Born in 1878, Colchester, Ct., Will Hutchins was the only child of Charlotte Ann Hills and Rev. William T. Hutchins [1849-1917]. A Yale Divinity graduate and eloquent Congregational minister, he was respected as the foremost worldwide
authority on the horticulture of the American sweet-pea.
Inheriting his father’s earnest timbre, Hutchins earned his BA at Yale in 1901 and the BFA in 1909, earning Phi Beta Kappa honors and class awards for his high-minded essays on art and spirituality. With a natural appeal to the footlights, he became a lifelong thespian. Acting, directing, and producing stage events, his papers include reams of original plays scripts of
moralizing, episodic comedies, tragedies, and even a “medieval comedy.”
Around 1907, he became intellectually entwined with the eminent Boston architect Ralph Adams Cram. Cram raves to Hutchins “(I read) your article on Giotto with an interest that is only exceeded by the delight it caused me.” As eccentric extroverts, they viewed industrialization and modern conformity as antithetical to their crusade of ennobling the human
spirit through art.
Following his quest for artistic excellence, he attended the Academie Julien in Paris studying under the legendary Jean Paul Laurens. Another key influence on his career was his time spent with Augustus Vincent Tack at the mural master’s
studio in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Hutchins became enamored with Tack’s views on the mystical undercurrents connecting art, spirituality, and a Christian form of pantheism. Hutchins fingerprints are traced to a letter published in The New York Times, [Dec. 11, 1913] when an 18th century forgery, the so-called ‘Vernon Mona Lisa,’ was being claimed as a Leonardo
original. With full confidence, Hutchins writes how he and Tack were asked to “examine the painting with care.” His brilliant discourse convincingly explained how the Louvre original and Vernon copy were “noticeably dissimilar” using
connoisseurship methods of “subtlety” “workmanship” and “style.”
Stepping out of the shadows of these Italian Renaissance mentor and models, a new appreciation for Hutchins as an independent artistic personality takes form. Observers, collectors, and kindred spirits will discover that Hutchins artworks
represent a seriously conceptualized body of works. Effortlessly, he improvises the freshness of a plein-air composition from a rocky point near Blue Hill, Maine, a perch nestled within a cypress-clad vineyard among Roman ruins on the camapagna, or cold winter light in Deerfield. As marvelously demonstrated in the refined paintings and impromptu studies in this exhibition, Hutchins emerges as a fully shaped artistic personality armed with an impressive arsenal of technical skills and talents.
Hutchins’ vedute ~views of the Italian countryside~ flow from a long current of American pilgrims seeking Arcadia. In the footsteps of cosmopolitan, cultivated Americans along the ‘Grand Tour’ from Rome to the Italian lakes, zigzagging across the Apennines across Umbria, Tuscany, the Veneto and Lombardy, Hutchins knew precisely where to go and what to paint. Henry James chronicled this trail to perfection within collected essays of 1861-1900, The Italian Hours, where he describes “the picturesque subject…in Rome, Florence, Siena, there is too much.”
Lionized within a circle of romantics and esthetes as the “American Dante,” Hutchins was the living embodiment of a romantic sensibility between past and present. Representing the YMCA, he was sent to teach officers at the University of Bologna in 1918 and was bestowed the title and rank of Captain of the Italian Army. At their Thanksgiving dinner, his toast declared: “It was the Italy of Dante and the next three centuries which followed that gave the world its peculiar gift which has enriched all time. ..It was beauty, made sensible in art, made visible in architecture, sculpture and painting…The American who loves our common heritage…cannot forget the links which bind our noblest speech with that of Italy.”
Hutchins exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Boston Art Club and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. From 1925 until his death in 1945, he joined the faculty at American University where he chaired the Art Department. In 1962 the Washington County Museum in Hagerstown, Maryland, mounted a retrospective exhibition of his work.
This exhibition’s artworks depict Hutchins’ personal vision of his travels throughout the North East of America and Italy — from Little Deer Isle to the Venetian Lagoon — documenting a life well spent.
Dr. Philip Eliasoph
Professor of Art History at Fairfield University specializes in American painting and Italian Renaissance methods.