Edmund Charles Tarbell – American painter

Edmund Charles Tarbell – American  painter

While teaching at the Museum School in Boston, Tarbell and his family lived from 1886 until 1906 in the Ashmont section of Dorchester, the house belonging to his stepfather, David Frank Hartford. Then they lived on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston at the Hotel Somerset, located beside The Fens and not far from his atelier in the Fenway Studios on Ipswich Street.

In 1905, they bought as a summer residence a Greek Revival house in New Castle, New Hampshire, an island on the Atlantic coast. Tarbell built his studio perched on the bank of the Piscataqua River, ambling there each morning along gardens of peonies, iris and hollyhocks.

Through his north-facing wall of glass he could sketch sailboats as they tacked the busy shipping channel between Portsmouth and the ocean.

He was an early and avid proponent of the Colonial Revival movement, collecting American antiques (back when most were considered used furniture) and arranging them with Chinese ceramics, Japanese prints and other objets d’art as studio props.

Tarbell also collected salvaged architectural elements; his studio’s facade featured a Federal fanlight doorway. In the new living room added to the main house, he installed a Georgian mantelpiece attributed to Ebenezer Dearing (1730–1791), a master Portsmouth ship woodcarver. The Tarbells eventually would retire to New Castle.


In 1889, Tarbell assumed the position of his former mentor, Otto Grundmann, at the Museum School, where he was a popular teacher. He gave pupils a solid academic art training: before they learned to paint, they had to render from plaster casts of classical statues.

His students included Bertha Coolidge, Margaret Fitzhugh Browne, Marie Danforth Page, F. Luis Mora, Marguerite Stuber Pearson, and Lilian Westcott Hale. So pervasive was his influence on Boston painting that his followers were dubbed “The Tarbellites.”

But in 1912, the Museum of Fine Arts hired Huger Elliott from the Rhode Island School of Design as Supervisor of Educational Work, charged with reorganizing the Museum School, which until then managed its own affairs. An upheaval ensued. He lectured Tarbell how to teach, then how to paint.

Tarbell was incensed, making it no secret that he considered Elliott artistically inept. In December, Tarbell resigned together with Frank W. Benson, his friend and fellow instructor.

The men in 1913 discussed founding a society to encourage art and artists in the city. With financial backing from Lilla Cabot Perry, painter and affluent Brahmin, The Guild of Boston Artists opened in 1914. Tarbell was its first president, serving through 1924.

In 1918, Tarbell was hired as principal of the art school at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., a position he held until 1926. But the Museum of Fine Arts wanted him back at the Museum School, appointing him in 1925 as Chairman of the Advisory Council.

For two years he promoted and oversaw construction of the school’s new building designed by Guy Lowell. In 1930, however, the school asked Augustus John to recommend English artists as instructors. Tarbell and Benson, advocates of indigenous talent, would again resign.


His 1891 plein air painting entitled In the Orchard established his reputation as an artist. It depicts his wife with her siblings at leisure. Tarbell became famous for impressionistic, richly hued images of figures in landscapes.

His later work shows the influence of Johannes Vermeer, the 17th-century Dutch painter. In such works, Tarbell typically portrays figures in genteel Colonial Revival interiors; these studies of light and tone are executed with restrained brushwork and color.

Tarbell painted portraits of many notable individuals, including industrialist Henry Clay Frick, Yale University President Timothy Dwight V, and U.S. presidents Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover.

Honors and legacy

Tarbell won many art prizes and medals, an honorary doctorate from Dartmouth College in 1929, and served as juror of painting at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition, and the 1926 Sesquicentennial Exposition.

He was elected a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1906, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1927.

Tarbell’s funeral service was held in Boston at King’s Chapel, his obituary reading: “Great American Painter Dies,” The Boston Traveler, August 3, 1938; Edmund Tarbell contributed to America’s place in the world of art.

To him and his work Europe turned its eyes in admiration, as did the whole people in America. Tarbell’s works were honest works. In him was none of the transient sensationalism which brought notoriety to others. Tarbell canvases will be speaking to the world centuries from now. His character was as true as his art.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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