1862 (Salem, Massachusetts)
1951 (Salem, Massachusetts)
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landscape, portrait, genre and wildlife painting, etching
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Impressionists Pre 1940
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
Paris Pre 1900
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
in Salem, Massachusetts, Frank Benson was a painter of impressionist*
seascapes and landscapes, often with figures posed by his wife and
children, and also numerous hunting scenes. He spent most of his life
in the seaport town of Salem and loved trekking through the countryside
for his subject matter, especially wildlife. He is credited with making
the American sporting print a distinct art form and for being one of
the outstanding 20th-century wildlife printmakers. |
He was a
teacher in Portland, Maine at The Society of Art, and in Boston at The
Museum of Fine Arts, where he and his good friend Edmund Tarbell
established it as a top-notch institution.
He studied art in
Boston at the Museum School of Fine Arts, and in 1883 in Paris with
Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre at the Academie Julian* during the French
Impressionism movement. By the early 1900s, he had a very successful
career and was a member of the Ten American Painters*, a prestigious
group of early impressionists.
He was a life-long hunter, and
it was said that he knew birds as only a sportsman can. He worked in
both etching* and drypoin* and was lauded for his clear design, the
naturalness of his birds and hunters, and the mastery of etching
In 1900, Benson discovered the pleasures of North
Haven Island off the coast of Maine, and from that time, he and his
family spent every there, even purchasing a farm where he had a studio.
There his style became increasingly impressionistic.
through his career as a recognized oil painter, he began to paint with
watercolors, perhaps inspired by Winslow Homer's use of that medium to
show hunting scenes in the Adirondacks. In 1921, Benson became a
serious watercolorist while on a fishing expedition to the Gaspe
Peninsula of Quebec, and from that time until his death in 1951, he
created nearly six-hundred watercolors. He also did an occasional still
life with Oriental themes such as Confucius circa 1930.
In 2005, The Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit, Massachusetts had an exhibition of work by Benson titled Frank W. Benson---Sportsman/Etcher
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Faith Andrews Bedford, Guest Lecturer on Frank W. Benson at the Cahoon Museum Exhibition, September 13-October 22, 2005.
* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see
|Biography from Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc.:|
|Frank Weston Benson was born in Salem, Massachusetts, at a time when
the wharves still bustled with maritime activity and the warehouses of
the old town were filled to overflowing with the exotic goods of the
China trade. Commercial plenitude was the leitmotif of Benson's
youth. He lived surrounded by it in the fine, commodious house
owned by his grandfather, the China-trade captain, Samuel Benson.
The artist's father, George Benson, was a cotton merchant who commuted
to work in Boston, fifteen miles to the southwest. When Frank
Weston Benson died in Salem, eighty-nine years later, the nuclear age
had already begun. In the interim Benson lived a long, eventful, and
happy life, financially secure, surrounded by a loving family, and
presiding, along with a close circle of collegial friends, over the
art-life of Boston. |
Benson's father expressed initial doubt
over his eldest son's plan to be an artist, but, persuaded by Benson's
mother, gave him the wherewithal to try. In 1880, Benson enrolled at
the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where his fellow
students included the friends and colleagues of a lifetime-Edward
Simmons, Willard Metcalf, Ernest Fenellosa, William Bicknell, Edmund C.
Tarbell, Robert Reid, and Joseph Lindon Smith. They all studied with
the school's founding teachers, Otto Grundmann and Frederick
Crowninshield. For his twenty-first birthday, Benson's parents gave him
a ticket to Paris and one-thousand dollars to buy as much art education
as that sum could obtain.
Benson spent the years 1883 to 1885
in Europe, sharing Paris quarters with his school chum and
fellow-artist, Joseph Lindon Smith, studying during the winter at the
Academie Julian with Gustave-Rodolphe Boulanger and Jules-Joseph
Lefebvre, and spending the summer of 1884 in Concarneau, Brittany.
Benson returned to Salem in 1885, he struggled to establish himself as
a portrait artist. There was no cultural latitude for a son of
Salem to be anything less than self-supporting. Benson's Salem
family was comfortable, to be sure, but not rich, their fortunes
grounded in the mercantile activities of early nineteenth-century
Massachusetts, not in the railroad building and manufacturing that
created enormous wealth after the Civil War. Throughout his
career Benson earned a living from his art, paying careful heed to
finances and always mindful of the need to support his large family.
