Robert Reid

Artist Biography

A celebrated American impressionist and founding member of “The Ten,” Robert Reid was well known for his figural compositions and large-scale murals.

By Chelsea DeLay

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

I. Biography

Robert Lewis Reid was born on July 23, 1862 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. An early interest in art led him to enroll at Boston’s Museum School at the age of seventeen, where he spent three years studying alongside Edmund Tarbell and Frank Weston Benson under the instruction of Otto Grundmann and Frederick Crowninshield.(1) Grundmann trained Reid in draftsmanship and Düsseldorf’s academic approach toward portraiture, while Harvard-educated Crowninshield showed Reid how to make stained glass windows; the influences of both would be evident in the work Reid produced throughout his entire career. After his first year of studies, Reid was earning a living selling small works and had accepted a position at the Museum School as an assistant instructor, and the following year he became a founding editor in chief of Art Student, the school’s scholarly publication.

In 1884, Reid registered for classes at the Art Students League in New York for additional artistic training; however, his dissatisfaction with the coursework, combined with a stream of letters from his friends Tarbell and Benson extolling their own studies at the Académie Julian, swayed Reid to make the trans-Atlantic journey to Paris, France. Reid remained in Europe for four years, studying at the Académie Julian under Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebvre and exhibiting his work regularly at the Paris Salons. Near the end of 1886, he left for Italy and spent ten months traveling through Venice, Naples, Florence, Rome, and Milan, over the course of which he developed a passion for Italian art and architecture. He was deeply impressed by the work of Titian in particular—he held the Italian master in the highest regard for his use of warm colors and light effects. Reid returned to Paris in 1887, where he resumed his studies at the Académie Julian until he decided to return to the United States in 1889.

Reid settled in New York, where he accepted teaching positions at both the Cooper Union and the Art Students League. In 1897, he accepted a membership invitation from the Society of American Artists. However, that same year, fueled by a frustration with the quality of work accepted for exhibition by the Society of American Artists, Reid, along with Julian Alden Weir, Willard Leroy Metcalf, Edward Emerson Simmons, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Childe Hassam, Edmund C. Tarbell, Frank Weston Benson, Joseph DeCamp, and John Henry Twachtman, resigned from the organization, and became the founding artists of “The Ten American Painters.”(2) Along with Tarbell and Benson, Reid was one of the Boston-based impressionist painters in “The Ten,” and his brightly-colored, figurative works regularly stood out as unique during the group’s exhibitions.

While in New York, Reid also became close friends with noted American architect Stanford White; this friendship, along with Reid’s knowledge of architecture and design, led to important commissions that established his reputation as a talented muralist. He was awarded the Master Artist’s medal for his work in one of the domes in the Liberal Arts Building at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and received additional commissions in buildings including the Library of Congress, New York Appellate Court House, Massachusetts State House, and the American Pavilion at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. In 1915, Reid was also one in a group of artists including Simmons, Weir, James Carroll Beckwith, and Kenyon Cox, who were selected to paint the domes at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.(3)

Just after the turn of the century, Reid changed the direction of his career and spent five years designing and crafting stained glass windows for the Rogers Memorial Church in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, which he completed in 1905. At the age of forty-four, Reid married Elizabeth Reeves in Longmeadow, Massachusetts; sadly, the couple divorced only two years later because his wife felt that he spent too much time working. In 1926, Reid was diagnosed with polio and suffered severe paralysis along the right side of his body, completely debilitating his dominant hand and threatening to end his career. Unwilling to face defeat, Reid checked himself into the Clifton Springs Sanatorium in upstate New York, where he spent several months learning to paint with his left hand.

With admirable persistence, Reid continued to produce work during the three years following his diagnosis. He was honored with a solo exhibition at Grand Central Galleries in 1929 and one attendee described, “At sixty-nine, he (Reid) is still eager and interested as ever.”(4) Several months later, Reid’s health ultimately succumbed to complications of polio and the artist passed away that same year. Reid is an important American impressionist best known for his large-scale murals and glowing figural scenes depicting young women. His murals can still be viewed in private and public buildings across the country in present day, and his work can be found in the permanent collections of important museums including the Brooklyn Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Smithsonian American Art Museum.

