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 Esther Williams  (1907 - 1969)

About: Esther Williams
 

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Lived/Active: New York/Massachusetts/Iowa      Known for: Portrait, flower, circus and musical subject painting

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Ad Code: 3
Esther Baldwin Williams
from Auction House Records.
Garden Walk
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Esther Williams (1907-1969)

She was from a Boston family that included numerous painters, among them her mother, Esther Baldwin Williams (1867-1964), with whom she has at times been confused, her mother’s cousin Adelaide Cole Chase (1868-1944), and Chase’s father, Joseph Foxcroft Cole (1837-1892), who taught art to his daughter and niece.  Cole was a prominent proponent in America of the Barbizon landscape school of painting, having studied in France with Charles-Émile Jacque (1813-1894), and he was a co-founder of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  

Williams enrolled at the Museum of Fine Arts School, Boston, in September 1925. There she studied with Philip L. Hale (1865-1931), who had been a student of American Impressionist Julian Alden Weir (1852-1919) at the Art Students League in New York.  In 1927, after having already begun showing her work in national exhibitions, Williams accompanied her older brother Tom, recently graduated from Harvard University’s architecture school, on a “grand tour” of Europe that lasted a year and a half.  They and two friends traveled around the continent in a rented car, and they were joined for a time by their parents in London and Paris. While abroad, Williams the younger studied, in 1928, with André Lhote (1885-1962), a painter who was very influential as a lecturer, author, and teacher and who had founded his own art school in Montparnasse, Paris in 1922. Williams’ experience was thus similar to her mother’s some fifty years earlier, when Baldwin Williams followed her cousin Adelaide and her uncle J. Foxcroft Cole to Paris for art studies.

Following her return from Europe, Williams moved to New York by 1934 and entered the next stage of her career.  She began to gain widespread recognition, and it was evidently around this time that she enrolled at the Art Students League of New York, whose liberal policies encouraged even brief and casual study there. In 1935, Williams was awarded the Lambert Purchase Prize from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts—where she exhibited regularly from 1927 into the 1950s—for her Circus Horses, a painting of animals backstage in a circus tent. Also in 1935, she was awarded the Worcester (Massachusetts) Art Museum’s Second Purchase Prize in their Biennial Exhibition, for her Between the Acts, Downie’s Circus.  And in 1938, another circus image, Waiting for the Cue, was awarded the Norman Harris Bronze Medal and was purchased by the Art Institute of Chicago during its Annual Exhibition of American Painting.  Other museums also acquired Williams’ paintings, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which bought her Handel Concerto, one of her many works with music or musicians as their subject.

Among other honors the artist received was the $1000 award given in 1944 by The American Academy of Arts and Letters in recognition of Williams’ “warm sensitive vision of life expressed through the medium of painting.” These awards had the purpose of recognizing artists producing distinguished work in fields that offered little in the way of financial reward, to paraphrase the announcement that appeared in the New York Times on April 27, 1944.

Earlier, in 1936, Williams had been the subject of a solo exhibition at the Worcester Art Museum.  Perry Cott, Curator at Worcester and later Chief Curator at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., described Williams’ work:
 
Esther Williams’ pictures are refreshingly imaginative at a time when so many of our painters are absorbingly literal. Many of them betray frankly romantic overtones that create an air of engaging fantasy. Those who seek a message of a new order or theme fraught with “social-consciousness” will not find them here for these paintings are compounded of the elements that delight the senses and beguile the mind.

Williams specialized in circus images and portraits, and, above all, paintings dealing with flowers and with music.

Sources include:

https://gustavus.edu/quarterly/focus/estherwilliams/page2.php

Information provided by Professor Julia Williams Robinson, the artist's niece.

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