Art Wednesday: Frank Weston Benson, American Painter, Etcher and Teacher

Sunlight 1909 Oil on canvas, 82 x 51 cm Museum of Art, Indianapolis

Sunlight
1909
Oil on canvas, 82 x 51 cm
Museum of Art, Indianapolis

Frank Benson attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from 1880 to 1883 as a student of Otto Grundmann (1844-1890) and Frederick Crowninshield (1845-1918). In 1883 he travelled with his fellow student and lifelong friend Edmund Charles Tarbell to Paris, where they both studied at the Académie Julian for three years with Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre.

Frank W. Benson, (March 24, 1862 – November 15, 1951) circa 1895 Image courtesy of Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C

Frank W. Benson, (March 24, 1862 – November 15, 1951) circa 1895
Image courtesy of Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C

Benson travelled with Tarbell to Italy in 1884 and to Italy, Belgium, Germany and Brittany the following year. When he returned home, Benson became an instructor at the Portland (ME) School of Art, and after his marriage to Ellen Perry Peirson in 1888 he settled in Salem, MA. Benson taught with Tarbell at the Museum School in Boston from 1889 until their resignation over policy differences in 1913. Benson rejoined the staff the next year and taught intermittently as a visiting instructor until 1930.

The Black Hat 1904 Oil on canvas, 102 x 81 cm Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

The Black Hat
1904
Oil on canvas, 102 x 81 cm
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

1890s Impressionist art in Boston was primarily concerned with figure painting, and focused on society ladies in appropriate settings. Tarbell was one of the first to take this direction. His compositions of the 1890s, showing stylish ladies at leisure out of doors. The choice of theme was mainly responsible for Tarbell’s popularity with affluent collectors in Boston.

His influence and reputation were also consolidated by years of teaching at the Boston Museum School. People even talked of Tarbellites – that is other Bostonian figure painters whose technique and approach to their subject-matter betrayed an affinity with his presiding spirit. One of the foremost Tarbellites was Frank Benson, who concentrated on portraits.

His works were shown at annual exhibitions, in 1903 he received the gold medal at Pittsburgh, in 1904 at St, Louis and in 1906 at Philadelphia.

Benson was “deeply influenced” by Johannes Vermeer and Diego Velázquez, masters from the seventeenth-century. Vermeer painted few works during his lifetime, about 35-36 [universally accepted] paintings, but nearly each of them has become a masterpiece. The Dutch artist from Delft was astute in his depiction of light and “poetic quality” of his subjects

The works of Claude Monet, played a role in the development of Benson’s own American Impressionistic style. He capitalized on Monet’s color palette and brush strokes and keenly depicted “reflected light”, yet maintained some detail in the composition. Benson represented American people with an ideal of grace, of dignity, of elegance.

Crash

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