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 Edmund Charles Tarbell  (1862 - 1938)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts/New Hampshire      Known for: upper-class female figure, portrait

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Ad Code: 1
Edmund Charles Tarbell
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A leading Boston painter in the style of Impressionism, Edmund Tarbell was born in West Groton, Massachusetts, and raised in Boston where as a teacher at the Boston Museum School influenced a succeeding generation of Impressionists who became known as the Boston School. However, he always retained an element of realism in his work. His early paintings are most known for depictions of well-bred upper class women, fashionably dressed and at leisure, and his work was "among the most advanced in color and aesthetic of light of any American artist." (Gerdts 92).

However, as Tarbell moved into the 20th century, his palette became more conservative with less emphasis on color vibration and more on indoor figure arrangements with elegantly appointed interiors. He also was a much sought after portrait painter in Washington DC where his subjects included Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover.

When he first arrived in Boston, he was only fifteen. His father had died, and his mother remarried, and he was sent to live with his Boston grandparents. He took a job as an assistant at the Forbes lithography firm and then studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School as a student of Otto Grundman, Frank Benson, and Robert Reid. In 1883, he went to Paris with Benson, and both worked under Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre at the Julian Academy. However, his major influence was Impressionism, a style that was becoming increasingly influential among French artists.

In 1885, in Boston, he began a life-long career as a portrait painter but gained his early recognition with his figural works, many of them posed in interiors. From 1889, he began a twenty-four year career at the Boston Museum School where, "despite the placid nature of his paintings, he was a peppery, assertive man with strong opinions. He became one of the most respected and feared art instructors of his day,..." (Zellman 570). In 1918, he moved to Washington D.C. and focused increasingly on portrait painting and also became Director of the Corcoran School.

William Gerdts, "American Impressionism"
Matthew Baigell, "Dictionary of American Art"
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"
Michael David Zellman,, "300 Years of American Art"

Biography from Pierce Galleries, Inc.:
Edmund C. Tarbell (American, 1862-1938):
Edmund Charles Tarbell was one of the most influential artists of the 19th and early 20th century because he championed impressionism while maintaining his respect for academic traditions and he “fathered” what is known as The Boston School of Painting by virtue of his spontaneous brush and refined subject matter. After training in Boston and at the Academie Julian in Paris, Tarbell and Benson began their teaching careers at Boston’s Museum School in 1890 and by 1912 Tarbell’s influence both as a painter and teacher was international. His devotees including William Paxton, Joseph DeCamp, Frank W. Benson, Philip Leslie Hale, Lilian Westcott Hale, Marguerite S. Pearson, William and Lee L. Kaula, and hundreds of other painters were dubbed Tarbellites because the artists devoted their artistic careers to portraiture, interiors and landscapes in which light flowed, impressionism was combined with reverence for academic tradition, and the genteel society they knew was painted as it did everyday activities.
Tarbell was elected an Associate and then a National Academician at the National Academy of Design in New York City, but in 1898 he left the National Academy with Childe Hassam, J. Alden Weir, Frank W. Benson and others to exhibit independently away from juries with The Ten American Painters. Because of the fame and artistic perfection the members of The Ten exhibited, they quickly became the most sought after group of American impressionists in the world and each man’s reputation and financial position was set for life.
After Tarbell had head the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston from 1889-1912, he and Benson resigned as the School’s leading Art Instructors and Tarbell accepted a position as the Director of the Corcoran Gallery School in Washington, D.C., to which many of his Boston students followed.
Tarbell won numerous gold medals, was a juror for U.S. and international exhibitions and was renowned for his exquisite renderings in portraits, interiors and pleinaire landscapes. When Modernism became the rage, art critics and the public alike sought to collect outdoor paintings by Tarbell, despite the fact he painted very few of them because his portrait commissions were so demanding. Today, out of approximately 455 known paintings executed by the artist, 90% of his pleinaire canvases are in museum collections.
After marrying Emeline Souther of Plymouth, Massachusetts, on November 7, 1888, the couple often visited Tarbell’s in-laws in that coastal town, where Tarbell painted until 1910. Having painted primarily portraits of U.S. presidents, dignitaries, war heroes and the rich and famous or canvases that show the Brahmin society doing daily chores within intimate home interiors, Tarbell had little time to paint outdoors, but when he did landscapes directly on location the brushwork was fluent impressionism and most people rank these examples as his most French in feeling and character. Although Tarbell executed a few canvases in which his prize-winning thoroughbred horses are seen, fewer major oils exist that include figures outdoors like In the Garden (Terra Museum, Illinois).
The artist died in New Castle, N.H. in 1938 a world-famous American impressionist. In that year the Museum of Fine Arts gave Tarbell and Frank W. Benson a two-man retrospective, but Tarbell did not live to see the exhibition. Patricia Jobe Pierce’s Edmund C. Tarbell & the Boston School of Painting (1980) is the first and only biography of the artist (1980, with Life Work section) and her forthcoming Edmund C. Tarbell Catalogue Raisonné is being compiled.