II. Chronology

1862 Born July 23 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
1880–3 Studies under Otto Grundmann and Frederick Crowninshield at the Museum School in Boston, Massachusetts
1881 Becomes assistant instructor at Museum School
1882–84 Editor in chief of the Museum School’s student publication, Art Student
1884–85 Attends classes at the Art Student League in New York City
1885 Travels to Europe, enrolls at the Académie Julian
1886 Spends ten months in Italy, studies Italian art and architecture in Milan, Naples, Rome, Venice, and Florence
1889 Returns to the United States, settles in New York, accepts teaching positions at the Cooper Union and the Art Students League
1892 Receives commission to decorate one of the eight domes in the Liberal Arts Building at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition
1894 Receives commission to paint murals in New York’s Fifth Avenue Hotel
1896–97 Receives commission to paint murals in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
1897 Accepts membership to and later resigns from the Society of American Artists, joins “The Ten American Painters”
1901–5 Designs and executes multi-colored stained glass windows at the Rogers Memorial Church in Fairhaven, Massachusetts
1902 Becomes Associate member of the National Academy of Design
1906 Elected Academician of the National Academy of Design
1907 Marries Elizabeth Reeves in Longmeadow, Massachusetts
1909 Divorces from wife Elizabeth
1915 Society of American Etchers show ten of the artist’s rare etchings
1920 Moves to Colorado Springs, teaches painting at Broadmoor Academy
1926 Diagnosed with polio, entire right side of body becomes paralyzed and he can no longer paint with his right hand; enters Clifton Spring Sanatorium and learns to paint with his left hand
1929 Honored with a solo exhibition at Grand Central Galleries in New York, passes away from complications of polio

III. Collections

Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts
American Pavilion at the Paris Exposition, mural
Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Brigham Young University Museum of Art, Provo, Utah
Brooklyn Museum, New York
Cheekwood’s Museum of Art, Nashville, Tennessee
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia
Church of St. Paul the Apostle, New York, New York, mural
The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado
Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan
Hickory Museum of Art, North Carolina
New York Appellate Court House, New York, mural
Massachusetts State House, Boston, Massachusetts, mural
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Alabama
National Academy of Design, New York, New York
Newark Museum, New Jersey
The New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
The White House, Washington, D.C.
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut

IV. Exhibitions

1885–89 Paris Salon, France
1889–92, 1897–98 National Academy of Design, New York, New York
1889–97 Society of American Artists, New York, New York
1889–1913, 1920–22, 1966 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Illinois
1898–1918 Ten American Painters, New York, New York
1900 Exposition Universelle, Paris, France
1907–28 Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., biennials
1910, 1911 Montross Gallery, New York, New York; Exhibition of the Ten
1915 Society of American Etchers, New York, New York
Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, California
1917 Detroit Museum of Art, Michigan
1921 Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
1927 Broadmoor Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, solo exhibition
1929 Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, New York, solo exhibition
1976, 1985–86 Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia
1978 Wildenstein & Co., New York, New York
1984 Terra Museum of Art, Evanston, Illinois
1994 Daimaru Museum Umeda, Osaka, Japan; Daimaru Museum, Tokyo, Japan; Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Japan, traveling exhibition

V. Memberships
National Academy, Associate, 1902; Academician, 1906
Society of American Artists, 1897
The Ten American Painters, 1897

VI. Notes

1. Patricia Jobe Pierce, The Ten (Concord, New Hampshire: Rumford Press, 1976), 101.
2. Peter Hastings Falk, ed, Who Was Who in American Art, 1564–1975: 400 Years of Artists in America, vol. III, P–Z (Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999), 2734.
3. Pierce, 107.
4. Ibid., 108.

VII. Suggested Resources

Falk, Peter Hastings, ed. Who Was Who in American Art, 1564–1975: 400 Years of Artists in America. Vol. III, P–Z. Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999.
Gerdts, William H. American Impressionism. New York: Abbeville Press, 1984.
Pierce, Patricia Jobe. The Ten. Concord, New Hampshire: Rumford Press, 1976
Weinberg, Helene Barbara. “Robert Reid: Academic Impressionist,” Archives of American Art Journal 15 (1975): 2 –11.

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