A member of the Ten American Painters and an important figure in the Boston School, Frank W. Benson was one of the first American artists to combine the figure with the Impressionist landscape. His images of women and children in sunlit meadows and hillsides established Impressionism as a major style of painting in America. These works are among the most beloved American Impressionist canvases today. Benson is also known for his indoor figural depictions which convey the quiet contemplative spirit of the genteel age and for paintings, etchings, and watercolors of sporting subjects, especially of fishing and hunting, which he rendered in the later portion of his career. Benson’s fame and financial success lasted throughout his professional life. He was one of the most popular artists of his era, and today his paintings are widely reproduced and considered among the most beautiful works in American public and private collections.
Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Benson was a descendant of a family that had settled in Salem during the Revolutionary era and had prospered in the maritime trade. He grew up in privileged circumstances, engaging in sporting activities of tennis, fishing, and hunting, which he enjoyed for the rest of his life. From 1880-1883, he received his first art training at the newly founded School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where he met fellow artists and life-long friends, Edmund Tarbell and Robert Reid. In 1883, Benson traveled to Paris and continued his studies at the Académie Julian under the instruction of Gustave Boulanger and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre. During his French years, he copied Old Master paintings at the Louvre and spent summers in the country. During the summer of 1884, he visited Concarneau, Brittany, where he met American painters, Alexander Harrison, Arthur Hoeber, and Edward Simmons, and was influenced by their somber palettes and genre subject matter.
Benson spent the summer of 1890 in Dublin, New Hampshire, where he came to know other artists who summered in the area, including Abbott Thayer, George de Forest Brush, and Rockwell Kent. In Dublin, Benson created a number of landscapes, but he returned to his emphasis on the figure in the early 1890s, when he created a number of interiors, which feature elegant women in darkened rooms lit only by firelight and oil lamps.
In 1898, Benson joined a number of painters from New York and Boston, including Tarbell, Reid, Simmons, Thomas Dewing, Childe Hassam, J. Alden Weir, and John H. Twachtman, to form the Ten American Painters. This group, which broke from away from the Society of American Artists (the principal artist organization of the time), consisted of several of the most advanced and talented artists of the era, many of whom were working in the French Impressionist style. Benson exhibited in all of the Ten’s annual exhibitions, which were held for twenty years.