W. BENSON, N.A.
Frank Weston Benson was one of
our greatest and most versatile fine artists. He did portraits,
landscapes, murals, wildlife and sporting scenes; he could
handle any medium but is best known for his oils, watercolors,
He was the son of George Wiggin
Benson, a cotton merchant of Salem, Massachusetts, and Elizabeth
Frost (Poole) Benson. He was born in Salem on March 24, 1862
and attended the Salem schools.
In 1880, when he was 18 years
old, Mr. Benson began his art education at The Boston Museum
of Fine Arts, remaining there until 1883 when he went to Paris
for two years of study under Boulanger and Lefebvre at the
Upon his return to America in
1885, Mr. Benson painted portraits in Salem, and also spent
two years as an instructor in drawing and painting at the
Portland (Maine) School of Arts. He excelled in painting women
and children, often in outdoor scenes of brilliant light and
color. Some of his well known paintings are My Little Girl,
In the Spruce Woods, Pomona, Moonlight at Sea, and Eleanor.
On October 17, 1888 Mr. Benson
married the former Ellen Perry, daughter of Edward Brooks
Peirson, a physician. The following year he opened a studio
in Boston and accepted an appointment at The Boston Museum
of Fine Arts as an instructor in drawing and painting, a position
he was to hold until 1913. There were four children: Eleanor,
George, Elizabeth, and Sylvia.
In the early 1900's Mr. Benson
began doing landscapes, outdoor subjects, and birds; here,
too, as in his portraiture, his treatment of outdoor light
was superb. He worked in watercolor and oil and in 1912, when
he was 50 years old, he took up etching. He subsequently made
over 300 plates and became known as the dean of American etchers.
His waterfowl etchings were internationally acclaimed and
he has been credited with helping to revive the then almost
lost art of etching in this country.
Many great artists (for example,
John Marin and Jean Dufy) show a tendency to abbreviate their
work as their skills continue to develop, and their portrayals
become almost a form of shorthand. This trend is apparent
in Mr. Benson's duck stamp etching which he did when he was
80 years old. It is a brief statement that only the most technically
competent artists can achieve; although its simplicity may
not be fully appreciated by laymen who generally prefer more
detail, its merit is immediately discernible to a trained
Some of Mr. Benson's finest
work can be seen in The Library of Congress in Washington,
D. C., where he painted the ceiling panels representing Three
Graces and four circular wall panels depicting Four Seasons.
He was the recipient of innumerable honors and prizes, including
election to the National Academy of Design, a distinction
accorded only to the most outstanding fine artists.
By religion he was an Episcopalian;
in politics, independent. His hobbies were shooting and fishing.
He died at the age of 89 in Salem,
Massachusetts on November 14, 1951.