Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ives Admires William Paxton - Mostly

Portrait of Louise ConverseThe Red Fan

What do you do when you absolutely love somebody's work, but find them a bit difficult as a personality? RH Ives Gammell in his book, The Boston Painters (1900-1930), had nothing but praise for William Paxton's paintings, but his admiration was tempered by the artist's lack of social graces.

We find Mr. Gammell describing Paxton's personality with phrases like "social maladroitness, brash exterior, and tactless outbursts. " (It is interesting that Paxton and Philip Hale were good friends, since Mr. Hale seems also to have caused some significant problems with some articles that he wrote as the art critic for the Boston Herald and Boston Evening Transcript.)

As Mr. Gammell writes: "Many of Paxton's acquaintances never suspected the fine intelligence and delicate sensibility immediately beneath the brash exterior of this sharply apparelled, rotund man whose bald head and tiny black goatee evoked the race track."

Then having expressed this, he begins to list William Paxton's admirable artistic accomplishments:

He was Literary: "Paxton and his close friend Philip Hale were the only painters in the Boston coterie who could properly be called cultured. He was well-read in both English and French literature and had a comprehensive understanding of several arts allied to painting."

He Had a Broad Interest in Art: "When it came to painting itself, his interest covered its entire range whereas most of his Boston colleagues ignored artists, however renowned, whose aims differed from their own. Indeed, in all matters pertaining to his profession his thirst for knowledge was insatiable."

He Possessed Unsurpassed Visual Acuity and Technical Ability: "William Paxton crowned the edifice of nineteenth century Impressionism by carrying their logical principles to their logical conclusion. His unsurpassed visual acuity combined with great technical command enable him to report his impressions with astounding veracity. Of all the painters whose color perception had been sharpened by plein air study, he was the most accurate draftsman and he never slackened his efforts to render both shape and color just as they appeared to his artist's eye. His best indoor paintings are distinguished by an ambient lucidity we do not find to a like degree in the pictures of other men. Let no one confuse this with photographic imitation, which it in no way resembles. Effects of this kind are only captured when the artist visualizes the depicted scene as an entity all of whose colors are accurately observed in their mutual relationship, a singularly difficult feat only understood by the talented after years of study."

He Was a Master of Composition: "Paxton was likewise a master of composition, that twin supporting pillar of the painter's craft without whose assistance even the finest representation will not elevate a painting to the status of art. Paxton was the most diligent and the most original. As the painting progressed, steadily improving the abstract pattern created by his light and dark shapes. More often than the others he successfully created handsome arabesques with the silhouettes made by his darks, an art of which Vermeer was a supreme master."

Girl Arranging FlowersLady on Staircase

He Captured Light: "The intrinsic nature of the objects he elected to paint meant comparatively little to this artist. His interest centered in the light and dark patterns and the intriguing color schemes they created in unison. Above all he was fascinated by the pellucid atmosphere and light which enveloped, transfigured and unified them. And this ambiance he captured with a truth and subtlety undreamed of before pleinairism had rendered the vision of painters more acute than ever before." *

A Short Bio: "William McGregor Paxton was born in Baltimore in 1869. At 18, he won a scholarship to attend the Cowles Art School, where he began his art studies with Dennis Miller Bunker. Later he studied with Jean-Léon Gérôme in Paris and, on his return to Boston, with Joseph DeCamp at Cowles. There he met his future wife Elizabeth Okie, who also was studying with DeCamp.
Paxton taught at the Museum School from 1906 to 1913. His compositions were most often idealized young women in beautiful interiors. Paxton gained fame for his portraiture and painted both Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge, and was made a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1928. He was working on his last painting, a view of his living room with his wife posing for him, when he was stricken with a heart attack and died in 1941 at the age of 72." **

* The Boston Painters (1900-1930) by RH Ives Gammell
** Wikipedia on William MacGregor Paxton

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