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Sears Gallagher

 (1869 - 1955)
Sears Gallagher was active/lived in Massachusetts.  Sears Gallagher is known for landscape, marine, watercolor, etching.

Sears Gallagher

Biography from the Archives of askART

An American Master of Watercolor and Etching by Peter Hastings Falk, 1999.

Sears Gallagher was a Boston painter who is counted in the pantheon of the first generation of the "Boston School" that included Edmund C. Tarbell, William M. Paxton, Joseph R. DeCamp, Frank Benson, Philip L. Hale, and Herman Dudley Murphy. While these artists built their careers on a foundation of portraiture and still life painting, Gallagher pursued a different route. In contrast, he focused on watercolors and etchings to create landscapes and marine scenes. In this pursuit he was a pioneer of his time.

Watercolor painting would not be widely appreciated until the 1890's even though the American Water Color Society was founded in New York in 1866, and was led by such watercolor geniuses as Winslow Homer, Thomas Moran, William Trost Richards, Francis Hopkinson Smith, John LaFarge, Henry Farrer, and others. It was not until the 1920's that a groundswell of interest in watercolor painting gradually spread, and American artists were being credited as having forged a truly "American" spirit with watercolor, a spirit marked by its freshness and vigor.

Of the first generation Boston School, only the names of Frank Benson and Gallagher are synonymous with mastery of both watercolor and etching. Unfortunately, Gallagher's entire collection was placed in storage after his death. Consequently, the names of the second generation of Boston School watercolorists who grew up admiring Gallagher are better known to us today - artists such as John Whorf [1903-1959] and A. Lasell Ripley [1896-1969]; or the New Yorker, Ogden Pleissner [1905-1983]. Now, we are pleased to present the re-discovery of Sears Gallagher, an artist who was lauded during his lifetime as one of the great watercolor painters and master etchers of his era.

Sears Gallagher was born in West Roxbury (South Boston), Massachusetts, on April 30, 1869 to William and Mary M. Sears Gallagher. His descent included a long line of Pilgrim ancestors - Governor William Bradford among them.

Gallagher's father encouraged the natural talent of all four of his sons, and provided them with a subscription to "Harper's Monthly", which, during the "golden age of illustration" featured all of the great pen & ink illustrators such as Edwin Austin Abbey, Charles Parsons, and many others. Consequently, as a boy, Gallagher always carried a sketchbook about with him, and was especially drawn to sketching boats and harbor scenes in Boston. Later, Gallagher boarded the big fishing boats, often on deep sea trips - all the while sketching. In fact, he was so consumed by drawing that even while attending Boston's English High School, he was enrolled by his parents at the Hawes Evening Art School where he studied drawing under George H. Bartlett [d. 1923].

In 1887, at age eighteen, Gallagher studied privately under Tomasso Juglaris in Boston. Although little known today, Juglaris was highly regarded for his ambitious, often theatrical, murals. He was an effective teacher, proud of his draftsmanship. "He would draw with uncanny accuracy the human skeleton. To that he would attach tendon and muscle and finally clothe it with flesh. He would challenge other artists to compete with him in drawing. Sears Gallagher, who was full of this master of long ago, felt gratitude still for his instruction."(1)

After about two years of study with Juglaris, Gallagher began study with Samuel Peter Rolt Triscott [1846-1925], the teacher likely to have focused him on painting in watercolor. Triscott was born in England and came to Boston in 1871 and taught many students the English watercolor technique of layering transparent washes. In 1925, his obituary stated, "He may be said to have taught watercolor painting to America, especially what is known as the transparent wash." (2)

Even as a student, Gallagher particularly enjoyed exploring the Maine coast, making painting excursions as far north as Nova Scotia. It was on one of these trips, in 1890, that he first visited Monhegan Island and felt the spell of its beauty. Today, Monhegan still looks much the same as it did one-hundred years ago. The prize is a view from the island's headlands - the most picturesque on the New England coast - which rise steeply from the pounding surf of the Atlantic Ocean. Foggy mornings, crisp salt air, unpaved roads, and an unspoiled village continue to attract artists, who for more than half the year can be found setting up their easels all around the island.

