Born in Boston on 4 June 1865, Vesper George was trained at the Art Students League in New York (1888-89) then at the Académie Julian in Paris (1889-92), where his teachers were Jules-Joseph Lefebvre, Benjamin Constant, and Henri-Lucien Doucet. He apparently revisited the Boston area during the spring and summer of 1890 when he painted East Gloucester, which is a rare early landscape characterized by broad areas of color, still executed in a tonalist technique. Most of the canvas is reserved for water, while a small strip of land appears above. Most striking is the bold indication of reflections on the water’s surface. Helen M. Knowlton, the biographer and student of William Morris Hunt, reported in The Studio that summer on the thirty-some artists who were active in Cape Ann. William Lamb Picknell (1853-1897), who had painted in Brittany, was the leader of the artists’ colony at Annisquam, which Lewis Henry Meakin (ca. 1850-1917) referred to as “a regular American Pont-Aven.”
After his studies in Paris, back in Boston, Vesper George married Dorothy Hills, of Manchester, New Hampshire, and exhibited twenty-seven paintings done en plein air during his studies abroad. For the next sixteen years, he exhibited works (mainly portraits) at the Boston Art Club (1982-1908) and he taught at the Lowell, Massachusetts Textile School. Between 1901 and 1927, he was on the faculty of the Boston Normal School, heading the department of design beginning in 1907. Within a year, Vesper George began to receive commissions for mural paintings. His murals reflect the American Renaissance tradition with accurate contours defining forms, well-drawn figures, and use of allegory. George maintained a studio in Boston and lived in West Gloucester. In 1914, he visited Europe again. Later in 1924, he founded the Vesper George School of Art, which by 1930 employed eighteen instructors in fine and applied arts. George was an outspoken, active leader in his local art community.
Although George was usually conservative as a colorist, some of his works approach impressionism. George belonged to very few organizations (including the North Shore Arts Association and the Boston Art Club) and exhibited rarely beyond Boston: at the National Academy of Design only in 1892; once at the Corcoran Gallery (1907); and twice at the Pennsylvania Academy (1892 and 1919). The Colby College Art Museum has one of George’s rare easel paintings: Lucerne, Switzerland, dated 1914. His watercolors are delicate and sensitive renderings of natural scenery.
The Greenfield McClain High School in Greenfield, Ohio houses three of the artists' murals. The Apotheosis of Youth stands at the head of the main stairway and The Melting Pot and Pageant of Prosperity form the end panels of the High School Library-Study.
Vesper George died in Boston on 10 May 1934. The Gloucester Daily Times published his obituary that day.
“Mural Work by Mr. George.” Boston Evening Transcript, 3 December 1918; “Mural Painting by Vesper George on Exhibition at Boston Art Club; Symbolizes Americanization of Aliens.” Boston Evening Transcript, 19 October 1920.
Submitted by Richard H. Love and Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.
Information about the Greenfield High School murals provided by David Sweeney.