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Edmund C. Tarbell   Click Images to Enlarge

Edmund C. Tarbell
Portrait of a Gentleman
Oil on canvas
30 x 22 in.
circa 1904-1907
Edmund C. Tarbell
Emeline Souther Tarbell in a New Castle, NH Garden
Oil on canvas board
18 x 12 inches


Edmund C. Tarbell
Horses Jumping

Pastel on paper
7 ¾ x 12 7/8 inches

Edmund C. Tarbell

(American, 1862-1938)

Edmund Charles Tarbell was one of the most influential artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries because he championed impressionism while maintaining a respect for academic traditions and he "fathered" what is known as The Boston School of Painting by virtue of having 100s of followers who appreciated and tried to imitate his spontaneous brush and refined genteel subject matter. After training in Boston and at the Académie Julian in Paris, Tarbell and Frank W. Benson began their teaching careers at Boston's Museum School in 1890 and by 1912 Tarbell's influence both as a painter and teacher was international. His devotees including William Paxton, Joseph DeCamp, Frank W. Benson, Philip Leslie Hale, Lilian Westcott Hale, Marguerite S. Pearson, William and Lee L. Kaula, and hundreds of others were dubbed Tarbellites.

Tarbell was elected an Associate and then a National Academician at the National Academy of Design in NYC, but in 1898 he left the Academy with Childe Hassam, J. Alden Weir, Benson and others to exhibit independently away from juries with The Ten American Painters. Because of the fame and artistic perfection of the members of The Ten, they quickly became the most sought after group of American painters in the world and each man’s reputation and financial position prospered.

After Tarbell had headed the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston from 1889-1912, he and Benson resigned as the School's directors and Tarbell accepted a position as the Director of the Corcoran Gallery School in Washington, D.C., to which many of his Boston students followed.

Tarbell won numerous gold medals, was a juror for U.S. and international exhibitions and was renowned for his exquisite renderings in portraits, interiors and pleinaire landscapes. When Modernism became the rage, art critics and the public alike sought to collect outdoor paintings by Tarbell, despite the fact he painted less than 20 of them. Portrait commissions drained his time. Today, out of approximately 455 known paintings executed by the artist, 90% of his pleinaire canvases are in museum collections.

After marrying Emeline Souther of Plymouth, MA on November 7, 1888, Tarbell visited his in-laws in that coastal town, where Tarbell painted until 1910. Although almost every collector of Tarbell or The Ten wants to own a pleinaire canvas like The Harbor, Kittery, Maine and because the artist is scarce, his oils in general are exceedingly rare. Having painted primarily portraits of U.S. presidents, dignitaries, war heroes and the rich and famous or canvases that show the Brahmin society doing daily chores within intimate home interiors, Tarbell had little time to paint outdoors, but when he did paint landscapes directly on location the brushwork was fluent, confident, somewhat hurried and always impressionistic. Critics rank his outdoor subjects as his most French in feeling and character. Although Tarbell executed a few canvases in which his prize-winning thoroughbred horses are seen, fewer major oils exist that include figures outdoors like In the Garden (Terra Museum, Illinois). The Harbor, Kittery, Maine shows Tarbell’s confident, loose, spontaneous impressionistic strokes and his remarkable use of color.

The artist died in New Castle, N.H. in 1938 a world-famous American impressionist. In that year, the Museum of Fine Arts gave Tarbell and Frank W. Benson a two-man retrospective, but Tarbell did not live to see the exhibition. Patricia Jobe Pierce’s Edmund C. Tarbell & the Boston School of Painting was the first book to printed on Tarbell (1980) and her forthcoming Edmund C. Tarbell Life Work Addenda will include The Harbor, Kittery, Maine.

References: Pierce, Edmund C. Tarbell & the Boston School of Painting (1980); Who's Who in American Art (volumes beginning in 1890-1938); Pierce, The Ten (1976); Spanierman, The Ten (1990). Tarbell is well listed in every leading art reference on American art and artists.

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