Artist Biography

Paul Sample

(1896 - 1974)

Table of Contents

    The New England Regionalist

    By Nina Sangimino and Chelsea DeLay

    Paul Starrett Sample was a unique artist in the first half of the twentieth century. He used many influences to create a distinct style and influenced many younger artists through a long teaching career.

    I. Biography

    Paul Sample was born September 14, 1896, in Louisville, Kentucky. The son of a civil engineer, Sample grew up in various towns and cities where work was available to his father: the family spent time in the Midwest living in Indianapolis, resided in Richmond, Virginia and Washington, D.C. at the turn of the century, and stayed in several western cities in California and Oregon before finally settling in Glencoe, Illinois in 1911.[1] After finishing high school, Sample was accepted to Dartmouth College in 1916 and graduated five years later. After graduation, Sample was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was sent to Saranac Lake Hospital in upstate New York for treatment.

    The four years that Sample spent in Saranac Lake Hospital proved to be the beginning of his artistic career: debilitated by his diagnosis, Sample began to experiment with drawing and painting as a way to occupy his time during rehabilitation. Sample’s initial interest in art continued to progress after he received motivation from artist Jonas Lie—the two met during one of the Lie’s regular visits to his wife, who was also a tuberculosis patient at Saranac Lake Hospital. Lie’s work and abhorrence of modern art had a tremendous impact on the developing style of Sample, who stated, “I was most impressed with him. I thought his pictures wonderful and hung on his every word.”[2] It was under Lie’s advice that Sample decided to formally pursue a career in art after being cleared and released from the hospital in 1925; at the age of twenty-nine, the artist remained briefly in New York to attend classes at the Greenleaf Art School but ultimately chose to move across the country to California, where he enrolled at the Otis Art Institute.

    Sample’s work reflected the influence of Lie while he studied in California—evident in the artist’s proclivity for producing thickly-painted, tonalist harbor and marine scenes. His skill and ability as a painter were evident to his peers within the art community and Sample was hired as an instructor of architectural drawing at the University of Southern California in 1926.[3] He earned several promotions during the ten years he taught at USC, and Sample eventually became the Chairman of the Department of Fine Arts in the mid-1930s.

    His painting career began to progress shortly after his marriage to Sylvia Ann Howland in 1928; Sample began showing his work in prestigious exhibitions that included the Carnegie Institute, the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. His success as an artist was reinforced when he was awarded the National Academy’s Second Hallgarten Prize in 1932 and the Isidore Fold Medal in 1933. Sample’s reputation as a leading member of the Regionalist movement throughout the 1930s was a direct result of the realist approach he used in depicting everyday aspects of American culture.

    Sample traveled briefly to Europe in 1936, where he visited Belgium, England, France, Germany, Holland and Italy. After his return to the United States in 1937, the National Academy of Design elected him as an Associate member and he was made a full Academician in 1941. In the 1940s, he shifted away from the western watercolors that he had favored during his early career and began to focus his attentions on creating New England landscapes; some of his best pieces were created while he spent time visiting his wife’s family in Vermont. The influence of Jonas Lie continued to manifest itself in Sample’s later work—he continued to maintain a conservative approach that did not follow the trend of the newly-emerging modernist movement.

    He continued to paint and exhibit until his death in 1974, and examples of Sample’s legacy as a skilled Regionalist artist can today be viewed in esteemed institutions that include the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