Gallagher spent more than fifty summers painting on Monhegan. It was likely he who urged Triscott to visit Monhegan in the late 1890s. In 1902, Triscott left Boston and the art world behind, settled permanently on the island and, according to most accounts, never again set foot off it. He was nicknamed, "the Hermit of Monhegan," and the press reported that "He stays on the island all winter and paints in the open air, defying the cold." (3)

During the late 1880's, while an earnest art student in Boston, Gallagher shared studios with several artists, the best-known of whom is Charles H. Woodbury. (4) Woodbury was at this time also starting to earn a reputation for his "black & white" work, and he and Gallagher were finding illustration commissions from the leading Boston magazines. Woodbury was also beginning to produce a number of etchings, and may have presided over Gallagher's first attempts with the needle made in 1888 - two scenes of City Point, Boston. By 1911, both were etching in earnest, each becoming prolific masters.

Beginning in 1887 - and every year for the next fifty years - Gallagher's watercolors were accepted for the annual exhibition at the Boston Art Club. (Beginning in 1929, his works were accepted hors concours; that is, without having to pass the jury.). In 1894, his first solo exhibition was held at Foster Brothers' new gallery on Boylston Street in Boston. The show, which featured 32 watercolors and drawings, drew praise from critics of both the "Boston Herald" and the "Boston Transcript". His subjects were divided between Maine shoreline scenes (including Monhegan) and New Hampshire's White Mountains. Thus, as early as twenty-five years old, he had already begun the pattern of his life, spending his summers capturing the fisherfolk and picturesque atmosphere of Monhegan and his autumns painting the colorful mountain vistas of New Hampshire.

In 1895, Gallagher married and spent more than a year in Europe, traveling first to picturesque towns along England's southern coast. Next, they spent several months traveling about the French countryside, where Gallagher painted at Giverny where Monet lived. He also spent a period at the quaint village of Grez-sur-Loing, near Barbizon. After months living in the country, the couple settled in Paris in the Montparnasse district because it was located near a number of the art academies. Gallagher spent the year studying at the Académie Julian under Jean Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant. His first success came in 1896, when two of his watercolors - "Côtes d'Amerique" ("American Coastline") and "Champs de Maïs" ("Cornfields") - were accepted to the Paris Salon.

Upon his return to Boston, Gallagher began exhibiting his watercolors, making his debut at the American Water Color Society in 1897. Art critics saw watercolors as one medium where the influence of French Impressionism did not predominate as it did in oils; rather, the English and Dutch techniques - employing thin washes and utilizing the white of the paper - were widely adopted. American critics' most common complaint, however, was not about stylistic indebtedness, but about American artists' habitual preference of foreign subjects.

Gallagher also exhibited landscapes of Giverny, Grez, St. Ives, and other picturesque foreign villages, but once he returned from Europe he focused almost exclusively upon exhibiting his watercolors of New England. In 1900, his atmospheric Monhegan watercolor, "Foggy Weather," was accepted to the Paris Exposition. Not only was this the only watercolor from New England that passed all juries, but critics declared it to be "easily one of the gems of the collection, and artistically and technically of great merit." (5)

Gallagher made several return trips to England, France, and Italy but his first love would remain Monhegan and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Coincidentally, the man credited as the first painter on Monhegan (in 1858) - Aaron Draper Shattuck - is today best remembered as a painter of the White Mountains. The marine painter, Milton J. Burns, came to Monhegan in 1878 and is credited with the first illustrated article about the island. It is quite likely that Burns' pen & ink drawings of Monhegan - which appeared in Harper's - caught the attention of the young Gallagher.