Indeed, when Benson's younger brother John announced his desire also to
be an artist, George Benson, the paterfamilias, ruled that one artist
in the family was sufficient, with the result that John trained as an
architect and did not return to painting until late in life after a
successful career in business.
In 1887, Benson accepted a
teaching position at the Portland School of Art in Portland, Maine, but
remained only until 1888, when he again returned to Salem to marry a
childhood friend, Ellen Peirson, and set up a studio in Boston.
In the late spring of 1889, Benson was offered a teaching position at
his alma mater, the Boston Museum School, where he began an affiliation
that would last until 1912. The twin foundations of Benson's
early success were his work as a teacher and as a first-rate
professional portraitist. The canvases on which his historical
reputation rests, however, come from the second phase of his career
when he exhibited as a member of The Ten, from 1897 until 1919.
is the iconic work of this period. After World War I, as the
modernist style gradually gained ascendancy in America, Benson withdrew
from portraiture and figure painting and made a specialty of etchings,
watercolors, and occasional oils of wildlife and sporting
subjects. This reflected his lifelong love of the coasts,
marshes, and hills of New England, as well as his passion for bird
hunting and fishing. It also secured a niche away from the
controversies of the art world, a specialized area where his skill and
commitment to his subjects continued to find ready appreciation and
Benson maintained a studio in Boston until 1944 and
painted until the end of his long life. A fertile combination of
talent, application, sound training, and good fortune combined to make
Benson the very model of a successful New England artist.
1899 to 1903, Frank Weston Benson and his young family spent their
summers in Dublin, New Hampshire. In the late nineteenth century,
Mount Monadnock played landscape muse to a summer colony of artists
settled in Dublin under the leadership of Abbott Handerson Thayer
(1849-1921). (For an excellent discussion of Dublin as an artists'
colony, see Barbara Ball Buff, The Dublin Colony, in University of New Hampshire Art Gallery, Durham, A Circle of Friends: Art Colonies of Cornish and Dublin,
exhib. cat. .) Alongside the eccentric but nurturing
Thayer, Benson set up his easels and painted the landscape scenery
around Dublin including Mount Monadnock, which had inspired generations
of artists and writers principally from Boston and its environs.
Monadnock rises 3,165 feet over the small towns of Cheshire County in
southwest New Hampshire. The name, derived from an Indian word
whose meaning remains unclear, was first given to this New England
mountain, and then generally applied to similar geologic structures,
the remains of resistant bedrock that stand alone over adjacent
countryside. The tiny town of Dublin, New Hampshire, nestles at
the base of Monadnock. Founded as a farm community in the early
nineteenth century, the rocky soil was soon turned soon proved more
appropriate for sheep grazing. By the mid-nineteenth century,
summer boarders offered an additional source of income to local
residents with large houses. By the 1870s, well-to-do Bostonians
began to buy or build their own houses in the neighborhood, providing a
basis for the local economy in supplying goods and services as well as
adding a substantial group of taxpayers. The Boston summer
residents came to include professors and architects as well as the
preacher and abolitionist, Thomas Wentworth Higginson. The
presence of so many well-connected and "interesting" people from Boston
drew their peers from other major cities.
Mount Monadnock is
visible from Boston and its environs, and it served as a spiritual
focus for various Boston literary and philosophical types including the
historian, William Hickling Prescott, as well as Ralph Waldo Emerson,
Henry David Thoreau, William Ellery Channing, and Theodore Parker.
(Thoreau hiked on the mountain, Emerson composed a poem about it, and
Theodore Parker spent time at Dublin's first boarding house in the
summer of 1855.) The hamlet of Dublin, too, attracted a group of
artists drawn by the scenic serenity of its White Mountain location and
the presence of the summer homes of a number of sympathetic patrons.
the early artists who painted Monadnock were Alvan Fisher, John White,
Allen Scott and Jesse Talbot. The beginning of the Dublin Art Colony
proper dates to 1888, the year that Albert Handerson Thayer was invited
to summer there by a student and patron, Mary Armory Greene, great
granddaughter of John Singleton Copley. In 1901, Thayer moved to Dublin
Among the artists whom Thayer attracted to Dublin
was Frank Weston Benson. (For a discussion of Benson in Dublin, see
Susan C. Faxon, Frank Weston Benson, Abbott Thayer, and Dublin, New Hampshire,
in Berry-Hill Galleries, New York, Frank W. Benson: A Retrospective,
exhib. cat. , pp. 133-143.) Benson's link with Thayer was
at first indirect. Benson had studied at the Boston Museum School
with Joseph Lindon Smith and in 1883-85 the two had shared rooms in
Paris when they both studied at the Académie Julian. When Smith
returned to Boston he made connections with Boston society. It is
believed that Smith urged Benson to summer in Dublin.
