Periods, Groups & Movements: The Boston School
(also see "The Ten")

The Boston School was a group of Boston-based painters active in the first three decades of the twentieth century. Often classified as American Impressionists, they had their own regional style, combining the painterliness of Impressionism with a more conservative approach to figure painting and a marked respect for the traditions of Western art history. Their preferred subject matter was genteel: portraits, picturesque landscapes, and young women posing in well-appointed interiors. Major influences included John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, and Jan Vermeer.

Key figures in the Boston School were Edmund C. Tarbell, Frank Weston Benson, and William McGregor Paxton, all of whom trained in Paris at the Académie Julian and later taught at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Their influence can still be seen in the work of some contemporary Boston-area artists.

Frank Weston Benson William McGregor Paxton Frank Weston Benson William McGregor Paxton William McGregor Paxton
Edmund Charles Tarbell William McGregor Paxton Edmund Charles Tarbell Edmund Charles Tarbell Edmund Charles Tarbell
William McGregor Paxton Edmund Charles Tarbell William McGregor Paxton Edmund Charles Tarbell William McGregor Paxton

Search for more Boston School items at AMAZON.
William McGregor Paxton by Ellen W. Lee – Hardcover, Published by Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1979.

Reader review: Willim M Patxon (1869 – 1941) who is almost a forgotten artist from the 1800's is still going stronger than ever today. This book shows you the most complete subjects and styles of works by Willaim Paxton to date. Mr. Paxton's acquaintances in the Boston School never suspected the fine intelligence and delicate sensibility immediately beneath the brash exterior of this sharp dressed, round faced, bald and sporting a black goatee of a man.

With full color images you get a true sense of Paxton the painter and the consummate artist. This book is a wealth of information and a complete must for the true Boston School of Artist / Painter book collectors or the art student wanting to learn more about the changing times in this artist's period and life and how it effected the rise and fall of his style and genre.

Like every painter who has left his permanent mark, William Paxton was no exception. He invoked a personal mode of self discipline and expression by studying nature, with one eye and keeping another on the movement the major artist of his time, and also the ones he admired such as Velasquez, Vermeer and Ingres to name just a few.

Along with his wife Elizabeth Okie Paxton (1880-1972), also taught by William Paxton, they set out to change the Boston art scene forever. And through rejection, criticism and struggle, they succeeded. Collections are all here from many museums in the world. I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to look beyond the paint. For this is the only known source of material on William Paxton's life, works and his contributions to life as a major artist of our generation.

Richard F. Lack: An American Master by Stephen Gjertson – Unknown Binding: 144 pages Publisher: American Society of Classical Realism (2001)

Painting in Boston 1950-2000 by Rachel Rosenfield Lafo (Corporate Author), Nicholas Capasso (Editor), Jennifer Uhrhane (Editor) – Hardcover, 264 pages Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press (September 1, 2002)

Although the history of painting in Boston during the first half of the twentieth century has been well documented, with particular attention to the so-called Boston School, the latter half of the century has been relatively neglected, despite the remarkable body of work produced during that period. This handsome volume, created by the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in conjunction with a major exhibition, addresses that oversight.

The book includes essays by five experts in the field, presenting and analyzing the work of sixty-seven artists. Rachel Rosenfield Lafo introduces the reader to the Boston art scene, from the academic institutions that have nourished the area's painters, to the galleries where their work has been shown, to the museums, exhibitions, and critics that have shaped public opinion. Writing about the Realist tradition that has thrived in Boston for over three hundred years, John Stomberg focuses on a group of painters of widely differing styles who have redefined Realism in modern and contemporary terms.

Nicholas Capasso explores the efflorescence of Figurative Expressionism in Boston and the later emergence of Neo-Expressionism, which incorporates greater degrees of humor and introspection, as well as stylistic variety and experimentation. Carl Belz devotes his essay to Abstract painting and to three generations of artists who have forged identities that complement yet remain distinct from those of their counterparts in New York. Ann Wilson Lloyd concludes with a discussion of the "New Painting"—work done since the mid-1980s—drawing important connections to intellectual trends, current practices in other art media, and global developments.

What emerges from this volume is a new appreciation of the accomplishments of Boston-area painters and the art community that has sustained them. The book also places their work in a local, national, and international perspective.

Along with a general introduction, the editors have provided an extensive chronology of important events, an exhibition checklist, a bibliography, and a brief biographical profile of each artist whose work is included.