For many years, Gallagher rented a loft in a fish shack, and his studio soon became a regular meeting place. Gallagher made many friends on Monhegan in addition to Triscott, including Boston native, Eric Hudson. Certainly, Gallagher would also have known Robert Henri, who came later, in 1903. Henri was, in turn, followed by many of his well-known students, including George Bellows, Edward Hopper, and Rockwell Kent. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, when Monhegan was being discovered as an artists' summer colony, Gallagher was, like Triscott, considered one of its natives. With the exception of his several trips to Europe, Gallagher spent every summer on Monhegan from 1890 through the 1940's. He maintained his studio over one of the fish shacks near the harbor, and would venture nearby to paint and etch the effects of the soft fog rolling in, the fishermen cleaning their catch at the beach, the brilliant wildflower gardens, or the arrival of the "Laura B." - the mail boat that also carried passengers.

"For years, Sears Gallagher has been painting this wonderful island, and there are few artists who have ever sensed its beauty more understandingly and appreciatively. He loves the place in the way that Winslow Homer, Triscott, and Hudson loved it - for its elemental picturesqueness. He is gifted with so fine a technical skill and such a subtle color sense that he can give perfect expression to the emotional impulse behind all good painting. In point of fact, there is a good deal of that imaginative quality which is called poetry in every picture this artist paints. But the reality of the scene he never overlooks. It is this well-balanced combination of poetic imagination and reality which gives the work of Sears Gallagher its finest distinction." (6)

Toward the end of September, Gallagher would board the "Laura B," return to the mainland, and spend the fall and part of the winter in New Hampshire's White Mountains. His base was the village of Jackson, where one of his brothers owned a home. Sometimes, the Gallaghers would be accompanied by friend and fellow landscape painter, Charles Curtis Allen.

The Gallagher hilltop home had a commanding view of the region, and many of his magnificent autumn vistas of the mountains were painted from this vantage point. Like Frank Benson, Gallagher was also an ardent fisherman, and he captured - in watercolor and etching - scenes of trout and salmon fishing in the rushing mountain streams and rivers.

Even though Gallagher exhibited at the prestigious juried annual exhibitions of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago, he remained loyal to Boston as the focal point of his exhibitions. For much of his career, he exhibited at America's oldest art club, the Boston Art Club; and his life-long dealer was Doll & Richards, one of Boston's leading galleries.

From 1873 to 1909, the Boston Art Club's annual exhibitions ranked with the most important, attracting the country's greatest artists. Gallagher exhibited with the Club from 1887 until it began to fade during the Great Depression of the 1930's. However, even by the 1910's competing artists organizations were forming in Boston, and among the most important was the Guild of Boston Artists. The Guild's first exhibition was held in 1914, and it soon became the preeminent exhibition venue for Boston's leading artists. The academic realist, R.H. Ives Gammell, wrote, "The common purpose which united these painters was seen to be the expression of visual experience in terms of expert workmanship in the service of uncompromising sincerity and unalloyed reverence for the truths of nature." (7)

Gallagher joined the Guild, first exhibiting there in a group show in 1924. A critic remarked,

"A certain mental adjustment after survey of the foregoing exhibits some may find necessary in appreciating Mr. Gallagher's serious and sustained landscapes. Here is acceptance without reservation or rebelliousness of the artistic tradition that began to be developed when Constable looked out over the lowlands of East Anglia and began to paint the grays and browns of nature as he saw them. Mr. Gallagher is interested in concentration, tone, construction, and he finds at Monhegan and in the White Mountains motives which satisfy to the full his craving to say it with pigment. If he ever feels the Nordic urgencies toward symbolism, futurism, and abstract design, these presumably are carefully suppressed desires of an able and highly professional painter." (8)

The next spring, in April, 1925, the Guild held a solo exhibition of Gallagher's watercolors. A.J. Philpott, art critic for the "Boston Globe", greatly admired the works, saying, "The spirit of the great ledges and heaving sea, of fog and sunshine and windrift, are in those pictures he painted of Monhegan, which stands as if upheaved out of the Atlantic in front of the Maine coast. There is a certain awe and grandeur about these ledges and onrushing waters which Mr. Gallagher senses and expresses."9 The exhibition met with such success and public acclaim that the Guild was quick to present another solo in November, of which Philpott wrote,

