The Boston School of Art: A Brief Introduction
The Boston School of Art was a group of artists working in the city of Boston, USA. Active between 1900 and 1930, they produced stunning American Impressionist paintings.
Nonetheless, these artists brought their own intensely regional style and sensitivity. Their work encompassed a more traditional approach to portraiture and a deep respect for classical traditions in Western art. Boston School artists combined these attitudes with the more artists’ painterly Impressionist approach emerging from France at the time.
This brief introduction presents the most famous Boston School of Painting artists and their celebrated creations.
What style did American artists of the Boston School use?
Artists painted “genteel” subject matter. Picturesque landscapes, beautiful young women, and society portraits were all typical.
They took great inspiration from Claude Monet impressionism paintings. For these young artists, Monet elevated color and light to their proper place in painting. These artists also profoundly respected the oil painting portraits of John Singer Sargent and the domestic scenes of the Dutch Golden Age painter johannes.
In addition, the Boston School’s “direct painting” approach stemmed from a fascination with the famous Baroque paintings of Diego Velasquez. This painting technique laid thick color directly onto the canvas, so no white space remained. Instead, details and light effects appear with added layers of paint, finally finished with bright white tones.
Who were the famous American painters at the Boston School?
Famous American artists include Frank Weston Benson, William Paxton, and Edmund Tarbell.
These three young artists were part of a steady stream of American painters who completed their education on the continent. Paris and the Academie Julian was the most prestigious and, therefore, most sought-after education.
Most Boston School artists studied at the prestigious Academie Julian, and while in Paris, they learned the fundamentals of traditional Academic art and figure painting. This instruction then fed into inspiration for their American paintings. Many of these artists also taught at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Even before their travels to France, these painters received conventional European-style artistic training in America. This background explains the group’s love of Impressionist styles and ideas.
What inspired Boston School of Art painters?
Boston School artists’ interest in French Impressionism paintings stemmed from the influential American art educator William Morris Hunt. Famed as a tastemaker and artist in his own right, Hunt traveled to Paris.
Inspired by the work he saw on the continent. Upon his return to America, he encouraged many wealthy Boston residents to support these innovative French artists.
As a result, Boston patrons and museums bought works from Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and Jean-Francois Millet. For example, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston organized an entire exhibition of Monet’s art in 1911.
Benson, Paxton, and Tarbell all studied and also taught at the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. As a result, they adopted William Morris Hunt’s love of French Impressionist techniques.
Was Edmund Tarbell a Boston School artist?
Edmund Tarbell was particularly influential in the School of Art. He also participated in the “Ten American Painters” group, which challenged conservative trends in American art.
His art inspired many fellow artists known as the “Tarbellites”. Like many Boston School painters, they worked on Impressionist and Barbizon-inspired landscapes. They also painted many domestic scenes, often featuring women conducting household chores.
William M Paxton’s The Housemaid and The Front Parlor exemplify this approach. These sorts of paintings particularly referenced Dutch Golden Age art from the likes of Johannes Vermeer.
Individual portraits (inspired by John Singer Sargent) were also standard. However, some of Frank Weston Benson’s most celebrated paintings were portraits of his own family. For instance, Summer (1909) and Eleanor (1907) show his daughters near their home on the island of North Haven in Maine.
Edmund Tarbell also created light-filled outdoor portraits inspired by the French “en plein air” approach. One of the best-known is Three Sisters Study in Sunlight (painted in 1890).
What was the Boston Art School style?
These various influences gradually came together, forming the “Boston style” we know today. For example, the American Impressionist paintings of William Merritt Chase illustrate a new regional style known as the “offspring” of European art. Nevertheless, Chase noted how these American artists’ creations no longer strictly resembled their European inspirations.
While European Impressionist art moved towards Symbolism and Post-Impressionism, the Boston School of painting took a different approach. They valued technical skills, realistic compositions, and classical beauty. Nonetheless, they kept the “loose” style of expressive brushstrokes and fleeting effects of light prized by European artists.
As well as leading names such as Tarbell, Paxton, and Benson, other artists associated with the Boston School included Philip Leslie Hale, Aldro Hibbard, John Joseph Enneking, and Joseph DeCamp.
Unusually for the time, the School members welcomed female painters among their ranks. These artists included Lila Cabot Perry, Lilian Westcott Hale, Elizabeth Okie Paxton, and Gretchen Woodman Rogers.
How were Boston School artists received?
Because they respected classical techniques, avant-garde critics often viewed these painters as traditionalists. Taking the opposite approach, fine art academies also chastised these young artists for their loose brushwork and Impressionist techniques.
Despite this mixed critical response, Boston School artists soon dominated the American art scene, famed well into the 1930s and 1940s. Their dedication to painterly detail and quality artisanship set the Boston School artists apart from modernist developments.
The influence of the Boston School of Painting is still strong today. Indeed, many Boston-area artists continue crediting artists such as Frank Weston Benson and Edmund Tarbell as key inspirations.
However, these artists continue to divide modern critical opinion, with some contemporary critics deriding their exclusive focus on upper-class Americans. I
This can be seen in paintings such as Edmund Tarbell’s The Breakfast, with servants only appearing as background figures in the windows and doorways.
The Boston School of Painting: American Impressionist Oil Painting
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