Artist Biography

Edward Emerson Simmons

(1852 - 1931)

Table of Contents

    Known primarily as a muralist, Edward Emerson Simmons was also a member of the Ten American Painters. His limited involvement with the group allowed him to focus on decorating the walls and ceilings of American landmarks throughout the country.

    By Chelsea DeLay

    I. Biography

    Shortly after his birth in Concord, Massachusetts on October 27, 1852, Edward Emerson Simmons suffered the loss of his father, and was subsequently raised by his mother and grandmother. Simmons came into his own during his time at Harvard University; before graduating in 1874, he was inducted into the Hasty Pudding Club, and was also a founding member of the university’s art club.[1] After graduation, Simmons was lured westward, and ended up in San Francisco in 1875. Armed with recommendation letter from his famous cousin Ralph Waldo Emerson, Simmons successfully applied for a position at Strawberry Valley School, where he taught for two years.[2]

    Simmons’s inspiration from the beauty of nature began to develop during his months in California. While on a camping trip in the Cascadian Mountains, he recalled how an ongoing downpour suddenly ceased, allowing the skies to clear and reveal the majestic, snowcapped Shasta mountain:

    If we touch the realm of high beauty, we enter the realm of high thinking [and] if we get there, we are the edge of the goal and something whispers: “Be careful; tread slowly; you are on sacred ground” and I realized my first artistic harmony and it was in the realm of color[3]

    After returning east, Simmons spent a short time at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, but had grander plans to study abroad. In 1878, he crossed the Atlantic to arrive in Paris, and summed up the trip as one of his life’s adventures: “My first trip to Europe cost me forty dollars and my faith in human nature.”[4] Upon his arrival, Simmons enrolled at the prestigious Académie Julian, and two years later continued his studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

    Simmons blossomed under the instruction of Boulanger and Lefebvre, and successfully went on to exhibit at the Paris Salon and London Royal Academy in 1881. His move to the small, fishing town of Concarneau, England provided him with a wealth of subject matter, ranging from tonalist marine paintings to peasant life genre scenes. The peasant subjects from his time spent in Concarneau show the influence of French naturalist Jules Bastien-Lepage, and are among some of Simmons’s earliest traceable works.[5]

    In 1883, he married Vesta Schallenberger, and two years later, he relocated his family to the northern coast of England, settling in the artist colony of St. Ives. After five years, Simmons was lured back stateside by a commission from his alma mater; The Memorial Hall at Harvard University was in need of new stained glass windows, which Simmons designed and Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company produced.[6]

    Now known largely for his success as a mural painter, Simmons’s first opportunity to demonstrate his talents occurred in 1892, when he was hired by Francis Davis Millet to create murals on the domes inside the Manufacturers and Fine Arts Building at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition.[7] After their debut, it became clear that there was no other artist in the field of mural painting with skill parallel to that of Simmons.

    Over the next few years, Simmons had a significant increase in mural commissions, with notable requests from the New York Municipal Society and the Library of Congress. In 1898, he became a member of “The Ten” and joined the ranks of Childe Hassam, J. Alden Weir, John H. Twatchtman, Robert Reid, Willard Metcalf, Frank W. Benson, Edmund C. Tarbell, Thomas W. Dewing, and Joseph DeCamp. Formed in protest against the Society of American Artists, the works of these men became emblematic of conservative taste and tradition, with a distinct Impressionist style.[8]

    Simmons was perhaps the most inconsistent exhibitor of “The Ten”, and when his career as a muralist took off at the turn of the century, it was apparent that easel painting was not his priority. Between 1900 and 1920, Simmons painted numerous murals that can still be seen in the South Dakota State Capitol, the Mercer County Courthouse, the Polk County Courthouse, the Waldorf-Astoria, and the Minnesota State Capital.[9] His murals were praised for their technique and balance of form and color; Arthur Hoeber described the murals in the Library of Congress as, “…thoughtful, serious, able, and besides the admirable technical excellence displayed, there is felt the intellectual power behind the compositions.”[10]

    In 1931, Edward E. Simmons passed away in Baltimore while at his son’s home. The lasting memory of his artistic abilities can still be seen in countless American landmarks throughout the country.

