Margaret Under the Elms is not only a masterpiece of Edmund Tarbell's oeuvre, but also typifies the finest works of the Boston School painters. Tarbell's impressionistic depictions of women luxuriating in afternoon sunlight are among his finest works, marking the highpoint of his artistic development.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Tarbell was recognized as the leader of the Boston figural Impressionists, as the city emerged as the second major center for the early development of Impressionism in the United States. As a number of young artists such as John Leslie Breck and Theodore Wendel returned to Massachusetts after sojourns in the French countryside at Giverny, a new school of Impressionist landscape painters was spawned. Shortly after, a group of Boston figure painters including Frank Weston Benson and Tarbell adopted the Impressionist style, creating figural works that surpassed their landscape counterparts in influence and significance. Dr. William H. Gerdts has written: "The leader of the Boston figural Impressionists was Tarbell, and the group was referred to early on as 'The Tarbellites,' a term coined somewhat invidiously by the critic Sadakichi Hartmann in March 1897." (American Impressionism, New York, 1984, p. 114)
At the time Margaret Under the Elms was executed around 1895, Tarbell's images of women were eagerly and widely sought by collectors. The present work has all of the hallmarks of Tarbell's finest Impressionist works, and exemplifies the timeless beauty that he and his fellow Boston artists sought to create. Margaret Ruth Upham, an elegant young woman in a white dress, is painted standing beneath a group of elm trees, basking in the brilliance of the day's sun. Her head is slightly turned towards the viewer, and her arms hang down by her sides.
Margaret Under the Elms superbly demonstrates Tarbell's fresh and original approach to plein air painting. A rich mix of color, textures and light, the work demonstrates Tarbell's early mastery of Impressionist techniques, and is "the kind of picture that led to recognition of Tarbell's leadership in the school." (W.H. Gerdts, "American Art and the French Experience," in Lasting Impressions: American Painters in France, 1865-1915, Chicago, Illinois, 1992, p. 79)