William Rimmer, like his contemporary Elihu Vedder [06.2430], was interested in literary and mystical themes and found many patrons in his native Boston, where such subjects had always been favored. An accomplished sculptor, teacher, painter, businessman, anatomist, and physician, Rimmer was one...
William Rimmer, like his contemporary Elihu Vedder [06.2430], was interested in literary and mystical themes and found many patrons in his native Boston, where such subjects had always been favored. An accomplished sculptor, teacher, painter, businessman, anatomist, and physician, Rimmer was one of Boston’s most noted artists in the 1860s and 1870s, though contradiction and controversy marked his professional career. He was learned and ambitious, but worked quickly with unstable painting materials and techniques. He aspired to the highest social circles, yet often undermined his position with his quick temper and irascible disposition. He inspired his students in both Boston and New York, particularly the women to whom he offered equal educational opportunities, but he was overshadowed in many ways by his younger and more sophisticated colleague William Morris Hunt [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?artist=Hunt,%20William%20Morris&objecttype=66]. Nevertheless, his contemporaries admired Rimmer for his artistic passion and skill, comparing him to the multitalented artists of the Italian Renaissance. Rimmer’s best-known and most enigmatic painting is Flight and Pursuit. The picture is set in the shadowy and mysterious labyrinth of a chimerical Near Eastern temple or palace. One man races toward a stair, following his shadow. The irregular patch of shade at right suggests another runner following behind the first. In a parallel hallway, a ghostly third man, real or imaginary, swathed in white and holding a sword, runs alongside and glances toward the other figures. Which man flees and which speeds in pursuit is left to the viewer’s imagination. A drawing of the main figure, now in a medical library at Yale University, is inscribed “oh for the horns of the Altar.” The phrase appears several times in the Old Testament and implies that one of Rimmer’s figures is rushing toward sanctuary, for a criminal was untouchable while he remained within the sacred space of the altar. Rimmer drew many of his subjects from the Bible and ancient history, and he doubtless knew a variety of artistic interpretations of such themes, including the work of the visionary English poet and painter William Blake [90.107, 90.108, 90.109, 90.110, 90.111], whose books and watercolors were avidly collected in Boston during this period. While several scholars have sought to place Flight and Pursuit in the context of Rimmer’s own complex psychological state, his interest in arcane literary and imaginative compositions was well within the parameters of Boston taste. 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 right: W. Rimmer/1872
1872, given by the artist to Col. Charles A. Nichols, Providence, R.I.; 1877, by descent to his wife, Isabelle (Mrs. Charles A.) Nichols, Providence; by descent to their daughter, Miss Edith Nichols, Providence; 1956, bequest of Miss Edith Nichols to the MFA. (Accession Date: February 9, 1956)
Bequest of Miss Edith Nichols