Biography from Owen Gallery:
They credit a biography by Erica Hirschler that appears in "The Bostonians: Painters from an Elegant Age" by Trevor J. Fairbrother:

Edmund Charles Tarbell is considered the leader of the "Boston School" of artists, a group whose paintings are generally characterized by an Impressionist technique, often depicting single female figures in dark interior settings. Other notable members of the unofficial "Boston School" include Frank Benson, Joseph De Camp, Philip Leslie Hale, and William Paxton.

Tarbell was born in West Groton, Massachusetts in 1862. He studied drawing as early as grammar school, and entered the Boston Museum school in 1879. In 1883, Tarbell and his classmate, Frank Benson, set sail for Paris in order to study at the Academie Julian. The two young artists also took time to travel throughout England, France, and Germany.

In 1886, Tarbell returned to Massachusetts, settling in Dorchester where he earned a living as a portrait painter. In 1889, Tarbell began teaching at the Boston Museum School, a position he retained until 1912.

By 1891, Tarbell began painting bright, loose canvases in the Impressionist manner, and in 1898, became a founding member of The Ten. However, by 1905, Tarbell adopted a quieter, low-keyed style for his interior figure studies--a style critics often compared to 17th-century Dutch Masters. This style is most often associated with the "Boston School," as above described.

In 1918, Tarbell became the Director of the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., continuing to summer in New Castle, New Hampshire, where he had maintained a home since the late 1880s. In 1926, he retired permanently to New Castle, where he was able to devote much time to his favorite hobbies, baseball, golf, and horses. He died in 1938.

Biography from Spanierman Gallery:
Recognized as the leader of the Boston figure painters, Edmund C. Tarbell was born in West Groton, Massachusetts, in 1862. During his youth, he attended evening drawing classes at the Massachusetts Normal Art School, and at the age of fifteen, he entered the Forbes Lithography firm in Boston as an apprentice engraver.

In 1879, serious about pursuing an artistic career, he enrolled at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he was taught by Frederick Crowninshield and the German expatriate painter, Otto Grundmann.

Tarbell traveled to France in 1879, joining his friend and fellow Bostonian, Frank Benson, at the Académie Julian in Paris. There, under the tutelage of Gustave Boulanger and J.J. Lefebvre, he continued to develop his growing skills in the depiction of the human figure. At the same time, he received his initial exposure to Impressionism. After making trip to Italy and Germany, he returned to Boston in 1886 and started to make his living as a portraitist.

In 1889, Tarbell began what would become a long and influential tenure as a painting instructor at the Museum School. Around the same time, he turned increasingly to Impressionism, specializing in colorful portrayals of genteel young women in outdoor sunlight. His reputation as an important American modernist was firmly established with "In the Orchard" (Private Collection), of 1891, in which he combined his enduring interest in sound draughtsmanship with a bright Impressionist palette, loose brushwork and Renoir-like composition.

By 1897, his influence within the Boston milieu was such that the New York critic, Sadakichi Hartmann, coined the term "Tarbellite" to describe the work of Benson, Philip Hale, Joseph DeCamp and others following the same aesthetic framework.

Tarbell exhibited his pictures at such prestigious Boston venues as the St. Botolphe Club and the Boston Guild of Artists. However, like most of the Boston School painters, he realized the importance of artistic and critical exposure in New York City. He subsequently exhibited at both the Society of American Artists and the National Academy of Design.

In 1898, he was invited to join The Ten American Painters, a group consisting primarily of Impressionist-inspired artists, such as J.H. Twachtman and J.A. Weir, which was formed in reaction against the large, stylistically-diverse exhibitions of the Society of American Artists. Tarbell quickly became one of the more prominent and highly-respected members of The Ten and exhibited with the group until its disbandment in 1918.

After the turn-of-the-century, Tarbell began to specialize in interior genre scenes, which many critics compared to 17th century Dutch painting, especially the art of Jan Vermeer. His transition from the freer, more experimental Impressionism of the 1890's to this more structured approach is best exemplified in his "Girl Crocheting of 1904" (Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery), in which a single figure is situated in a simple but elegant interior, suffused in a soft, but cool light. In addition to these classically serene genre pieces, Tarbell continued to paint portraits as well as the occasional landscape and still life. Throughout his long career, he continued to emphasize the importance of technique, especially drawing.

Tarbell continued his affiliation with the Museum School until 1913. In 1918 he moved to Washington, D.C. to assume the directorship of the Corcoran School of Art. While in the capitol, he painted many portraits, including likenesses of Presidents Hoover and Wilson. He retired to his summer home in new Castle, New Hampshire, in 1925, where he remained active as a painter until his death in 1938.

Examples of Tarbell's work can be found in major public and private collections throughout America, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C.

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Edmund Tarbell is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Impressionists Pre 1940
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
Paris Pre 1900
"The Ten"

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