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 Benjamin Champney  (1817 - 1907)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts/New Hampshire      Known for: mountain landscape, portrait and still-life paintings

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Benjamin Champney
from Auction House Records.
Moat Mountain from Intervale
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Champney (1817-1907) began as an apprentice to a lithographer in Boston.  Reportedly, the American old master Washington Allston advised Champney to study in Paris, then the young artist departed in 1841.  He must have been a success, since his landscape views of the outskirts of Paris appeared at the Salons of 1843 and 1844. In the Louvre Champney made copies of landscapes by Claude Lorrain, Joseph Vernet and Ruysdael.  He said that he fell in love with the landscapes of Diaz de la Peña, the Barbizon painter, and he also appreciated the progressive techniques of Constant Troyon: “the green tones of which were marvellously rich and juicy,” while some critics called the French painter’s landscapes “plates of spinach.”  Often Champney would dine with his roommate John Kensett and John Casilear (1811-1893).  In addition, he met John Vanderlyn and William M. Thackeray.  When Kensett went off to London to claim an inheritance, Champney got his own studio near the Eglise de la Madeleine. After Kensett returned, the two went off to explore Italy (Champney was in Rome with Worthington Whittredge and Kensett in 1845-46), Germany and Switzerland.  At Basel, he discovered the art of Hans Holbein.

Champney would return to Europe later to execute a panorama of the Rhine but returned to America upon the Revolution of 1848.  Champney was rejoined by his old friends Casilear and Kensett in North Conway, New Hampshire where he was one of the first to work at what became an artists’ colony at the White Mountains.  Many consider him to be the founder of the White Mountain School. 

Besides landscapes, Champney was interested in flower painting. The painter wrote in his memoirs, Sixty Years’ Memories of Art and Artists (1900), that his garden was “a constant source of pleasure and profit.”  He added, “Mrs. Champney is very fond of flowers. . . these swirling masses of rich, brilliant colors are very attractive to me, and I can not resist the impulse to plant my easel in some corner, and try what paints and brushes can do in my hands to put down the fleeting, evanescent colors flashing before me in the sunlight.”  Champney sought to “arrange a picture with contrasts of light, shade and color” and to avoid excessive detail of the Dutch.

Champney married Mary C. Brooks, from Indiana, in 1853.  A year later he had a son and they named him Kensett.  J. Wells Champney (1843-1903) was the artist’s other son. Champney was one of the founders of the Boston Art Club, in 1855.  He exhibited there between 1874 and 1908, at the Boston Atheneum (1842-72), at the American Art-Union (1850 and 1852), and once at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1863).  After the Civil War, he took his family to Europe, first to Paris, then down the Rhine through Switzerland. They took the St. Gotthard Pass to Italy. Champney also met Robert Wylie and his circle in Brittany. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has Champney’s Mount Chocorua, New Hampshire (1858) and the Butler Institute of American Art has a later Landscape dated 1878.

Champney, Benjamin. Sixty Years’ Memories of Art and Artists. Woburn, MA: 1900; Hennessy, William G. and Frederic Sharf. “Benjamin Champney and the American Barbizon School, 1850-1857.” Antiques (November 1963): 566-569; Hennessy, William G. “Benjamin Champney,” New Hampshire Profiles (June-September 1965); Keyes, Donald D., et al. The White Mountains: Place and Perceptions. Exh. cat. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire, 1980; Zellman, Michael David. 300 Years of American Art. Secaucus, NJ: Wellfleet Press, 1987, p. 179; Soria, Regina. Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century American Artists in Italy 1760-1914. London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1982, p. 81; Campbell, Catherine H. New Hampshire Scenery: A Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Artists of New Hampshire Mountain Landscapes. Canaan, NH: Phoenix Publishing, 1985, pp. 26-32; Sobieski, Phyllis Knapp. To Draw from Nature: The Dr. and Mrs. Albert R. Miller, Jr. Collection. Hagerstown, MD: The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, n.d., p. 25.

Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in New Hampshire, Benjamin Champney began his career as a lithographer in Boston, but became a renowned landscape, portrait and floral painter.  He was especially associated with scenes of the White Mountains of New Hampshire and described by one art historian as the "dean of the White Mountain painters" (Falk).

He was early encouraged by the highly acclaimed Washington Allston, who persuaded him to study in Europe.  In 1841, he took the first of numerous European trips, which usually included Italy and Paris, and the early travels inspired him to paint landscapes.

In 1846, he returned to Europe to paint a panorama of the Rhine River, and two years later returned to the United States because of the revolution in France.  About 1850, he began painting landscapes in America and spending his summers on the Saco River at North Conway, New Hampshire, and winters at Woburn, Massachusetts.

His landscapes subjects were usually the North Conway region of New Hampshire and his method was to combine detail with panorama.  He spent many summers sketching in the White Mountains and the remainder of the year in his studio doing oil paintings from his sketches.  Many of his floral works were directly from nature.

He was also appreciated for his encouragement of aspiring artists, and in North Conway taught many classes applying Hudson River School painting techniques to the New Hampshire landscape.  He was also a founder of the Boston Art Club and exhibited widely in Boston and New York.  His autobiography is titled: Sixty Years' Memories of Art and Artists.

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Peter Hastings Falk (editor), Who Was Who in American Art

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