Edmund C. Tarbell (1862–1938)

American Impressionist and founding member of The Ten

By Alexandra A. Jopp

Edmund Tarbell was renowned for his elegant interiors and vivacious outdoor paintings of his family.

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Notes
VII. Suggested Resources


I. Biography

Edmund Charles Tarbell was an American painter who won numerous prizes and medals and experimented with a range of forms through en plein air painting. An extraordinary talent, he was inspired by seventeenth-century Dutch traditions and especially fond of Vermeer. His environment was his own and his wife and four children served as his models. He specialized in delicately finished, pearly interiors, and devoted a significant part of his career to capturing images of young women pursuing domestic activities, such as sewing or reading, in elegantly decorated rooms filled with antiquarian or oriental objects.

Born in 1862 in West Groton, MA, Tarbell spent most of his youth in Dorchester, MA. He received his early training from George Bartlett at the Massachusetts Normal Art School. Tarbell also worked in the Forbes Lithographic Company of Boston and took drawing classes before entering the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in 1879. After graduation he went to Paris with several of his classmates to study at the prestigious Académie Julian with Louis Boulanger and Jules Joseph Lefebvre. During this time, he studied the art of the great masters and traveled through London, Brussels, Antwerp, Cologne, Munich, and Venice.

Tarbell returned to the United States in 1888 and married Emeline Arnold Souther of Dorchester, who served as the romantic inspiration for his portrait and genre paintings. In 1889 he became an instructor at Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and in 1891 held his first exhibition with friend Frank Weston Benson at the St. Botolph Club in Boston. This same year, he painted In the Orchard (1891; Terra Foundation for American Art) which established his reputation as a brilliant artist especially skilled at producing Impressionist scenes of figures out-of-doors. In 1898 Tarbell became one of the founding members of The Ten, a group of American painters who were credited with introducing Impressionism to America.

In the following years, Tarbell painted more light-filled interior scenes reminiscent of Edgar Degas and closely studied the works of Jan Vermeer. Tarbell’s style drew on Vermeer’s taste for the intangible beauty of tranquil domesticity found in images of women writing, reading, or playing a musical instrument. In Girl Reading (1909; Palmer Museum of Art at Pennsylvania State University), for example, Tarbell creates a solemn mood in high art that is shaped by a formal emulation of seventeenth-century Dutch traditions. Accordingly, art critic Charles Caffin wrote that Tarbell's pictures are “at once an expression of the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty.”1

In 1926, Tarbell retired to his vacation home in New Castle, NH where he remained until his death on Aug. 1, 1938.

II.Chronology

1862 Born on April 26 in West Groton, MA.
1877–1880 Apprentices at Forbes Lithographic Company in Boston
1879 Enrolls in school at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he studies under Otto Grundmann
1883 Sails to Paris, where he enters Académie Julian and studies under Gustave Boulanger and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre
1886 Returns to Boston and works as illustrator, private art instructor, and portrait painter
1888 Marries Emeline Arnold Souther of Plymouth, MA, on Nov. 7
1889–1913 Serves on faculty of school at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
1891 In the Orchard (1891; Terra Foundation for American Art) establishes his artistic reputation; first exhibition, in conjunction with friend Frank Weston Benson, held at St. Botolph Club in Boston
1896 Executes mural work Art Interchanged for Tremont Temple in Boston
1898 Helps to form The Ten, a group of American Impressionists
1899 Begins series of paintings of figures in sunlit interiors whose tilted perspectives and vast empty spaces show influences of Degas
1914 Co-founds The Guild of Boston Artists; serves as first president through 1924
1919 Becomes principal of art school at Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC
1905 Buys summer home in New Castle, NH
1906 Elected an Academician at the National Academy of Design
1918 Becomes head of Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC
1926 Retires to vacation home in New Castle, NH
1938 Dies on August 1

III. Collections

Arkell Museum at Canajoharie, NY
Cleveland Museum of Art
Colby College Museum of Art, ME
Crocker Art Museum, CA
Currier Gallery of Art, NH
Dallas Museum of Art
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Harvard University Art Museums, MA
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Milwaukee Art Museum
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Palmer Museum of Art at Pennsylvania State University
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago
The Huntington Library, CA
Worcester Art Museum, MA

IV. Exhibitions

1886 Paris Salon
1887–1909 Boston Art Club
1890, 1894, 1908, 1929 National Academy of Design
1892–1913, 1920–38 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (awarded Gold Medal in 1895 and 1911)
1898 St. Botolph Club
1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago
1895 Art Club of Philadelphia
1893 Society of American Artists
1897 Tennessee Expo, Nashville
1898–1919 Ten American Painters exhibition
1900, 1904 Worcester Art Museum
1900 Boston Charitable Mechanics’ Association
1900 Paris Exposition
1901, 1904, 1909, 1928–29 Carnegie Institute
1907 Art Institute of Chicago
1907–37 Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco
1935 Newport Art Museum & Art Association
1938 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

V. Memberships

American Academy of Arts and Letters
Algonquin Club of Boston
Boston's Tavern
Guild of Boston Artists
National Academy of Design
St. Botolph's Clubs
Ten American Painters

VI. Notes

Charles H. Caffin, "The Art of Edmund C. Tarbell," Harper's Monthly (June 1908): 72.

VII. Suggested Resources

Domit, Moussa. American Impressionist Painting. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1973.
Hiesinger, Ulrich W. Impressionism in America: The Ten American Painters. Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1991.
Docherty, Linda J., et. al. “Family Pictures: the Impressionist Art of Edmund C. Tarbell.” Magazine Antiques (November, 2001).
Pierce, Patricia Jobe. Edmund C. Tarbell and the Boston School of Painting (1889–1980). Hingham, MA: Pierce Galleries, 1980.
Strickler, Susan. Impressionism transformed: the paintings of Edmund C. Tarbell. Manchester, NH: Currier Gallery of Art, 2001.
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