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 Martha Silsbee  (1858 - 1928)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts/New Hampshire      Known for: painter-figure, interior, landscape

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Ad Code: 4
Martha Silsbee
An example of work by Martha Silsbee
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Martha Silsbee––1859-1928
By Rusty Bastedo, New Hampshire State Curator

Although Martha Silsbee, an American watercolor and pastel artist who lived in Dublin at the turn of the last century, is a key member of the original Dublin Art Colony, she is not as well known as others. Born in Salem, Mass., she was one of four children. Her great grandfather had been “confidential agent” to Elias Harkett Derby, the first American millionaire. Her grandfather and father were important merchants and investors in shipping.

Martha Silsbee left Salem in the early 1880s to move to Boston. She exhibited three watercolors in the Boston Art Club’s 1885 annual show but did not enroll at the Museum of Fine Arts School of Drawing and Painting until 1892.  After 1890, the school was led by Edmund C. Tarbell and Frank W. Benson.  Both were trained in Paris and shared a vision of producing students who fused knowledge of traditional curriculum with their own unique exploration of color and light.  Martha Silsbee’s watercolors and pastels reflect the excitement communicated by Tarbell and Benson.

There is no indication in Museum School records that Silsbee took more than general courses at the school in 1892, but in 1910–1911 she enrolled at the school again, specifically to study drawing and painting in Life classes.  In 1917, she exhibited a “canvas” in a Vose Galleries exhibition called Works of Women Painters.

Her preferred mediums were pastels and watercolors but she may also have done some work in oils.  he was active in the Boston arts scene and exhibited frequently at Boston art galleries as well as annual exhibits in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

Although Silsbee’s pastels and watercolors are few in number, her sensitivity to color and line are evident. Her subject matter is conventional but her skill as an artist is apparent.

Martha Silsbee kept a Boston winter address and a space at Fenway galleries. Beginning in 1912, however, she listed herself as a summer resident of Dublin, where she remodeled an 1840s farmhouse into an Italian villa. She soon occupied this sparsely furnished house year round, along with two chicken incubators that she kept in her studio. She lived frugally, raising chickens to feed her guests (she could not eat her own chickens).

As late as 1927, a year before her death, Miss Silsbee had a solo exhibition at Doll and Richards –– a prominent Boston art gallery.  At the time of her death, the contents of her studio listed 20 framed paintings and numerous unfinished works. Two servants were recognized in her will, but the bulk of her estate went to charity. The house stood empty for several years but was eventually purchased by Robb and Trix (Thorne) Sagendorph, who named the house Thornehill.

It was in this house that the Sagendorphs first started publishing Yankee magazine in 1935. Thornehill’s present owners are Linda and Russell Bastedo.  Since earning his M.A. at the University of Delaware (1972) while on staff at Winterthur Museum, Rusty Bastedo has headed historic properties in Virginia, New York, and
Connecticut.  He has served as New Hampshire State Curator since 1997.

Submitted October 2005 by Doug Nelson, Collector of New Hampshire Fine Art,  Rye Beach, NH


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Martha Silsbee was unusually well exhibited for a woman painting in her era.  Twenty or more of her paintings were exhibited at the Boston Art Club between 1885 and 1906.  She was an early student of Edmund Tarbell at the Museum School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  Some would call her a "Tarbellite" (a nickname for his students.)

Martha Silsbee exhibited her painting Monadnock at the World's Columbian Exhibition of 1893 in Chicago.  In 1920 she was a member of the Exhibition Committee of the Copley Society at The Museum of Fine Arts.  Her solo exhibit at Doll & Richards Gallery in 1927 came at a time when few women were accorded such honors, (not to mention that her work must have been saleable.)

When she died in 1928, Silsbee left much of her fortune for an endowment to purchase Chinese Art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.


Written and submitted November 2005 by Doug Nelson, Collector of New Hampshire Fine Art,  Rye Beach, New Hampshire.


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