Benjamin Osro Eggleston, born at Belvidere, Minnesota on January 22, 1867 was the son of Hubert Newberry Eggleston, a Union Army sergeant, and Caroline Nelson Eggleston. His father received a soldier’s homestead tract in Redwood County, Minnesota. During his elementary years, Benjamin demonstrated talent and he was encouraged through high school. Later, he moved to Red Wing, a picturesque town about forty miles from Minneapolis, on the Mississippi River, to open a studio for teaching and for painting portraits. After having saved some money, Eggleston enrolled in the recently organized Minneapolis School of Fine Art where he studied under the portrait and history painter Douglas Volk (1856-1935), the son of the sculptor Leonard Wells Volk (1828-1895). Douglas Volk came to Minneapolis in 1868 as first director of the Minneapolis School of Art, which was organized by the recently founded Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts. Volk remained as director and teacher until 1893 when he returned to New York to teach at the Art Students League. With some experience in draftsmanship and academic painting, Eggleston landed a job as staff artist for the Minneapolis Tribune (1886-87), and learned to sketch rapidly in order to seize the immediate impression of a scene or event. After about two years he became extremely ill and found it necessary to join his parents on their farmstead in Geneva, Ohio, for convalescence. In 1890 he moved to Brooklyn, where he continued to paint. Eggleston exhibited two figure subjects at the National Academy of Design in 1890 and at the Brooklyn Art Association in 1891, of which he became a member.
In 1894, Eggleston sailed for Europe. He was in Paris in the mid-1890s when impressionism was still an influential movement. The impact proved inspirational. Eggleston’s technique matured rapidly; indeed, eventually it resembled the late work of Edouard Manet in terms of his enthusiasm for the candid depiction of the Parisian bourgeoisie and for contemporary genre. Though at times his mannered realism was somewhat non-academic, Eggleston was not yet ready to adopt impressionism fully. He became apt at painting women in the juste milieu manner, focusing upon the coy pleasantries of ladies in their intimate environments. One such picture was shown in the Paris Salon of 1896, Le temps qui passe. Upon his return to Brooklyn in late 1896 or early 1897, Eggleston also exhibited his well known Soup Kitchen, Paris, at the National Academy. Shortly afterwards his Dreamy Summer became the property of the Boston Art Club. In addition, his Portrait of Miss E. was reproduced in the American Art Annual of 1898.
Eggleston’s studio was at various locations on East 32nd Street near Vanderveer Park. He made frequent sketching trips outside Brooklyn and most of his finished landscapes and portraits were executed in oil. Eggleston’s reputation grew within the East Coast art community. In 1903 he was elected a member of the Salmagundi Club and president of the Brooklyn Artists Club, a post he held for nearly twenty-five years; other activities included memberships in the American Federation of Arts and the Allied Artists of America. Eggleston was also a charter member of the Brooklyn Ten, which later became the Society of Brooklyn Painters to avoid confusion with “the Ten American Painters” in New York. Eggleston’s productivity as a landscapist appears to have increased between 1900 and 1910. Most of his landscapes derived from sketching trips in New England. In addition, he visited the Old Lyme art colony in the summer months. Eggleston’s work was frequently handled by the Louis Katz Art Galleries in New York. Typical works from this period reveal a greater influence of impressionism on his rather conservative manner. One sees in it the spontaneous application of high-keyed pigment, which may be linked to a greater subjectivity, becoming luminous moodiness at times, however his work was by no means technically impressionistic. Eggleston was capable of expressing a feeling of loneliness in these late works. After the Brooklyn Artists Club was renamed the Brooklyn Society of Artists in 1917, Eggleston became its vice-president in the early 1920s. He bought an old grist mill near Stockbridge in the early 1930s and remained there for a brief period, but the facts concerning his artistic productivity during this latest period are quite vague. He died in Brooklyn, New York on February 15, 1937.
American Art Annual, 1898, pp. 257, 350, with illustrations; Clark S. Marlor, “Artist Biographical Profile: Eggleston,” MS, 1975.
Submitted by Richard H. Love