"There is a refinement of technique in these water colors which few artists who use the medium ever attain in such perfection. In these pictures he has reached a greater color power and finer luminosity than ever before. He has passed the stage of fear and reached the stage of unconscious certainty in his work. Mr. Gallagher has long been known as one of Boston's foremost artists, but these watercolors are about the best things he has ever done. In fact, they will rank with the best aquarelles done in this country." (10)

Doll & Richards Gallery first exhibited Gallagher's works in 1911, and from 1915 until at least 1940 presented solo exhibitions of his watercolors and etchings nearly every year. This was a prestigious gallery, with a stable of major artists. Watercolors of Monhegan and the White Mountains naturally dominated every Gallagher exhibition, some European views and scenes of children at the beach were also included. The latter were painted (and etched) at the Gallagher family's traditional summer spot at "Sea View," a small community located south of Boston on a stretch of shoreline between Humarock Beach and Marshfield, Massachusetts.

As the popularity of Gallagher's etchings also grew, he was asked to join the staff of Boston University, where he became a popular printmaking instructor. By 1920, Boston's venerable dealer in rare books and prints - Goodspeed's - published a biography with a checklist of his etchings. The same year, Doll & Richards also showed Gallagher's etchings. In 1929, one of Gallagher's etchings, a Monhegan scene entitled, "Early Morning," won the Silver Medal at the 10th International Exhibition of the Print Makers Society of California. Gallagher was the only American to win a prize that year.

Gallagher's popularity appears to have peaked during the 1920's and early 1930's, driven by his dual pursuit of both watercolors and etchings. During this period, his etchings were regularly accepted for publication in the annual Fine Prints of the Year. His works also found an audience in New York, through solo shows at Kennedy Galleries and Macbeth Galleries. What appears to have been his final watercolor show was held at Grand Central Galleries in 1946, at age seventy-seven. Shortly thereafter, his health began to decline and around 1953 his pilgrimages to Monhegan and the White Mountains were curtailed. Sears Gallagher passed away on June 9, 1955.

Gallagher had his first solo show of watercolors in 1894. But he had made his first etchings in 1888. In 1911, at age 42, he rediscovered etching. From this point on he would become equally known for both his watercolors and his etchings, which were exhibited at the leading Boston and New York galleries. Of his 1918 exhibition at Doll & Richards Gallery, William Howe Downes wrote of Gallagher's etchings that "They are free of mannerisms, and reveal no tendency of the artist to follow in the footsteps of Whistler, Meryon, Haden, or Zorn. In a word, Mr. Gallagher's talent, within its own bounds, is sterling and personal." [Louis A. Holman. Sears Gallagher's Etchings of Boston with Notes on the Man and a Complete List of His Etched Work. Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1920., p.25]

Howard R. Guild, Boston's well-known collector of Rembrandt and Whistler etchings, wrote:

"The etchings of Sears Gallagher show a fine honesty of purpose and a conspicuous purity of workmanship. They are not assertive, and in no way arouse opposition . . . For years he has worked ahead without blare of trumpets, always holding his own idea of fitness and beauty. Either unconsciously or otherwise it is axiomatic that most etchers betray a predilection or an imitation of the great masters, Rembrandt, Meryon, or Whistler. Is it not a relief, and source of gratitude, that in Gallagher's work there is no evidence of an attempt to become great by hanging to the skirts of the masters? Gallagher's work is his own work always." [Holman. p.25]

In his 1920 monograph on Gallagher, Louis Holman told a story about Joseph Pennell, the well-known American disciple-etcher-biographer of Whistler. Pennell had spent an overnight in Boston; and, speaking with a reporter, cast aspersions on the city without ever having explored it. Bostonians were outraged. "And now comes Sears Gallagher, erstwhile clever watercolorist, with a portfolio of delightful etchings of Boston. The event prompts one critic to arise and remark, with a quiet emphasis that carries conviction, 'No artist has done more to give the lie to Joseph Pennell's well-advertised dictum about Boston than Mr. Gallagher.' So say we all. Fortunately, Gallagher had made up his mind about the fruitful possibilities of Boston as a sketching ground before Pennell had pointed out its barrenness. As there was no concerted effort to make Boston over, Gallagher continued to sketch the old city as he found her, and as he loved her."

