William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941)
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William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941)

The Beach at Chatham

William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941)
The Beach at Chatham
signed 'Paxton' (lower right)
oil on canvas
40 x 50 in. (101.6 x 127 cm.)
Painted circa 1915.
The artist.
Mrs. Auguste Dewell, Newton Centre, Massachusetts.
Private collection, Youngstown, Ohio.
Gift to the present owner from the above, 1977.
The Christian Science Monitor, January 25, 1916.
Boston Transcript, January 26, 1916.
Boston Journal, January 26, 1916.
Boston Herald, January 30, 1916.
E.W. Lee, William McGregor Paxton, N.A., 1869-1941, exhibition catalogue, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1978, pp. 53, 76, no. 37, illustrated.
E.W. Lee, William McGregor Paxton, 1869-1941: Member of the National Academy, exhibition catalogue, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1978, pp. 59, 86, 134, no. 39, illustrated.
I.S. Sweetkind, ed., The Butler Institute of American Art Index of the Permanent Collection, Youngstown, Ohio, 1997, p. 134, illustrated.
Boston, Massachusetts, The Guild of Boston Artists, Exhibition of Paintings by William M. Paxton, 1916, no. 14.
Indianapolis, Indiana, Indianapolis Museum of Art, and elsewhere, William McGregor Paxton, N.A., 1869-1941, August 16-October 1, 1978, no. 39.
New York, The American Federation of Arts, Sounding the Depths: 150 Years of American Seascape, June 1989-April 1991, no. 31.
Roslyn Harbor, New York, Nassau County Museum of Art, Town and Country: In Pursuit of Life's Pleasures, May 12-August 11, 1996.
Charleston, South Carolina, Sunrise Museum, and elsewhere, From Ship to Shore: Marine Paintings from the Butler Institute, February 7-April 18, 1999, no. 38.
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Lot Essay

In 1906 William McGregor Paxton joined the faculty of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as an instructor. He took his place alongside the two most prominent painters in the city, Frank Weston Benson and Edmund Tarbell. All three painters believed fervently in teaching and imparted to their students a thorough understanding of painting methods and composition. They all had studied at the Parisian art academies where rigorous technical classes were coupled with an intensive study of the most renowned painters of prior generations. Their challenge was to impart what made great paintings timeless. Paxton expressed it well by using an analogy, "Other people can look at pictures just for the pleasure they get out of them. We painters, when we are on the job, must always be looking to see how they achieve their effect. Just as an actor, when he goes to the theatre, never loses sight of the scenery, lighting, pulleys, gestures and tricks of inflection, the sum of which stirs the audience, so we painters must always be watching to discover the procedures by which the great masters produced beauty." (E.W Lee, William McGregor Paxton, 1869-1941, exhibition catalogue, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1978, p. 38)

Of course, Paxton's interest in the achievements of the Old Masters also extended to collectors. In Boston, the leading patroness of the arts, Isabella Stewart Gardner, promoted the collecting of Old Master paintings as much as contemporary works of art. In 1892, her first notable acquisition was the purchase at auction in Paris of The Concert by the seventeenth century Dutch master, Johannes Vermeer. For Boston painters in general and Paxton in particular, Vermeer would become the embodiment of the best that painting could be in terms of technique and design. While Vermeer completed only a few dozen paintings they served as models for an entire generation of Boston School painters. Most of Vermeer's paintings were of domestic interiors found in his native Delft and for the most part, Boston painters including Paxton focused on these types of compositions as the models for many of their own canvases. Other Dutch artists served as the model for this seascape, who often employed the device of a low horizon line (as Paxton does here) to fill these compositions with sky, clouds and light.

When Paxton began painting The Beach at Chatham he envisioned the same problems that confronted the first Dutch landscape painters, namely, how to properly balance the visual expansiveness of a seascape with the presence of the human element. Adopting an extremely low horizon line and filling seven-eights of the canvas with sky, the beachgoers appear diminutive, allowing the artist to promote the infinite over the everyday, and create a powerful, even awe inspiring composition.

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