A sparkling icon of wholesome American girlhood, Frank Weston Benson’s Eleanor depicts the painter’s daughter on the porch of their summer home at North Haven, Maine. Benson won national acclaim for his sunny scenes of healthy children enjoying an outdoor country life, and Eleanor is one of...
A sparkling icon of wholesome American girlhood, Frank Weston Benson’s Eleanor depicts the painter’s daughter on the porch of their summer home at North Haven, Maine. Benson won national acclaim for his sunny scenes of healthy children enjoying an outdoor country life, and Eleanor is one of his most beloved images. It was purchased for the MFA’s collection almost immediately after it was finished. At the time, Benson, along with his friend Edmund Charles Tarbell [23.532], was one of the chief instructors of painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He was also an alumnus of the school who, like many of his contemporaries, went on to complete his artistic education in Paris. In the 1890s Benson developed his characteristic style, combining the bright colors and fluid brushwork of French Impressionism with the firm foundation in academic figure painting he had learned at the Académie Julian. In 1898 Benson and Tarbell became founding members of the Ten. This band of American painters was dedicated to promoting and exhibiting their work outside of the traditional system of juried exhibitions. The young artists had become frustrated with the conservative juries that controlled most of the major annual exhibitions, and they held independent shows in New York, and occasionally in Philadelphia and Boston, until 1919. Eleanor was included in their 1908 display. Benson’s portrait of his daughter is a textbook example of the manner in which most American artists adapted Impressionism. Benson esteemed his academic training and never dissolved his figures into light to the degree that French artists favored. He used a small brush to define Eleanor’s features, painting her realistically with an authentic sense of weight and volume. But Benson gave himself much more freedom in other parts of the composition: the shimmering sea and leaves seem to vibrate with intensity, Eleanor’s pink dress is loosely painted with broad strokes, and the details of her hat are abbreviated. The whole effect is vital and effervescent, much like an ideal summer day. This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting [http://www.mfashop.com/9020398034.html], MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).
Lower left: F.W. Benson./1907
1908, sold by the artist to the MFA for $1,200. (Accession Date: June 11, 1908)
The Hayden Collection—Charles Henry Hayden Fund