Cavaliere, Jr. added.
In the early-to-mid 1960s, R.J. Cavaliere abandoned commercial art to focus on pieces such as the potrait hanging in Dan Cavaliere, Jr.’s living room, an oil painting of the docks in Kennybunport, Maine.
Dan Cavaliere, Sr. had a similar path.
“After high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do, and dad turned around and said, ‘you might as well go to art school,’” Cavaliere recalled.
Cavaliere enrolled at the then-Philadelphia Museum School of Art, his parents’ alma mater.
“I had a teacher, Ms. Sweeny, who taught my mom and dad when they went there 23 years earlier,” Cavaliere said. “She’d say, ‘you’re always late, why can’t you be like your father, Cavi? He was always here early, and he’d even stay after school and paint late.’”
After graduating in 1951, Cavaliere enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
While at Camp Drake outside of Tokyo, Cavaliere interviewed with the Pacific Stars and Stripes for a combat illustrator position.
After showing photos of his work and art he had his parents ship over to a captain and manager of the publication, Cavaliere was hired, and submitted sketches and illustrations along with correspondents’ articles.
“It beat the hell out of living on the frontline in tents,” he said.
Cavaliere worked post-war as a commercial artist, submitting sketches as a worker for then-Philadelphia-based ad agency N.W. Ayer and Son and nearby publications, such as the Philadelphia Inquirer’s former Today Magazine.
The father of three eventually moved from watercolor, his go-to medium, to oil paints, eventually having work featured in the popular Newman Galleries in Philadelphia.
Cavaliere’s work is also found in the Rittenhouse Hotel. In 1989, Cavaliere was contracted for a 50 ft. mural of Boathouse Row, which features wall paper on board with pin lights to simulate the area’s evening-lit atmosphere. It was his first mural, and took about six months.
Both James and Dan Cavaliere, Jr. carried the family’s artistic torch. Although he attended the Art Institute in Philadelphia in the early 1980s, Dan Jr. credits his father, who’s sold more than 100 paintings, for his artistic development.
“Anything I’ve learned was through the osmosis from my father,” Dan Cavaliere Jr. said.
The family’s gallery exhibit marks a turning point for Dan. Jr.
Pursuing commercial art with organizations like Texaco didn’t suit him as it did his father and grandfather.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” Cavaliere said. “You’re painting things you don’t want to paint because you’re having to sell a product on deadline.”
A brochure his father gave him in the mid-1980s helped Cavaliere transition into real estate, a career move that allowed him to dabble in art every now and then without the previous stress.
The gallery opening, which goes from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., allows Cavaliere to commemorate his restored passion for art.
“What makes me happy about the exhibit is that it really gives my father a nice feeling of doing something,” Cavaliere said. “I’ve enjoyed it as well … it’s been to the point where I’m hoping I can do this for years to come.”