    II. Chronology

    • 1852 Born in Concord, Massachusetts on October 27
    • 1870–74 Attended Harvard University
    • 1874–77 Traveled west, met Frank Duveneck while stopped in Cincinnati, Ohio
    • 1875–77 Worked in San Francisco, California as a writer for The Chronicle
    • 1877 Enrolled in formal classes at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston
    • 1878–80 Began classes at Académie Julian in Paris, France
    • 1880 Transferred to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts
    • 1881 Moved to Concarneau, England
    • Began exhibiting at the London Royal Academy and the Paris Salon
    • 1882 Awarded Honorable Mention for Etude à Concarneau at the Paris Salon
    • 1883 Married Vesta Schallenberger
    • 1884 Traveled to Spain; His first son, William, was born abroad
    • 1886–1891 Moved his family to the northern coast of England; founding member of St. Ives art colony in Cornwall
    • 1891 Returned stateside; accepted commission from Harvard University to design stained glass windows for Memorial Hall
    • 1892 Hired by Francis Davis Millet to paint the mural decorations in the Manufacturers and Fine Arts Building at the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago
    • 1894 Received the first commission awarded by the Municipal Art Society of New York for the decoration of the courtroom of the Criminal Courts Building
    • 1898 Joined “The Ten”
    • 1900–1920 Actively painted murals in Boston, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and San Francisco
    • 1903 Briefly returned to Paris, where he painted his most significant commission, The Progress of the American Spirit in the Northwest, now installed in the Minnesota State Capitol
    • 1903 Several years after the death of his first wife, he remarried Alice Ralston Morton
    • 1931 Passed away while at his son’s Baltimore home in November

    III. Collections (murals)

    • Massachusetts State House, MA
    • Criminal Court Room, NYC
    • Minnesota State Capital, St. Paul, MN
    • Capitol Building, Pierre, SD
    • Court House, Mercer, PA
    • Astoria Gallery, Astoria, NY
    • Courthouse, Des Moines, IA
    • Appellate Court, NY
    • Memorial Hall, Harvard University, MA
    • Library of Congress, Washington, DC

    IV. Exhibitions (+indicates exhibition with The Ten)

    • Art Institute of Chicago, IL
    • 1881 London Royal Academy
    • 1881–89 Paris Salon, Honorable Mention, 1882
    • 1884–85, 1889 National Academy of Design
    • 1885 Boston Art Club, MA
    • 1898–1904 +Durand-Ruel Galleries, NY,
    • 1898 +St. Botolph, NY
    • 1889 Paris Exposition, France, bronze medal
    • 1890–1903 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA, 10 times, including Temple Silver Medal, 1890
    • 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition, Chicago, IL
    • 1900 +St. Botolph, NY
    • 1901 Pan-Am Exposition, NY, gold medal
    • 1902 +St. Botolph, NY
    • 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis
    • +St. Botolph, NY
    • 1906 +Kimball Gallery, MA
    • +Rhode Island School of Design, RI
    • +Detroit Museum of Art, MI
    • +M. O’Brien Sons, IL
    • 1907 +Bressler Gallery, WI
    • +St. Louis, MO
    • +J.J. Gillespie Galleries, PA
    • +McClees Galleries, PA
    • +Montross Galleries, NY
    • 1908 +Montross Galleries, NY
    • Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA
    • 1910 +Montross Galleries, NY
    • 1911 +Montross Galleries, NY
    • 1912 Arch. League (prize)
    • +Montoss Galleries, NY
    • 1913 +Copley Society, MA
    • +Montross Galleries, NY
    • 1915 Panama Pacific Exhibition of 1915
    • 1915–16 +M. Knoedler & Co., NY
    • 1917 +Montross Galleries, NY
    • +St. Botolph, NY
    • 1919, 1930 Corcoran Gallery Biennials, Washington, D.C.

    V. Memberships

    • Boston Art Club
    • Boston Art Students Association, 1881–84
    • Harvard Art Club, founding member
    • Hasty Pudding Club, Harvard University
    • National Academy of Design
    • National Institute of Arts & Letters
    • New York Architectural League, NY
    • Society of American Artists, 1888, resigned in 1897
    • St. Botolph Club, NY
    • The Players Club, NY
    • The Ten American Painters, 1897, founding member
    • Vaudeville Club, NY, 1893

    VI. Additional Resources

    • 1. Cleveland, David. A History of American Tonalism: 1880-1920. New York, Hudson Hills Press, 2010.
    • 2. Gerdts, William H, et. al.Ten American Painters. New York: Spanierman Gallery, 1990.
    • 3. Pierce, Patricia Jobe. The Ten. Concord: Rumford Press, 1976.
    • 4. Simmons, Edward. From Seven to Seventy: Memories of a Painter and a Yankee. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1922.

    VII. Notes

    1. Patricia Jobe Pierce, The Ten (Concord: Rumford Press, 1976), 110.
    2. William H. Gerdts, et. al., Ten American Painters (New York: Spanierman Gallery, 1990), 117.
    3. Edward Simmons, From Seven to Seventy: Memories of a Painter and a Yankee (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1922), 83.
    4. Ibid, 117.
    5. Gerdts, 117.
    6. Ibid, 118.
    7. Ibid.
    8. David Cleveland, A History of American Tonalism: 1880-1920 (New York, Hudson Hills Press, 2010), 317.
    9. Gerdts, 119.
    10. Pierce, 113.

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