    II. Chronology

    • 1896 Born September 14 in Louisville, Kentucky
    • 1897–1902 Family moved frequently, living in Indianapolis, Indiana; Anaconda, Montana; Richmond, Virginia; and Washington, D.C.
    • 1902–1910 Family moved to West coast and lived in Berkley, Carmel, and San Francisco, California and Portland, Oregon
    • 1911–1916 Family moved to Glencoe, Illinois
    • 1916 Enrolled at Dartmouth College
    • 1918 Served in United States Navy for one year during World War I
    • 1921 Graduated from Dartmouth College
    • 1921–25 Contracted tuberculosis, recovered in the Adirondacks in Upstate New York, began studying art
    • 1925 Moved to Los Angeles, California; enrolled in Otis Art Institute and studied with F. Tolles Chamberlain and Stanton MacDonald-Wright
    • 1926–37 Began teaching drawing at the University of Southern California, by mid-1930s made Chairman of the Art Department
    • 1928 Married Sylvia Ann Howland and moved to Pasadena
    • 1930 Began exhibiting at leading venues and immediately began winning awards to his work
    • 1933 Works on mural project in Santa Monica under David Alfaro Siqueiros
    • 1934 First solo exhibition with Ferargil Galleries in New York; painting Norris Dam reproduced in Fortune magazine, beginning Sample’s relationship with Time-Life
    • 1936–37 Traveled with wife to Europe, visited Belgium, England, France, Germany, Holland, and Italy
    • 1937 Janitor’s Holiday, 1936, purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art; elected Associate member of the National Academy of Design
    • 1938 Made Artist-in-Residence at Dartmouth College, moved to Vermont
    • 1941 Elected full member of the National Academy of Design
    • 1943–44 Served as artist correspondent for Life magazine covering the Pacific Theater
    • 1948 Retrospective exhibition of Paul Sample’s work held at Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire
    • 1949 Served as chairman of Corcoran Biennial jury
    • 1950 Served on Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition committee for American Art Today
    • 1951 Retrospective exhibition at J.B. Speed Museum in Louisville, Kentucky
    • 1962 Retired from Dartmouth College
    • 1974 Died on February 26 in Hanover, New Hampshire

    III. Collections

    • Addison Gallery of American Art, MA
    • Appanaug Post Office, RI, mural
    • Art Institute of Chicago, IL
    • Brevoort Hotel, NY, mural
    • Brooks Memorial Art Gallery
    • Butler Art Institute
    • Canajoharie Library, NY
    • Cincinnati Art Museum, OH
    • Dartmouth, NH
    • Foundation of Western Artists, Los Angeles, CA
    • Joslyn Memorial, NE
    • Massachusetts Mutual Insurance Company, MA, mural
    • Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
    • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
    • National Life Insurance Company, VT, mural
    • New Britain Museum of Art, CA
    • Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA
    • Redondo Beach Post Office, CA, mural
    • RISD Art Museum, RI
    • San Diego Fine Art Society, CA
    • Springfield Museum of Art, MA
    • Swarthmore College
    • University of Minnesota, MN
    • University of Nebraska, NE
    • University of Southern California, CA
    • White House, Washington, D.C.
    • Williams College, MA

    IV. Exhibitions

    • 1930, 1931 California Art Club, awards
    • 1930 Los Angeles County Museum of Art, award
    • 1930–45 Art Institute of Chicago, 1930 award
    • 1930–51 Corcoran Gallery Biennial, 9 times
    • 1931 National Academy of Design, award
    • 1931–49 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Annual, 1936 Temple Medal, 1941 award
    • 1932 National Academy of Design, gold medal
    • 1932 California State Fair, award
    • 1932 Pasadena Art Institute, award
    • 1933 Santa Cruz Art League, award
    • 1934 Ferargil Galleries, solo exhibition
    • 1936 Carnegie Institute, honorable mention
    • 1936 Los Angeles County Museum of Art, award
    • 1936–44 Whitney Museum of American Art
    • 1948 Currier Gallery of Art, retrospective
    • 1951 J.B. Speed Museum, retrospective
    • 1960 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Annual
    • 1962 National Academy of Design, 1st Altman Prize
    • 1970s Capricorn Gallery, Bethesda, Maryland
    • Eric Gallery, New York

    V. Memberships

    • American Watercolor Society
    • California Art Club
    • California Watercolor Society
    • National Academy, Associate 1937, Academician 1941

    VI. Notes

    Paul Sample: Ivy League Regionalist (Coral Gables, Florida: The Lowe Art Museum, The University of Miami, 1984), 9.
    Ibid, 10.
    Peter H. Falk, “Paul Sample” in Who Was Who in American Art: Artists Active between 1898 and 1947 (Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999), 2882.

    VII. Suggested Resources

    • Falk, Peter H. Who Was Who in American Art: Artists Active between 1898 and 1947. Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999.
    • Paul Sample: Ivy League Regionalist. Coral Gables, Florida: The Lowe Art Museum, The University of Miami, 1984.
    • Truettner, William H. and Roger B. Stein, eds. Picturing Old New England: Image and Memory. New Haven, Connecticut: National Museum of American Art with Yale University Press, 1999.

    Interested in Paul Sample?

    Fill out the form below

    Interested in Artist