Gallagher was often favorably compared with Pennell. It is interesting to note that his solo exhibition at the Doll & Richards Gallery in Boston in December, 1915 was followed by one for Pennell the next month. Doll & Richards became his life-long dealer, and by 1920 his reputation had grown so wide that Goodspeed's, the dealer in rare books and prints, published a biography with a checklist of his etchings.

Gallagher also loved the sport of golf, and was a member of the Charles River Country Club. During the 1920s, he etched thirty images of golfing. These and several other subjects are uncommon. Many are quite rare. Illustrating this point, his wife, Charlotte, left notes from a speech she gave about the etching process. She wrote that Gallagher owned his own etching press and was widely recognized as a master printer who was fastidious and demanding about his final impressions. Although he made it a practice to sign his prints, he never identified the size of the editions by sequentially numbering each print (e.g.: 1/50, 2/50, 3/50 etc.).

However, some of his prints do bear his inscriptions indicating edition sizes of 50, 75, and 100 were intended. However, it is most likely that these intended editions were never completely printed. Gallagher's friend, Charles H. Woodbury, worked in a similar manner. (Woodbury produced 476 different etchings and Gallagher produced more than 300 subjects - 112 of which are in the collection of the Boston Public Library.) Because Gallagher preferred to print on demand rather than print an entire edition at once, he never completed the intended edition size. In fact, it is estimated that he rarely produced more than twenty impressions of any image.

1 A.J. Philpott, "Sears Gallagher Loves Monhegan." Boston Globe, March 19, 1939, p.11
2 "Water-Color Exhibition at the Art Institute," Brush and Pencil, Vol.. 4, No. 3, June, 1899: p. 156.
3 undated obituary clipping Boston Globe , 1925.
4 Others included Arthur G. Collins [b. 1866], W. Goodrich Beal [c.1855-c.1919]; Henry ("Hy") Martin Beal [late 19th c.] and Joseph H. Hatfield [1863-1928]
5 Charles H. Israels, "With the Artists," Home and Country, Vol. 14, No. 3, April, 1897; p.210.
6 A.J. Philpott. "Sears Gallagher Exhibition Displays Poetic Imagination" undated newspaper clipping from the Boston Globe about Doll & Richards Gallery exhibition, Boston 1920s.
7 R.H. Ives Gammell, The Boston Painters, 1900-1930. Orleans, Mass: Parnassus Imprints, 1986, p. 166.
8 "Exhibition of Water Colors by Susan H. Bradley, Sears Gallagher, and Sarah C. Sears." Boston Herald, Dec. 21, 1924.
9 A.J. Philpott , Boston Globe, April 13, 1925.
10 A.J. Philpott, Boston Globe, December 1, 1925.

Curtis, Curtis, and Lieberman. Monhegan, The Artists' Island. Camden, Maine: Down East Books, 1995.
Fink, Lois Marie. American Art at the Nineteenth-Century Paris Salons (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990)
Holman, Louis A. Sears Gallagher's Etchings of Boston with Notes on the Man and a Complete List of His Etched Work. Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1920.
Gallagher, Sears. The artist's scrapbook and portfolio contains numerous reviews of his exhibitions, plus newspaper clippings containing biographical information such as a serial article by M.J. Curl, "Boston Artists and Sculptors in Intimate Talks: XV - Sears Gallagher" undated Boston newspaper clipping, c.1920; and, Dodd, Loring Holmes, "Guild of Boston Artists Shows Gallagher Works" Worcester Evening Gazette, Nov. 12, 1946.
Gammell, R.H. Ives. The Boston Painters, 1900-1930. Orleans, Mass: Parnassus Imprints, 1986.
Wilson, Raymond L. Index to American Print Exhibitions, 1882-1940. NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1988.