Benson, the memory of the Dublin summers and of his relationship with
Thayer, never faded. In 1915 he wrote to Emma Beach Thayer "I keep
always the warmest feeling for you all and interest in Abbott's work.
Though we do not often meet. What he was to me in my early years is not
to be expressed by any words. . ." (Benson to Emma Thayer, November
1915, Abbott Thayer Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian
Institution, Washington, D.C.,, Roll D200, frame 910, as quoted in
Faxon, op. cit., p. 134).
Submitted December 2004 by Thomas B. Parker, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York City
|Biography from Red Fox Fine Art:|
|Excerpt from Animal and Sporting Artists in America by F. Turner Reuter, Jr. © 2008:|
Frank Benson was born in Salem, MA, on 24 March 1862. He was the second of six children, all of whom were encouraged by their parents to learn by experimentation. In this vein, while his siblings dismantled their mother's sewing machine and constructed lightning rods, he began painting birds in his teens. During these years he explored the marshes around Salem, both on foot and in small boats, shooting and sketching waterfowl. His formal education in art commenced when he was nineteen with Otto Grundeman, Frederic Crowninshield, and others at the School of Painting and Drawing of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MA), where he met several future fellow members of the Ten American Painters (a group that split from the Society of American Artists in 1898 out of dissatisfaction with its standards) such as Robert Reid (qv) and Edward Simmons, as well as Edmund C. Tarbell (qv) and fellow Salem native John Redmond. Benson and Redmond began teaching drawing classes in Salem two evenings a week in 1882. In 1883, after a trip to Cuba with his father, Benson went with his friend and Museum School classmate Joseph Lindon Smith to France, where he studied in Paris at the Académie Julian under Jules Lefebvre and Gustave Boulanger and summered in Concarneau, a village in Brittany. During this period he also met John Singer Sargent (qv) and Willard Leroy Metcalf (qv), both of whom numbered among his closest friends.
Upon his return in 1885 Benson worked as a portrait painter in Salem and taught in Portland, ME, for two years. He married Ellen Peirson, a friend of his sister's whom he had also known in Concarneau, in 1888. In 1889 he began teaching at the School of Painting and Drawing of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Benson became joint head, with Tarbell, of the school in the following year; he remained in that position until 1913, when he, Tarbell, and others resigned their positions after a disagreement with the governing council as to how to run the school. During the same period he painted in Dublin, NH, where he worked with Abbot Handerson Thayer (qv); Newcastle, NH, where he and Tarbell taught a summer open-air painting class from 1893 to 1898; Eastham, Cape Cod, MA, where in 1893 he purchased a house with two of his brothers-in-law as a hunting retreat; and North Haven Island, ME, where he spent summers with his wife and children beginning in 1901.
Benson attained his initial success as a portrait and figure painter, using interior and exterior compositions, for which he used both professionals and his children as models. While he never abandoned this sort of painting, in 1912 he began depicting game birds and waterfowl with greater frequency. In addition to painting in oils, he often drew in ink wash and composed in watercolor. At the same time he took up etching, in which he had dabbled with some success in 1882 but had not pursued since. His first known exhibition of a waterfowl scene was Swan Flight, which he showed at the St.Botolph Club in Boston in 1894. He is first known to have placed human figures in his sporting works in 1906, although it was 1914 before he started doing so regularly.
