Edmund Charles Tarbell was born in the Asa Tarbell House, which stands beside the Squannacook River in West Groton, Massachusetts. His father, Edmund Whitney Tarbell, died in 1863 after contracting typhoid fever while
serving in the Civil War. His mother, Mary Sophia (Fernald) Tarbell, remarried a shoemaking-machine manufacturer. Young “Ned” (as he was nicknamed) and his older sister, Nellie Sophia, were left to be raised by their paternal
grandparents in Groton, a frontier town during the French and Indian Wars that the early Tarbell family helped settle.
As a youth, Tarbell took evening art lessons from George H. Bartlett at the Massachusetts Normal Art School. Between 1877 and 1880, he apprenticed at the Forbes Lithographic Company in Boston. In 1879, he entered the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, studying under Otto Grundmann. He matriculated in the same class with Robert Reid and Frank Weston Benson, two other future members of the Ten American Painters.
Tarbell was encouraged to continue his education in Paris, France, then center of the art world. Consequently, in 1883 he entered the Académie Julian to study under Gustave Boulanger and Jules-Joseph Lefebvre. Paris exposed him to
rigorous academic training, which invariably included copying Old Master paintings at the Louvre Museum, but also to the Impressionist movement then sweeping the city’s galleries. That duality would inform his work. In 1884,
Tarbell’s education included a Grand Tour to Italy, and the following year to Italy, Belgium, Germany and Brittany. Tarbell returned to Boston in 1886, where he began his career as an illustrator, private art instructor and portrait painter.
While Tarbell is best remembered as the leader of the Boston School or “Tarbellite” painters, his heart was very much devoted not to Boston, but to the coastal village of New Castle, New Hampshire. Tarbell was first introduced to the quaint fishing community along the Piscataqua River when he and his wife honeymooned there in 1888. Captivated by the coastal landscape and colonial architecture that also attracted Childe Hassam and Alfred Bricher, Tarbell soon began to travel up from his suburban home in Dorchester, Massachusetts, to spend his summers by the water. By 1894, he was teaching summer courses there with Frank Benson in addition to instructing at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and had made New Castle his primary home by 1906.
Tarbell had first met Frank Benson when they studied together as teenagers at the Boston School of the Museum of Fine Arts under Otto Grundmann, and their friendship was cemented in 1883 when they both traveled to Paris to
enroll in the Académie Julian. Fifteen years later, the two artists, along with such figures as Joseph DeCamp and John Twachtman, founded a group which they entitled “The Ten.” Consisting of painters who had seceded from the
Society of American Artists in protest to the lessening standards of the club, the group exhibited their Impressionist works in numerous New York Galleries between the years of 1898 and 1919.
Tarbell’s presence in the Boston Museum School was long felt, but in 1912 he left his position as co-director and with Frank Benson formed the Guild of Boston Artists in 1914. In 1918 he became the Director of the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC. His accomplishments continued on over the course of his career to include
exhibiting internationally at the Paris Salon as well as nationally at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the National Academy of Design, with his works earning a number of medals and awards. His success as a portraitist also spurred such important commissions as portraits of Presidents Hoover and Wilson, but he is best remembered for his thoughtful depictions of women caught up in their domestic tasks, and dappled with sparkling sunlight.
In 1926, Tarbell retired to his New Castle home, the setting for some of his best known interior scenes and
landscapes. During his career both at the Boston Museum School and the Corcoran School of Art, New Castle had remained an important subject for his oils. Tarbell had added a simple studio to the property in 1907, with a deck stretching out over the riverbank, and by this time, the family was spending up to 8 months out of each year in New Castle, with Tarbell commuting via the Portsmouth train to Boston. The Dock, New Castle, New Hampshire focuses on the riverbank beyond this studio, yet Tarbell approached such landscapes in much the same manner as he did his acclaimed figurative works. He was able to create an object of imminent beauty out of a common, everyday subject.
The majority of the paintings shown are on loan from the Tarbell Charitable Trust. The Trust, established by the late Daniel W.B. Tarbell, of New Castle, NH, was formed to preserve and make available, for public enjoyment and
education, his personal collection of paintings, drawings and preparatory sketches left to him by his grandfather,
Edmund C. Tarbell.
*“Edmund Tarbell: A New England Painter and the Family that Inspired Him,” Art and Antiques, Jan. 1993.
References: Impressionism Transformed: The Paintings of Edmund C. Tarbell. The Currier Gallery of Art, 2001.