Boston Art Club
Boston Society of Water Color Painters
Brooklyn Society of Etchers
California Society of Etchers
Chicago Society of Etchers
Guild of Boston Artists
Society of American Etchers

Art Institute of Chicago
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris
Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Boston Public Library - complete set of prints
Brooklyn Museum of Art
California State Library
Library of Congress
Los Angeles Museum of Art
Monhegan Museum, Maine
New York Public Library

The following additions (corrections) were submitted in March of 2007 by the artist's granddaughter, Anne Burr Czepiel:

Sears Gallagher had five brothers and one sister.

The best evidence suggest that Sears Gallagher's first trip to Monhegan was in 1892 (not 1890) with artist Samuel Peter Rolt Triscott (1846-1925).

His granddaughters recently donated 100+ prints to the Boston Public Library; thus the collection now numbers well over 200 prints.

Biography from Spanierman Gallery
Recognized as one of America's leading etchers and watercolorists during the early twentieth century, Sears Gallagher depicted a variety of subjects ranging from New England landscapes and European subjects to views of Monhegan Island, Maine.

Born in Boston in 1869, Gallagher has impressive family lineage extended back to the Pilgrim fathers and to the first Governor Bradford. He began his art education locally, studying drawing with the Italian artist, Tomasso Juglaris, and watercolor painting with the Samuel P.R. Triscott. He made his first submission to the annual exhibitions at the Boston Art Club in 1887, exhibiting a drawing entitled "Evening News."

Gallagher later refined his skills at the Académie Julian in Paris, working under Benjamin Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens during 1895-96. During his three-years abroad (1894-96), he made summer visits to popular artists' colonies such as Grèz-sur-Loing, where he painted and sketched en plein air. He also spent time in Italy and England.

Gallagher began his career in Boston, working as an artist-reporter for a local newspaper and illustrating textbooks for the publishing firm of Ginn and Company. However, by the early 1900s he had established himself as a professional artist specializing in etchings and watercolors. By 1920, he had produced 138 etchings of the historic streets and landmarks of Boston, such as Copley Square, the Old State House, and Trinity Church. He was also fond of marines, producing etchings as well as oil and watercolor views of Monhegan Island, Maine, where he spent his summers, as well as Plymouth and Nantucket on Cape Cod. His work includes landscapes painted during autumn trips to Jackson, New Hampshire, as well as views of New York, Venice and England's Cornish seacoast.

Gallagher exhibited at the major national annuals in United States, and had several solo shows at Doll and Richards Gallery in Boston. His work also appeared at the Paris salons and at the Paris Exposition of 1900. Gallagher's memberships included the Guild of Boston Artists, the Boston Society of Water Color Painters, the Brooklyn Society of Etchers and the Chicago Society of Etchers. He won several awards and prizes, among them the Logan Prize for etching at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1922 and the City of Boston Tercentenary medal (1930).

Gallagher also taught at Boston University. He spent his later years in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, where he continued to paint and etch until his retirement in the mid-1940s. He died in Boston in 1955.

Gallagher's work is represented in important public collections throughout the United States and abroad, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Art Institute of Chicago; New York Public Library; Boston Public Library; the Library of Congress, Washington, D. C.; the Brooklyn Museum of Art; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.


©The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery, LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery, LLC. It may not be reproduced without written permission from Spanierman Gallery, LLC nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery, LLC.

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About  Sears Gallagher

Born:  1869 - West Roxbury, Massachusetts
Died:   1955 - Boston, Massachusetts
Known for:  landscape, marine, watercolor, etching

Essays referring to
Sears Gallagher

San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915