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Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951)
Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951)
Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951)
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Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951)
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Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951)

Girl with a Veil

Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951)
Girl with a Veil
signed and dated 'F.W. Benson./1907' (lower left)
oil on canvas
40 x 32 in. (101.6 x 81.3 cm.)
Painted in 1907.
Acquired by The Rainier Club at the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition in 1909.
Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, “Third Annual Exhibition; Selected American Paintings at the Albright Art Gallery,” Academy Notes, vol. 4, no. 3, August 1908, pp. 35-36, illustrated.
F.A. Bedford, Frank W. Benson: American Impressionist, New York, 1994, pp. 47, 126-27, illustrated.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Exhibition of Paintings by Ten American Painters, April 11-May 3, 1908, pp. 6, 8, no. 1, illustrated.
Buffalo, New York, The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Albright Art Gallery, Third Annual Exhibition of Selected Paintings by American Artists, April 30-August 30, 1908, pp. 11, 36, 82, no. 15, illustrated.
Seattle, Washington, Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition, June 1-October 16, 1909, p. 58, no. 260.

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William Haydock
William Haydock

Lot Essay

A leader of the Boston School and a member of "The Ten," Frank Weston Benson is one of the best-known American artists to adapt the Impressionist aesthetic to create his own signature style. Painted in 1907, Girl with a Veil possesses all the traits of the artist's highly personal and celebrated aesthetic. Depicting his beloved daughter Eleanor, the painting exemplifies Benson's quintessential bold brushwork and mastery of light and atmosphere.

Interior scenes were complements to Benson's celebrated depictions of women and children out of doors, and the artist's primary focus during the winter months he spent in Boston. Girl with a Veil is a superior example in which his daughter poses in an elegant white gown and elaborate feathered black hat, complete with matching fan and overlaid veil. The veil not only adds a sense of intrigue and sophistication, but also importantly demonstrates Benson’s consummate skill in replicating the gossamer thin material and the face still visible beneath. Faith Andrews Bedford writes that a “favorite theme for the Boston painters was the veiled woman, shown either outdoors (the veil adding to the sense of breezy atmosphere) or indoors (where she often presented a flirtatious or sensual being.)” (The Art of Frank W. Benson: American Impressionist, Salem, Massachusetts, 2000, p. 72n.22) Benson also explored the compositional effects of a veil in his works Against the Sky (circa 1912) and Study for Young Girl with a Veil (1912), the latter of which was featured on the cover of the 2000 exhibition catalogue The Art of Frank W. Benson: American Impressionist. Fellow Boston School painter Edmund Charles Tarbell similarly explored the motif in The Blue Veil (1898) in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California.

In Girl with a Veil, the beautifully rendered, detailed interior setting matches the chicness of the sitter, with the tablecloth littered with crystal-clear glasses, a floral bouquet and a striking silver centerpiece overflowing with fruit. With the figure seated on an angle, the decorative slats of her wooden chair are visible, along with a classic mantelpiece with silver candlestick in the background. The polished scene is further enhanced by the chandelier partially entering the composition at upper right. As Bedford notes, "the compositional elements provided by the decorative elements in his interiors underscore Benson's comment that 'People in general have a sense of beauty and know when things are right. And design is the only thing that matters.' So important was the composition of his interiors with figures that, at times, the model seems as much a beautiful objet d'art as the furnishing and the accessories." (unpublished letter, April 1, 2013)

As in his plein air works, in Girl with a Veil, the play of light within the scene is just as important as the compositional elements themselves. Indeed, a 1907 review of one of his interiors commented, "It is difficult to describe the charm of the thing, but the room swims in light and atmosphere." (as quoted in F.A. Bedford, Frank W. Benson: American Impressionist, New York, 1994, p. 127) Such is true of the present work. Here Benson limits his palette to neutral tones ranging from shades of creamy white and beige to darker silvers, browns and blacks. The only pops of color derive from the apricots, green and purple grapes and bunch of violets upon the table. This largely monochromatic palette, however, is anything but one-note in Benson’s skilled hands. Vibrant brushwork enlivens the beautiful satin gown with its puffed sleeves and chiffon overdress. While similar in coloration, the white tablecloth is lit and executed in a completely different manner so as to reflect the smooth fabric on which she rests her hands. Every decorative element in the room glints with highlights, as the entire setting is suffused in a warm glow of light.