His lifelong enthusiasm for angling and wing shooting provided him with the experience necessary to make such works accurate in every regard. His etchings in particular proved so popular that he nearly exhausted himself on more than one occasion in trying to meet demand. He produced over 350 individual plates in his lifetime, and a complete set of etchings and drypoints printed from these plates is in the collection of the Boston Public Library. He also made seven lithographs, of which six were wildfowl subjects, but found he had little interest in the medium. After 1921 he began working more extensively in watercolors, with the result that he was able to paint scenes from the shooting and fishing trips that he regularly took in Canada and the eastern United States. During and after the 1920s his sporting scenes attained considerable popularity. In 1935 Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling (qv) asked Benson to design the second of the Federal Duck Stamps; the result, done from his wash drawing Canvasbacks, is the rarest example of that series.
Benson was a member of the Chicago (IL) Society of Etchers and, in New York City, the National Academy of Design, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the National Association of Portrait Painters, the Society of American Etchers, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Ten American Painters. He exhibited several works at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, including Flying Merganser in 1920, Leaping Salmon in 1923, and Great White Herons in 1934. He exhibited somewhat less frequently at the National Academy of Design; among pictures shown there was Bald Eagles, in 1942. At the Art Institute of Chicago he showed numerous paintings, such as The Fox Hunter in 1915, Wood Duck Pond in 1923, The Crow in 1924, and Grouse Flying in 1938.
He received medals for exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Philadelphia Watercolor Society; the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, IL, in 1893; the Paris Exposition in 1900; the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY, in 1901; the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, MO, in 1904; and the Sesqui-Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1926. He also exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, England; the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, PA; the Boston Art Club; and the Society of American Artists and the American Watercolor Society, both in New York City.
His paintings and etchings were in high demand for exhibition and sale; he had numerous one-man and joint shows at various galleries, and on several occasions found himself unable to fulfill a request for paintings to exhibit because everything was either sold or promised elsewhere. Institutions holding his work include the Carnegie Institute; the Buffalo (NY) Academy of Fine Art; the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; the Fogg Museum at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem; the Los Angeles (CA) County Museum of Art; and the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, among many others. His murals of The Three Graces and the Four Seasons are in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
Benson died in Salem, MA, on 15 November 1951.
|Biography from Pierce Galleries, Inc.:|
|Benson, Frank W. (American, 1862-1951):|
Frank W. Benson and Edmund C. Tarbell (American, 1862-1938) studied in Boston and Paris together and headed the Museum School at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for over 25 years.
They were formally introduced to Leon Bonnat of Paris via a letter from Boston painter Frederick Porter Vinton (1846-1911). In 1896 Benson gifted Vinton one of his finest canvases, a portrait of Mary Sullivan. In that same year Benson won a prize of merit at the Boston Art Club, a medal of excellence at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, the Shaw Fund Prize at the Society of American Artists and a medal at the Cleveland Art Association.
By 1896, Benson's American influences were Frederick Porter Vinton and Abbott Henderson Thayer, and his murals painted in 1896 for the Library of Congress (Washington, DC) reflect that. However, Benson developed his own style separate from theirs and he became a finer technician.
The Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin 6 (1908), page 34, expressed admiration of Benson’s development of techniques that established a unique treatment when painting female figures and assessed in complimentary terms Benson's “realizing (true nature) instead of idealizing the delicacy and vivacity of American girlhood.”
Benson wrote to his daughter, “A good picture has a certain austerity, a distinction, whether of the thing itself, the lighting, the color, or the arrangement. Mere craftsmanship, representing nature, does not make a picture.” (Benson “Advice” Jan. 6, 1930.) Aspiring to show qualities of the unseen, Benson wrote his daughter that he intended to leave “undescribed the places that are dim and cloudy, and painting sharply the silhouetted values.” (Benson, “Advice” July 18, 1944.)
After Benson visited Maine and New Hampshire in the early part of the 1900s, he began to paint outdoor scenes (rather than interiors with women doing genteel tasks), and he became famous for hunting and fishing scene that depict men in a blind shooting wild geese and birds and for his etchings of those subjects.
Frank W. Benson was born in Salem, Massachusetts on March 24, 1862. In 1881, he entered Boston’s Museum School (then located in Copley Square), where he studied painting with realists Otto Grundmann and Frederick Crowninshield and where he became a life long friend and colleague of impressionist Edmund C. Tarbell.
From 1883-1885, Benson and Tarbell studied in Paris at the Académie Julian with realist M. Gustave Boulanger and Joseph Lefebvre. In 1884, Benson painted with Edward Simmons, Alexander Harrison and Arthur Hoeber in Concarneau, Brittany, where he acquired a somber palette in interior genre subjects.
