Published: February 7, 2002
MANCHESTER, N.H. – A nationally admired American Impressionist, Edmund C. Tarbell was renowned for his refined and distinctly New England interiors as well as vibrant outdoor paintings of his family. A member of Boston’s Tavern and St Botolph’s clubs, Tarbell was also known to join a game of scrub baseball with workers from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. He led two of the most prestigious art schools in the Northeast – yet, he got himself expelled from high school to avoid college, so he could paint full-time.
Growing up in Boston, living for 30 years in New Castle, N.H., Tarbell (1862-1938) was a quintessential Yankee; cultured and unpretentious. Tarbell’s art reflected his character – he remained committed to time-honored techniques and craftsmanship while creating his own innovations in depicting light and modern life on canvas.
On February 14, the Delaware Art Museum will open the most important display of paintings by Tarbell since his death in 1938. The Currier Gallery of Art in Manchester, N.H. has organized “Impressionism Transformed: The Paintings of Edmund C. Tarbell” and published the accompanying exhibition catalogue, a fully illustrated, 172-page book (available for $29.95) with essays by Linda J. Doherty, associate professor of art history at Bowdoin College; Erica E. Hirshler, Croll Senior Curator of American Paintings, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and Currier director Susan Strickler. The catalogue is distributed through University Press of New England.
The exhibition includes 42 paintings – many recently rediscovered and on view for the first time in half a century – and features Tarbell’s little-known early works, the outdoor scenes that established his reputation, the domestic interiors for which he is best known today, and a selection of portraits, equestrian subjects and still lifes.
Works on view are from the collections of the National Gallery of Art; the Corcoran Gallery of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Worcester Art Museum; and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, among other museums and private collections.
The catalog, titled Impressionism Transformed, incorporates an especially intimate focus on Tarbell’s personal life and family.
“The timing of this project was fortunate. The families of both Edmund and his wife, Emeline Souther Tarbell, graciously offered a rich resource of letters, diaries and photographs. These, along with the personal recollections of their grandchildren, have added to the collective understanding of the artist and his work,” says Strickler. “Edmund Tarbell deserves a place of honor, both nationally and in New England, a region with a deep, rich cultural heritage.”
The exhibition, which began its tour at the Currier Gallery of Art in 2001, is on view through April 28 in Wilmington, and will travel to the Terra Museum of American Art in Chicago May 11 to July 21.
Tarbell was born in West Groton, Mass., and raised in Boston by his paternal grandparents. After grammar school, he became an apprentice at a lithographic company before entering the Museum School (The School of Drawing and Painting of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).
Four years later, he traveled to Europe to continue his training at the Académie Julian in Paris. He returned to Boston to co-direct the Museum School from 1890 to 1912 with his friend Frank W. Benson.
Tarbell soon gained a national reputation as both an influential teacher and an accomplished painter. From 1918 to 1925, he served as principal of the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., after which he retired to his summer home in New Castle, N.H., where he painted until his death.
Tarbell was a founding member of “The Ten American Painters,” a group of leading impressionists from Boston and New York, that also included Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase and Frank W. Benson. With these colleagues, Tarbell exhibited in prestigious expositions and exhibitions sponsored by major museums across the country, including: the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Saint Louis Art Museum.
The end of his career was eclipsed by the rise of abstract art and social realism, but recent studies reassessing American Impressionism, the Colonial Revival and the Arts and Crafts Movement have led to Tarbell’s reemergence as an important figure in turn-of-the-century art.
The Delaware Art Museum is at 2301 Kentmere Parkway. Hours are Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday: 9 am to 4 pm; Wednesday: 9 am to 9 pm; and Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm. For information, 302/571-9590.
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