Sale 1016 Lot 59

American (1862-1938) 

Edmund Charles Tarbell, as both a teacher and painter, was a leading influence in the development of the Boston School and a founding member of the celebrated American Art group “The Ten.” Tarbell, born in West Groton, Massachusetts, spent his life in New England. As a young artist, he lived in Boston teaching at the Museum School and painting portraits in his own unique Impressionist style. He quickly became a success and in 1905 moved with his family to suburban New Castle, New Hampshire.

            Tarbell lost his father as a young boy and when he was fifteen was sent to live in Boston with his grandparents. When his grandfather died in 1877, his mother and step-father returned to Boston to care for Tarbell and his step-sister, Nellie. In Boston he took a job at a lithography firm and begin to take art classes at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School as a student of Otto Grundman. There he met Frank Benson and Robert Reid, later fellow organizers of “The Ten.” From 1884-1886, Tarbell travelled through Europe with Benson and Abbott Fuller Graves studying at the Academie Julian and visiting Venice. When he returned to Boston, Tarbell joined the faculty of the Museum School remaining there until 1912.

            The present portrait of Maria Sophia (Fernald) Tarbell illustrates the artist’s mother in Tarbell’s characteristic early Impressionist style. Tarbell would later depict his sitters in more elaborate interiors. This painting is indicative of Tarbells’s facility with paint, as the subtle shades of white coalesce into a modeled portrait.

Tarbell probably saw Whistler’s provocative “Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1 (Whistler’s Mother), while in Paris. In contrast to Whistler, Tarbell softened his mother’s appearance. He gave her prominence as a subject by painting in a smaller more intimate scale and by inscribing the painting “TO MY MOTHER.” Although we only see a profile view, Mrs. Tarbell looks poised and elegant. As Sebastian Smee writes in 2016 review of the Portsmouth Historical Society Show, “Tarbell’s turn-of-the-century symphony-in-white, titled “My Mother” –a stiff-backed salute both to his mom and to Whistler’s.”

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