Returning to Boston in 1886, Tarbell and Benson shared a Harcourt Studio, and Benson taught at Portland’s Society of Art. In 1889, Benson and Tarbell became the directors and primary teachers at the Museum School in Boston and their students (often referred to as the “Tarbellites”) became known for impressionistic paintings held together with academic refinement.
Benson and Tarbell became renown for their genteel portraits and tender genres that showed well bred young women doing every day things within interiors or outdoors.
In 1890, Benson went to Dublin, New Hampshire, where he painted and was highly influenced by the work of Abbott Thayer, George deForest Brush, Frederick V. Porter and Rockwell Kent.
In 1891, he and Tarbell were given a two-man exhibition at J. Eastman Chase’s Boston Gallery, and in 1893 he was commissioned to paint murals for the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. Soon thereafter, he painted murals in Boston Public Library.
In 1897, he became an Associate of the National Academy and in 1898, he was a founding member of The Ten American Painters, a radical avantgarde group of American Impressionists who rejected and resigned from the National Academy and the Society of American Artists to exhibit independently without juries.
In 1900, Benson was given his first one-man exhibit at the St. Botolph Club in Boston. By the end of his life, Benson was internationally recognized as one of America’s most prominent painters and etchers.
He was known for female portraiture, interiors genres and active wild life subjects. He was a member of many leading art clubs, was given over 40 solo exhibitions, and won numerous top awards for excellence. By the time he died in 1951 in Salem, Massachusetts, Benson was revered as one of the most important American artistic figures.
Benson's awards include top honors at the Boston Art Club, Carnegie Institute, Society of American Artists and the Cleveland Art Association.
Benson is one of the most sought after American Impressionists worldwide. Prices for his major canvases of women generally are well above $1,500,000.
The majority of his canvases that depict women as the central subject, are in museum or institutional collections. Benson is represented in the collections at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Denver Art Museum, the Mobile Museum of Art, Yale University, National Academy of Design, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Smithsonian, the Norton Museum of Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Fogg Art Museum, the Farnsworth Art Museum, Worcester Art Museum, the Carnegie Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Portrait Gallery, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Gallery, the R.I. School of Design, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Library of Congress, the Terra Museum of Art, the Butler Art Institute, the Los Angeles County Museum, the High Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute, Cincinnati Art Museum, the Chrysler Museum, the White House and more.
In 2001, a Benson Retrospective was held at The Peabody Museum in Essex, MA,
Literature: Pierce, P.J., Edmund C. Tarbell and the Boston School of Painting (1980); Berry-Hill, NYC, "Frank W. Benson, A Retrospective," (1989); Spanierman Gallery, NYC, "Frank W. Benson, The Impressionist Years," (1988); The Art of Frank W. Benson, American Impressionist, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA (1999).
Submitted by P.J. Pierce
|Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:|
|Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Frank Benson was a painter of
impressionist seascapes and landscapes, often with figures posed by his
wife and children and also numerous hunting scenes. He spent most
of his life in the seaport town of Salem and loved trekking through the
countryside for his subject matter, especially wildlife. He is
credited with making the American sporting print a distinct art form
and for being one of the outstanding 20th-century wildlife printmakers.
He was a teacher in Portland, Maine at The Society of Art, and in
Boston at The Museum of Fine Arts, where he and his good friend Edmund
Tarbell established it as a top-notch institution.He studied art in
Boston at the Museum School of Fine Arts and in 1883 in Paris with
Boulanger and Lefebvre at the Academie Julian during the French
Impressionism movement. By the early 1900s, he had a very
successful career and was a member of the Ten American Painters, a
prestigious group of early impressionists.
He was a life-long hunter, and it was said that he knew birds as only a
sportsman can. He worked in both etching and drypoint and was lauded
for his clear design, the naturalness of his birds and hunters, and the
mastery of etching techniques. In 1900, Benson discovered the pleasures
of North Haven Island off the coast of Maine, and from that time, he
and his family spent every summer there, even purchasing a farm where
he had a studio. There his style became increasingly impressionistic.
