Frank Weston Benson (March 24, 1862 - November 15, 1951) was an American Impressionist artist, and a member of the Ten American Painters.
Benson was born in Salem, Massachusetts. In 1879, he began study at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and later at the Académie Julian in Paris. Upon return to America, he would become an instructor at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Some of his best known paintings (Eleanor, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Summer, Rhode Island School of Design Museum) depict his daughters outdoors at Benson's summer home on the island of North Haven, Maine. He also produced numerous paintings and etchings of wildfowl.
Born into a successful merchant family, Benson lived in Salem for most of his life. At the Boston Museum school he befriended Edmund Charles Tarbell and Robert Reid, at the same time teaching drawing classes in Salem and painting landscapes during the summer. In 1883 he began his studies in Paris, and in the summer of 1884 painted at Concarneau, along with Willard Metcalf and Edward Simmons. His early paintings were conventional landscapes.
After returning to America in 1885 Benson opened a studio in Salem and taught and painted portraits in Portland, Maine. In 1888 he took a studio in Boston, and married Ellen Perry Peirson. In 1889 he began teaching at the Boston Museum school, and in 1891 became co-director of the school alongside his friend Tarbell.
Realism and impressionism
Also in 1888 Benson gained favorable attention in his first showing with the Society of American Artists in New York, with a piece that suggested the influence of academic realism rather than impressionism. In 1889 he was awarded the Hallgarten Prize at the National Academy of Design annual, and exhibited with Tarbell at the J. Eastman Chase Gallery in Boston. In the late 1880s Benson spent several summers in Dublin, New Hampshire, where he painted with and was influenced by Abbott Thayer. By the early 1890s he began using his family as subjects; Benson later recalled having realized at the time that "design" was the most important component of painting. Consequently, works of the period evidence a greater interest in and command of pattern, silhouette, and abstract design.
It was only after joining the Ten American Painters (which also included such notables as Childe Hassam and William Merritt Chase) in 1898 that Benson shifted from the decorative painting of murals (for the Library of Congress) and allegories, to a genuine interest in plein-air impressionism. The popularity of The Sisters, a painting which won medals in expositions throughout the United States and in Paris, was a prelude to the successes of the next twenty years, during which time Benson became famous for a series of luminous paintings of his wife and daughters, executed at his summer home in Maine. Still maintaining a primary residence in Salem, Benson taught in Boston during the winter months, when he also painted interior scenes and portrait commissions. In 1901 and 1909 he held one-man exhibitions at the St. Botolph Club in Boston.
Benson stopped teaching in 1913. In 1915 he first exhibited etchings of wild fowl, to popular acclaim. After 1920 Benson turned increasingly to the depiction of landscapes featuring wildlife, an outgrowth of his interest in hunting and fishing, from then on producing a steady and profitable output of etchings and watercolors in this vein. The watercolors, often the products of bird- hunting sojourns to Cape Cod and salmon fishing expeditions in Canada, were favorably compared to similar works by Winslow Homer. At the request of fellow artist and conservationist Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling, Benson designed the second Federal Duck Stamp in 1935.
In his lifetime Benson enjoyed retrospective exhibitions at the Guild of Boston Artists in 1917, the Corcoran Gallery in 1921, the Carnegie Museum of Art in 1924, and, showing again with Tarbell, at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1938. The popularity of the last exhibition was such that it broke the museum's attendance records to that date.