Sunlight

 
Artist
Creation date
Materials
oil on canvas
Mark Descriptions
signature and date in brown oil paint l.l.: F W. Benson 1909
Dimensions
32 x 20 in. (canvas) 37-1/8 x 25-1/2 x 2-5/8 in. (framed)
Credit line
John Herron Fund
Accession number
11.1
Collection
Not Currently On View

The figure’s dress provides a blank canvas for Benson’s brushstrokes in dazzling white, pink, and violet, accented by the blue and violet shadows typical of Impressionism.

The model is the artist’s daughter Eleanor, who often joined her mother and sisters in posing for Benson’s outdoor works around Wooster Farm, their summer retreat in Maine.

Benson was a key figure in Boston’s art scene, both as a highly successful artist and director of the Museum of Fine Art’s school. Like colleagues Edmund Tarbell and William Paxton, his purest Impressionist efforts are depictions of women and children in sun-drenched landscapes.

Purchased from the artist by the John Herron Art Institute, {1} now Indianapolis Museum of Art, in 1911 (11.1).

{1}Included in the Sixth Annual Exhibition of Works by American Artists at the John Herron Art Institute, 4 December 1910 -1 January 1911, cat. no. 253, and purchased out of this exhibition. See Art Association of Indianapolis, Indiana, Annual Report, 1911, p. 13.
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The Bright Sunshine of Frank Weston Benton's Idealized World

"Frank Benson was a key figure in the vital artistic arena of early 20th-century Boston, a member of a school of painters named for their city. He painted an idealized world that was never ugly or harsh, focusing instead on the lifestyle of genteel New Englanders. His outdoor images, especially those of vibrant young women, were painted in the full spectrum of colors, in bright sunshine. The model in Sunlight is the artist's daughter Eleanor, who, like her mother and sisters, often posed for Benson's outdoor works. Enveloped in sunshine, Eleanor's white dress is crisscrossed with the blue shadows typical of orthodox Impressionism. Even her gesture - left hand raised against the glare - refers to the light that is the painting's true subject.

Benson studied at the Boston Museum School and the Académie Julian, eventually embracing many of the techniques and goals of French Impressionism. Benson was accomplished in a variety of media, including watercolor, pastel, aquatint, and engraving. In the 1890s, the artist accepted a commission to work on the decoration of the Library of Congress and completed murals of the four seasons and Three Graces for the project."

Lee, Ellen Wardwell, Anne Robinson, and Alexandra Bonfante-Warren. Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2005, p. 142.

Frank Weston Benson and American Impressionism

Frank Benson was a key figure in the art world of twentieth-century Boston and a member of the school of painters named for that city. He studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Académie Julian in Paris, eventually embracing many of the techniques and goals of French Impressionism. Benson was accomplished in a variety of media, including watercolor, pastel, aquatint, and engraving. He became Boston’s most popular artist and played a leading role in the local Impressionist school. Benson was a member of The Ten, a group that included America’s most important Impressionist painters. In the 1890s, the artist accepted a commission to work on the decoration of the Library of Congress. He completed murals of the four seasons and the three graces for the project.

Benson’s subject matter focused on the lifestyle of genteel New Englanders. Sunlight shows the artist’s daughter Eleanor with her hand raised to her brow looking across the Penobscot Bay. Benson incorporated this pose in several compositions during the early 1900s. He most likely referred to a photograph of his daughter as a figural study, and he sketched en plein air to capture the sparkling daylight. The brilliant color, light, and rapid brushwork are typical elements of the Impressionist style. The figure’s gesture, shielding her eyes from the glare, emphasizes the effect of the sunlight, which is the true subject of the painting.

Bedford, Faith Andrews. Frank W. Benson: American Impressionist.New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2002.

Wilmerding, John. Frank W. Benson: The Impressionist Years. New York: Spanierman Gallery, 1988.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Frank Benson was a key figure in the vital artistic arena of early 20th-century Boston, a member of a school of painters named for their city. He painted an idealized world that was never ugly or harsh, focusing instead on the lifestyle of genteel New Englanders. His outdoor images, especially those of vibrant young women, were painted in the full spectrum of colors, in bright sunshine. The model in Sunlight is the artist's daughter Eleanor, who, like her mother and sisters, often posed for Benson's outdoor works. Enveloped in sunshine, Eleanor's white dress is crisscrossed with the blue shadows typical of orthodox Impressionism. Even her gesture-left hand raised against the glare-refers to the light that is the painting's true subject.

Benson studied at the Boston Museum School and the Académie Julian, eventually embracing many of the techniques and goals of French Impressionism. Benson was accomplished in a variety of media, including watercolor, pastel, aquatint, and engraving. In the 1890s, the artist accepted a commission to work on the decoration of the Library of Congress and completed murals of the four seasons and Three Graces for the project.

[Benson] sets before us visions of the free life of the open air . . . in a landscape drenched in sweet sunlight.
-Critic William Howe Downes, 1911