In the art world, he was often, creatively, compared with Cezanne. But, unlike Cezanne, he rejected any identification with expressionism (or other movements). When pressed, he would say that his work was “expressive.” One critic categorized it as: “His canvases are neither direct visual transferences from nature nor arcane cryptograms. They are synergetic.
The power they exude is abrasively generated by the colliding outer and inner worlds he couples through paint.” Even though he was often identified as a portrait painter, he did not regard himself as one. “His attitudes toward a still life, landscape, or figure composition do not differ from his approach to a sitter…He thinks pigmentally…when he talks, he gives the impression that he is squeezing words out of a tube. His palette is his dictionary…His paintings are of paint in the elemental sense that an adobe house is of the earth.”
He was given the Philadelphia Award for not only his painting, but “more importantly for his contribution to art through a quarter century of teaching at [PAFA]…Franklin Watkins’ influence on his art students constitutes one of the major influences of this great artist on the Philadelphia community. This itself is a highly creative gift.”
Sources: Death notice, Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 7, 1972; Franklin Chenault Watkins, Who Was Who in America, v. 5 1969-1974; “A Salute to Franklin Watkins,” Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, March 15 to April 16, 1972 [exhibition catalogue]; Ben Wolf, Franklin C. Watkins (Phila., 1966); Franklin Chenault Watkins, Who Was Who in American Art, v. 3 1564-1975; “Artist Watkins Gets Philadelphia Award,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 29, 1972; “Artist Watkins to Get Philadelphia Award,” [s.n., January 23, 1972]. The following are collected in Philadelphia Award Records, Series 2 (Recipients & Nominees), Box 7, folder 12: program, clippings, press release. Photo: Philadelphia Record Photograph Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.