University of New Hampshire Art Gallery
The Thayer Influence
Among Abbott Thayer's students, several are significant in the history of the Dublin art colony. William James's sons, William, Jr., and Alexander, both worked as copyists for Thayer. Each continued his connection to Dublin. William, in later life, married one of George Brush's daughters. Alexander eventually settled permanently in Dublin. Both William, Sr, and his brother, novelist Henry, had studied briefly with William Morris Hunt at Newport in the 1860s. Knowing this may have made Thayer feel that there would be some empathy on the father's part, when he was moved to make a strong case to "let Aleck spend a few months here now (to our great joy, for we love him) testing his art-faculty."
For Alexander, the mystique of Monadnock and the desire to be near Thayer were so strong that in 1920 he bought a house and settled in Dublin. In the intervening years, some or his work included filling commissions for copies of portraits done by John Singer Sargent, another James family friend. (One of these copies, of Theodore Roosevelt, is at the Harvard Club in New York, another, of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., is at the University of Chicago.) Through the 1920s Alexander worked on his own portrait commissions and landscapes. The latter sold so easily that he doubted their worth and stopped doing them, at the same time giving up portraiture. In 1932 he went to live alone in the country, in Richmond, New Hampshire, and worked on a road crew for two years without painting at all. When he did begin to paint again, it was in a new direction, using his own insights in a manner that gave him greater satisfaction. Often in this period, local people - -farmers, select-men, friends, and his own family -- were his models.
He then returned to Dublin, where his wife and children had remained. His earlier moodiness had dominated his family, demanding most of his wife's concentration and putting the children in a lonely situation. After the Richmond years his more relaxed manner made home life happier and, indeed, he became much loved in Dublin. In 1945 Eric Gugler, architect of the Oval Office wing at the White House, designed a light and airy studio for him, using the old beams and wide boards brought by interested neighbors. Sadly, Alexander lived only a few months to enjoy it. At his funeral so many came to pay final respects that people had to stand in the snow outside the church.
Richard S. Meryman worked as one of Thayer's copyists in 1906, returned in subsequent summers, and eventually came to live in Dublin permanently. In 1916, when he went to France as an ambulance driver, the Transcript lamented "Mr. Meryman has done excellent work in his profession this winter, and it is a regrettable loss to Art that he lays aside the brush even in as good a cause as this." Immediately after the war he met Edmund Tarbell, his former teacher at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, on the steps of the Corcoran Gallery where Tarbell had just accepted the job of director of the Art School. Meryman went to work as an instructor at the Corcoran, becoming director after Tarbell. In the following years, the Merymans spent winters in Washington and alternated summers between Dublin and Santa Barbara, California, Mrs. Meryman's home. In 1936 they moved permanently to Dublin, buying the unwinterized house they had previously rented. Meryman was not interested in what he called "playing the game"--being on juries, talking art, and generally promoting his own reputation. Portraits, especially posthumous ones, were his principal source of income. According to his son, Richard, Jr, the commissioned ones seemed to cause him more anxiety and took much longer than those he did for his own pleasure and with a greater degree of spontaneity. Landscapes he found relaxing and continued to do, frequently of Monadnock.
For two years during the early 1920s Meryman and Alexander James ran a summer school of painting that was a good source of income. One of their students was Aimée Lamb, a niece of Rose Lamb, who still uses the Dublin house she bought after two summers of boarding. The first year classes were held in Thayer's studio, where Miss Lamb remembers Thayer would occasionally come to criticize students' work.
Rockwell Kent spent one summer in a tent near Thayer, but he then married Thayer's niece, Kathleen Whiting, and became part of the family. The Dublin Pond of 1903, in the Smith College Museum, is a souvenir of that one summer. When the marriage broke up over Kent's infidelity to Kathleen, the rather puritanical Thayer broke completely with Kent, who continued to visit Dublin and his friend Alexander James.
Through his work and his friendships, Barry Faulkner was one of the connecting links between Dublin and Cornish. At Harvard he became friendly with Homer Saint-Gaudens, whose father, Augustus, became one of his teachers after he left Harvard. Faulkner's father persuaded Thayer, a cousin, to take him on as a student at sixteen, to determine his abilities as an artist. Another teacher was George de Forest Brush, who taught him full-scale figure painting in Florence in 1909. Faulkner spent time at both art colonies and celebrated Dublin in a mural at the State House in Concord. Some of his murals decorated both public and private buildings designed by Charles Platt.
Augmenting the artistic activity at Dublin were a number of less known artists. The Peterborough-Transcript reported on October 17, 1912, that Martha Silsbee had bought a house on the Harrisville road and then on March 10, 1921, that among those in town for the town meeting was "Martha Silsbee of the summer colony." Monadnock and Dublin titles by her are listed in turn-of-the-century Boston Art Club catalogues and in a 1927 Doll and Richards catalogue, but almost nothing is known about her except that she came from a Salem, Massachusetts, family and was a cousin of Mrs. Joseph Lindon Smith.
Another Dublin exhibitor early in this century was Eric Pape, a painter and illustrator who had studied in Paris with Boulanger and Gérôme, among others, and who was running his own art school in Boston at the turn of the century. Similarly, "An exhibition of water color paintings at the town hall last week by Miss Agnes Leavitt of Boston," described in The Transcript on September 2, 1896, as including "pictures, several of which were landscapes in this neighborhood," only tantalizes. Leavitt studied in Boston and in Europe and exhibited in Boston, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. but little else is known about her. Some of her watercolors are listed in a 1914 Boston City Club catalogue.
The artistic talent of Margarita Pumpelly Smyth, Raphael Pumpelly's daughter, was recognized by both John Singer Sargent and George de Forest Brush. Brush called her the best woman painter in America and said that she would only acquire mannerisms through lessons.
Though not part of the Dublin art colony, William Preston Phelps had returned about 1890 to his home at nearby Chesham. After years of study In Europe and then as a successful landscapist in Lowell, Massachusetts, he turned to continual study of Monadnock and its environs as subject matter.
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