Thursday, April 14, 2011

Frederic Vinton Reaches His Goal

The River Loing at Grez, France

Frederic Vinton’s experience is encouraging. He knew what he wanted, and for many years very patiently took small steps in that direction until finally there came the time when he was ready to make the definitive move.

Even as a boy in the 1840s, Frederic wanted to be an artist. Happily, at fourteen, he was able to show his sketches to well-known artist William Morris Hunt who had commented, “You’ve as much art as I had when I started; go ahead.” His next step then was to attend the Lowell Institute which had just become the first school in Boston to teach freehand drawing class. It was taught by sculptor, painter, anatomist, and teacher, Dr. Rimmer. But Frederic also needed a professional career so he worked as a bookkeeper at a bank. For over fifteen years, he trod the pathway of balancing job and studies, and saving his money for a definite purpose. Finally at twenty-nine, he left his bookkeeping position and sailed to Europe for full-time art training. There the years spent slowly solidifying his abilities and artistic thought-processes paid off.

Friendships that he had made back in Boston influenced his direction. One fellow art enthusiasist, Edwin Blashfield, presented him to his own instructor in Paris, the great Leon Bonnat with whom Vinton began his studies. The following spring another friend, Frank Duveneck, persuaded him to move to Munich where he studied with Wilhelm von Diez. (William Merritt Chase was also there at that time,) Vinton stayed for about a year before returning to Paris. Avoiding Bonnat - whom he had left - he applied for admission to the atelier of Jean Paul Laurens. He was the first foreigner accepted there as a pupil. In 1878 after three years abroad, Frederic returned to Boston and opened his own studio. He immediately distinguished himself by painting a striking portrait which launched him on his long career as an accredited painter of eminent Boston gentlemen. He had arrived! His impressive works - about 200 - still hang in the board rooms of banks and hospitals, court houses, and state capitols. They are striking characterizations, well composed, and admirably drawn.

Alexander Moseley, 1880s

Vinton was exceptionally fortunate to have been mentored by William Morris Hunt, and to have studied with Rimmer, Bonnat and Jean Paul Laurens. He learned many great things from them, but a teacher’s propensities are also passed on. Vinton never successfully overcame the bias imposed on his perception of color by this succession of teachers who all saw the world rather brownly. The distinction that RH Ives Gammell makes between Frederic Vinton and the younger Boston painters is in how they colored the flesh tints, especially the halftones and shadows. Those artists educated just a few years later on in Europe were influenced by the Impressionists and their new color discoveries.

Frederic seemed to have been a very social person. He opened up his studio for years to pull together artists, men of letters, musicians and individualists of diverse kinds to form the Tavern Club. (Dennis Bunker and Frank Duveneck were two of the artists although they attended in different years).

When he was thirty-six, Frederic took a sabbatical from his portrait painting to travel with Robert Blum (one of my favorite Cincinnati artists) and William Merritt Chase to Spain. “The three artists spent time in Madrid and Toledo, and Frederic studied portraiture by studying Velázquez’s previous work and making painstakingly executed copies. The leading Boston painters were to follow his example during the ensuing years.”*

Vinton continued his artistic career until his death on May 20, 1911. Most unfortunately, he had picked up a virus at a dusty ballpark while attending a game and died the next week of bronchial trouble leaving his wife and son behind.

La Blanchisseuse
(click on the image for a description of this painting)

RH Ives Gammell’s Thought for the Day: “The factors most operative in determining the progress of the art or in precipitating its decline throughout the centuries have always depended on the contacts established between its accomplished practitioners and their talented juniors. To be genuinely fruitful, associations between teacher and disciple must be close and prolonged. Transmission of this formidably intricate craft consists of very much more than passing along technical know-how. It is basically an inculcation of a way of seeing interwoven with a philosophy of self-expression in visual terms, the two things being intimately related.”

The Boston Painters, 1900-1930 by RH Ives Gammell
Wikipedia on the Lowell Institute
Frederic Vinton's Obituary

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