Midway through his career as a recognized oil painter, he began to
paint with watercolors, perhaps inspired by Winslow Homer's use of that
medium to show hunting scenes in the Adirondacks. In 1921, Benson
became a serious watercolorist while on a fishing expedition to the
Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec, and from that time until his death in 1951,
he created nearly six-hundred watercolors. He also did an
occasion still life with Oriental themes such as "Confucius" circa 1930.
Peter Hasting Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
|Biography from Spanierman Gallery (retired):|
|A member of the Ten American Painters and an important figure in the Boston School, Frank W. Benson was one of the first American artists to combine the figure with the Impressionist landscape. His images of women and children in sunlit meadows and hillsides established Impressionism as a major style of painting in America. These works are among the most beloved American Impressionist canvases today. |
Benson is also known for his indoor figural depictions which convey the quiet contemplative spirit of the genteel age and for paintings, etchings, and watercolors of sporting subjects, especially of fishing and hunting, which he rendered in the later portion of his career. Benson’s 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.
Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Benson was a descendant of a family that had settled in Salem during the Revolutionary era and had prospered in the maritime trade. He grew up in privileged circumstances, engaging in sporting activities of tennis, fishing, and hunting, which he enjoyed for the rest of his life.
From 1880-1883, he received his first art training at the newly founded School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he met fellow artists and life-long friends, Edmund Tarbell and Robert Reid. In 1883, Benson traveled to Paris and continued his studies at the Académie Julian under the instruction of Gustave Boulanger and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre. During his French years, he copied Old Master paintings at the Louvre and spent summers in the country. During the summer of 1884, he visited Concarneau, Brittany, where he met American painters, Alexander Harrison, Arthur Hoeber, and Edward Simmons, and was influenced by their somber palettes and genre subject matter.
On his return home in 1885, Benson rented a studio in Salem, Massachusetts and began to exhibit at the Boston Art Club and the National Academy of Design in New York. In spring or fall of 1887, he taught at the Portland School of Art in Maine. In the next year, he moved his studio to Boston and was married to Ellen Peirson, a childhood friend. Although the couple settled in Salem, much of Benson’s life revolved around the Boston art world after he became an instructor at the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston in 1889. Along with Tarbell, who began to teach there at the same time, Benson helped to establish the school as one of the outstanding art instruction facilities in the United States.
Benson spent the summer of 1890 in Dublin, New Hampshire, where he came to know other artists who summered in the area, including Abbott Thayer, George de Forest Brush, and Rockwell Kent. In Dublin, Benson created a number of landscapes, but he returned to his emphasis on the figure in the early 1890s, when he created a number of interiors, which feature elegant women in darkened rooms lit only by firelight and oil lamps.
Benson had achieved a position of renown in the Boston art scene by the early 1890s. In 1891, he had his first important show, a joint exhibition with Tarbell at J. Eastman Chase’s Gallery in Boston. Around the same time, he became a member of the Tavern Club, where he made the acquaintance of many well-to-do Bostonians who purchased his works. Through the Tavern Club Benson met the prominent expatriate painter, John Singer Sargent, whose art had an influence on his.
In the early 1890s, Benson participated in the interest in decorative art that accompanied the American Renaissance era. In 1893, he created murals for the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, and a few years later he took part in the decoration of Boston Public Library, creating murals for the vault of the library’s south corridor.
In 1898, Benson joined a number of painters from New York and Boston, including Tarbell, Reid, Simmons, Thomas Dewing, Childe Hassam, J. Alden Weir, and John H. Twachtman, to form the Ten American Painters. This group, which broke from away from the Society of American Artists (the principal artist organization of the time), consisted of several of the most advanced and talented artists of the era, many of whom were working in the French Impressionist style. Benson exhibited in all of the Ten’s annual exhibitions, which were held for twenty years.
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."
By contrast, in his studio during the winter, Benson maintained a more traditional approach, depicting quiet interiors inhabited by carefully wrought figures. These works were influenced by the Dutch Little Masters, Vermeer in particular, and by Benson’s academic training. Benson’s interiors resembled those of Tarbell, who had initiated the Vermeer revival in America, and it was for these works that Benson has come to be known as a leading figure in the Boston School.
In the 1920s, Benson focused on another sort of imagery. Always a passionate naturalist and outdoorsman, he gave his attention to portraying wildlife, sporting, and hunting scenes. His depictions of these subjects in oil, watercolor, pen and ink, and etching were extremely popular.
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