Photographer: Haeseler (Firm: Philadelphia, Pa.)
Repository: Archives of American Art
Collection: Macbeth Gallery Records
Author: Smithsonian Institution from US
Salem, Massachusetts has never been known as an art community, but it can lay claim to a man who was called "the most medalled painter in America" by the Boston Transcript in 1914: Frank Weston Benson (1862 - 1951).
Benson was born in Salem in 1862, and raised at what is now 46 Washington Square. His father George, an important cotton merchant, encouraged all of his children to participate in the smorgasbord of cultural activities that Salem had to offer in the late nineteenth century from Lyceum lectures to dance classes at Hamilton Hall, but drew the line when young Frank decided he wanted to pursue a career in art. His mother, a watercolorist, intervened, and Benson enrolled at the new Museum School in Boston in the fall of 1880.
(Bruce W. Chambers at salemweb.com)
In 1883, Benson enrolled at the Académie Julian in Paris where artists such as Bouguereau, Lefebvre, Constant, Doucet and Boulanger taught students from all over Europe and America. It was Boulanger who gave Benson his highest commendation. "Young man," he said, "Your career is in your hands . . . you will do very well." Benson's parents gave him a present of one thousand dollars a twenty-first birthday and told him to return home when it ran out. The money lasted long enough to provide Benson with two years of schooling in Paris, a summer at the seaside village of Concarneau in Brittany and travel in England.
In 1888 Benson gained favorable attention in his first showing with the Society of American Artists in New York, with a piece that suggested the influence of academic realism rather than impressionism. In 1889 he was awarded the Hallgarten Prize at the National Academy of Design annual, and exhibited with Tarbell at the J. Eastman Chase Gallery in Boston. In the late 1880s Benson spent several summers in Dublin, New Hampshire, where he painted with and was influenced by Abbott Thayer. By the early 1890s he began using his family as subjects; Benson later recalled having realized at the time that "design" was the most important component of painting. Consequently, works of the period evidence a greater interest in and command of pattern, silhouette, and abstract design.
Some of his best known paintings (Eleanor, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Summer, Rhode Island School of Design Museum) depict his daughters outdoors at Benson's summer home on the island of North Haven, Maine.
After joining the Ten in 1898, Benson shifted from the decorative painting of murals and allegories, to a genuine interest in plein-air impressionism. The Ten American Painters, generally known as The Ten, resigned from the Society of American Artists in late 1897 to protest the politicalization and commercialism of that group's exhibitions, and their circus-like atmosphere. They were: Childe Hassam, J. Alden Weir, John Henry Twachtman, Robert Reid, Willard Metcalf, Frank Weston Benson, Edmund Charles Tarbell, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Joseph DeCamp, and Edward Simmons. When Twachtman died in 1902, William Merritt Chase joined in his place.
Oil on canvas, 1899
Collection of the IBM Corp at Armonk, NY
The popularity of "The Sisters", a painting which won medals in expositions throughout the United States and in Paris, was a prelude to the successes of the next twenty years, during which time Benson became famous for a series of luminous paintings of his wife and daughters, executed at his summer home in Maine. In 1901 and 1909 he held one-man exhibitions at the St. Botolph Club in Boston.
Oil on canvas, 1906
From hanneorla at flickr.com
Margaret ("Gretchen") Strong, 1909
From THoog at flickr.com
Margaret ("Gretchen") Strong
National Gallery of Art
From Mariana Acuna-Retamar at Picasa Web Albums
Two sources influenced the Impressionist style Benson formulated around the turn of the century. He was inspired to explore the modern French approach by both his friends in the Ten and by the sunlit countryside of North Haven Island, Maine, located in Penobscot Bay, where he summered beginning in 1901. Benson first saw North Haven during the summer of 1900, while staying with friends in Ogunquit, Maine. From Ogunquit, Benson traveled to North Haven, where he visited the farm of Levi Wooster, which stood on Crabtree Point. The artist was immediately enamored of the locale with its open sunlit hills that offered views out to sea, and the next summer, he returned to the island and rented Wooster Farm. He would make annual visits to North Haven with his family for the rest of his life. On North Haven, Benson posed his wife, Ellen, and his children, Eleanor, Elisabeth, George, and Sylvia, on hillsides and at the water’s edge, and created vibrant painterly images that seem filled with light and air. Showing his daughters usually clad in white, their dresses and hair blown by the ocean breeze, Benson’s North Haven paintings express the essence of refined summer pleasures. As William Howe Downes remarked in 1911: “He sets before us visions of the free life of the open air, with figures of gracious women and children in a landscape drenched in sweet sunlight, and cooled by refreshing sea breezes.”
Oil on canvas
Girl Playing Solitaire
Through his paintings, teaching, and involvement in professional artists' organizations, Frank Weston Benson was one of the leaders in the development of an American Impressionist style. Benson is best-remembered for his figurative paintings, most of which he had completed by 1920. His images of young ladies in white dresses standing contemplatively on windswept hillsides gave ineradicable definition to one aspect of American Impressionism. And, with the closely-related works of his friend, Edmund C. Tarbell, his portrayals of the same women reading or sewing in elegantly appointed interiors shaped the central motif of what came to be identified as a distinctively Bostonian tradition.
Bunch of Bluebills
The Long Journey
Drypoint etching on cream
medium thick, slightly textured wove paper
Collections: American Art
Oil On Canvas, 1937
From ARC at artrenewal.org
Oil On Canvas, 1925
From ARC at artrenewal.org
Oil on canvas, 1927
From ARC at artrenewal.org
After the 1920’s, Frank continued his oil painting. He also turned to etching and watercolors depicting wildlife, hunting and fishing motifs. In his life, Frank won more medals for his work than any other American artist.
His fame and financial success lasted throughout his professional life. He was one of the most popular artists of his era, and today his paintings are widely reproduced and considered among the most beautiful works in American public and private collections.
Benson’s works may be found in many important private and public collections including the Albright-Knox-Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Butler Art Institute, Youngstown, Ohio; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; the Cincinnati Art Museum; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Detroit Institute of Arts; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Georgia Museum of Art, Athens; the Huntington Library, Pasadena, California; the Indianapolis Art Museum; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the National Academy of Design, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island; the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln; and the Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts.
(Spanierman Gallery LLC)