This nuanced use of light within the interior reflects Benson's careful study of the work of Vermeer. "After 1905 or so...Boston painters began to look to Vermeer as a primary source of inspiration. In so doing, they abandoned their earlier, relatively free interpretation of Impressionism and turned instead to a more subdued approach characterized by a muted palette, structured composition and a preference for serene, light-filled interiors." (C. Lowrey, "The Art of Philip Leslie Hale," Philip Leslie Hale, A.N.A. 1865-1931, exhibition catalogue, Boston, 1988, p. 9) In 1904, Philip Leslie Hale, a contemporary of Benson's and another member of the Boston school, edited the text and illustrations for the first monograph to be published on Vermeer in the United States as part of the Masters of Art series. Considering the volume was published in Boston, and the liberal exchange of ideas among the Boston school painters, it is likely that Benson would have read the book and thus been inspired.

Embodied with a timeless beauty, interior scenes such as Girl with a Veil helped establish Benson's reputation as a leading figure of American Impressionism. Indeed, the present work has been admired since its initial exhibition at the 10th anniversary exhibition of The Ten American Painters in 1908. Benson showed the present work alongside such notable paintings as Eleanor (1907) and Calm Morning (1904), both in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, and The Landing (1904), now at the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia. A reviewer praised the selection of “so many of his choicest canvases brought together” as a “revelation of what a painter is, of what he is doing, of what he stands for…There is no one to excel him in freshness, purity, sweetness, freedom in the joy of living.” Girl with a Veil also specifically attracted admiration, with a critic highlighting the veil as “deftly and delicately painted.” (as quoted in Frank W. Benson: American Impressionist, p. 127)

Following the exhibition of The Ten, Girl with a Veil was then included in the Albright Art Gallery’s annual exhibition in Buffalo. Tarbell showed Preparing for the Matinee (1907, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana), which also features a young woman in profile in a black feathered hat. A contemporary reviewer noted the similarities and celebrated Girl with a Veil: “The figure is charming in character, and is beautifully drawn and modeled. The scheme of color is somewhat analogous to that which one finds in Tarbell’s ‘Preparing for the Matinee.’ This is one of the best pictures which Mr. Benson has painted.” (“Third Annual Exhibition; Selected American Paintings at the Albright Art Gallery,” Academy Notes, vol. 4, no. 3, August 1908, p. 36)

Girl with a Veil was then exhibited as part of the seminal 1909 world’s fair in Seattle, Washington, known as the The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. The fairgrounds in the shadow of Mt. Rainier were designed by the Olmsted Brothers (of New York’s Central Park fame) and have since become the campus for the University of Washington. Over 3.7 million visitors attended the Exposition between June 1-October 16, 1909. The Fine Arts Palace designed by Howard and Galloway hosted an exhibition ranging from Constable and Corot, El Greco and Van Dyck to paintings by contemporary artists of the time, including John Henry Twachtman, Eanger Irving Couse, Childe Hassam and Edward Henry Potthast. Benson exhibited three works: Girl with a Veil, another oil Elizabeth, and a decorative panel entitled October.

The Seattle exhibition proved very important to the history of Girl with a Veil. Several members of the premier private members club of the city, The Rainier Club, were integral to the planning of the fair. Indeed, the Arts Committee for the Exposition included Club members Colonel C.B. Blethen of the Seattle Times, J.W. Clise of Clise Properties and the famous photographer and ethnographer Edward Curtis. The Rainier Club acquired Girl with a Veil during the exhibition, and since 1909 the painting has hung in the Club’s Burke Room.

Please note this work retains its original Arts and Crafts style gilded frame.

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