Frank W. Benson the Impressionist Years by Wilmerding – Paperback, Published by Spanierman Gallery, 1988

A prominent figure in the Boston School and a member of the Ten American painters, Frank W. Benson executed a spectacular group of Impressionist works between 1897 and 1920 during summers spent on North Haven Island, Maine. Depicting his wife and daughters at leisure in the outdoors, Benson created vivid sunlit images expressive of the idyllic pleasures of endless August afternoons on a breezy, refreshing coastal landscape. This 74-page catalogue includes essays by Sheila Dugan, William H. Gerdts, and John Wilmerding. In addition to color illustrations of the twelve works in the show, there are ten color and twenty-two black and white reproductions.

Twilight of Painting by R. H. Ives Gammell – Paperback Publisher: Parnassus Press (June 1990)

Reader review: If you have ever wondered what gave rise to modern art, and you have ever questioned why standards of workmanship declined from the excellence of the 18th century to the shoddiness of the 20th, then this is the book for you. If you would like to have art history explained by a painter, in terms of painting, then this is the book for you. If, like me, you have been searching all your life for some rational explanation to our "Modern Art", then this is the book for you.

Gammell was a competent, if not renowned, painter. This book was written in 1946. By that time, all of the most accomplished painters of the 19th century had died and no one alive could create out of imagination the heroic work that had been so prized since the Renaissance. Gammell explains the real meaning of impressionism and the unfortunate hostility of the two major "schools," the impressionist vs the academics. He explains why the impressionists won and how art degenerated into the current chaos.

He explains why impressionism has the unfinished look. First because it seems appropriate for the artists' purposes, but more importantly, because starting is easy and finishing is difficult. With the revolt of the impressionists against the academies, they never finished their academic training, (so in fact, they didn't know how to finish a painting to the degree of the prior centuries).

For the non-painter, this books gives you the sanction to look at modern art and say, it may be art, but it's not finished enough, interesting, polished, challenging or important enough for me.

Realism in Revolution: The Art of the Boston School by Richard Lack (Editor), Richard Whitney and Kirk Richards – Hardcover, Published by Taylor Pub, 1985.

Note: Kirk Richard periodically contributes to our Portrait Artist Forum.

The Boston Painters 1900-1930 by R. H. Ives Gammell, Elizabeth Hunter (Editor) – Hardcover, 207 pages (July 1986) Parnassus Imprints

Inside flap: “Who were the Boston Painters, and why is so little known about them? In the front ranks were Joseph R. DeCamp (1858-1923), Edmund C. Tarbell (1862-1938), Frank W. Benson (1862-1951) and William M. Paxton (1869-1941).

Defenders of an older standard of execution—one that demanded a thorough and comprehensive training—their ideals, attitudes and objectives were in stark contrast to those of the emerging younger painters. This new school, whose more socially conscious and less disciplined works were to dominate the American scene for decades, ridiculed the Bostonians for their cult of beauty. Condemning them for their knowledgeable workmanship which a rising generation of students was being taught to despise as academic, they succeeded in relegating them into a temporary oblivion from which they are only now beginning to emerge.

In reexamining the contributions of these Boston based artists- their genesis, their motivation, and the pictures which they gave they world—R.H. Ives Gammell does much to hasten this renaissance.”

From artist Kirk Richards: Gammell’s perspective as one who knew and interacted with these painters adds a unique and invaluable perspective on these very important artists of America’s early 20th century. Because of this perspective, The Boston Painters 1900-1930 is an invaluable resource.

Joseph DeCamp: The Boston Technician by Laurene Buckley – Hardcover, 160 pages, Neues Publishing Company, 1995.

Frank W. Benson: American Impressionist by Faith Andrews Bedford – Hardcover, 237 pages, Published by Rizzoli Intl Pubns, 1994

Reader review: Dynamite art book; also a great read! I had thought that Benson was strictly a painter of Victorian era young ladies in seaside settings. This bio (by a descendent) fleshes out his various careers as a painter of oils, a teacher, a watercolorist and whatever is the correct term for one who creates etchings. Also provides a good overview of the American art scene (especially "The Ten") during the transition from the 19th to the 20th century.

Dennis Miller Bunker: American Impressionist by Erica E. Hirshler – Hardcover, 190 pages, Museum Fine Arts, Boston, 1995

Edmund C. Tarbell and the Boston School of Painting, 1889-1980 by Patricia Jobe Pierce – Textbook Binding, 253 pages, Hacker Art Books, December 1980.

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