Today marks the birthday of Salem’s most renowned artist, Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951). Benson is perhaps best known as an American Impressionist, whose plein-air paintings captured New England summer and family life around the turn of the last century, but he worked sucessfully in several mediums over his long career. Benson loved painting children, usually his daughters, out in the sun and by the sea, and these are the paintings that remain his most popular and representative. Below is Summer, 1909, the image most associated with the Peabody Essex Museum’s recent exhibition Painting Summer in New England, along with Children in the Woods and Two Little Girls, which recently sold at auction for nearly 2.1 million dollars.
Benson was born in a house on Salem Common and lived in Salem his entire life, the last twenty-five years in an imposing Greek Revival house on Chestnut Street. With his lifelong friend and fellow artist Phillip Little, he also maintained a studio on the street. He spent his summers in New Hampshire and Maine, but always returned to Salem. Many of his paintings with interior settings, including The Black Hat below, feature architectural and material details of Salem houses and the products of the China trade.
Benson’s artistic career actually began with an etching of Salem Harbor, made while he was a student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and he would return to that medium later in life after gaining fame as one of “The Ten” American Impressionists who exhibited their works together from 1898-1918. From about 1920 on until the end of his life, Benson specialized in nature and sporting scenes, rendered as etchings, drawings, and watercolors. His two most important public commissions, completed at either ends of his long career, also represent his versatility: the “Seasons” murals at the Library of Congress (with a close-up on “Spring”) and the 1935-36 Federal Duck Stamp.
March 24th, 2011 at 2:03 pm
I’ll be darned. Admired that house for years. Never knew.
Such a marvelous painter. When I was growing up, it seemed that every summer house up here had one or two or his etchings
March 24th, 2011 at 9:48 pm
Wonderful post! I can’t figure out why I haven’t heard of Benson previously. We must have moved to New England too recently?? Such beautiful work. I will have to investigate further.
March 25th, 2011 at 5:21 pm
This is a really pretty, informative and well executed website. I recognize Benson’s old house! I also did not know of this artist and appreciate his work; it is wonderful.
May 20th, 2011 at 7:31 am
[…] about here) and good friend and neighbor of fellow Salem artist Frank Benson (who I wrote about here) maintained a small studio overlooking Salem Harbor and was particularly inspired by the old […]
April 29th, 2012 at 6:09 am
[…] Blaney, and John Leslie Breck were within its midst. I’ve already written about Little and Benson, whose houses I can gaze upon from my bedroom window, but the other gentlemen are more recent […]
April 23rd, 2022 at 2:36 pm
I know this is an older post but I came across it while researching 46 Washington Square and discovered he and his family lived there until 1925. Thought you might be interested in that detail.
April 23rd, 2022 at 4:02 pm
Yes, I believe he was born there?
April 23rd, 2022 at 5:06 pm
Yes, he was born in the home in 1862.