DescriptionThe Hon. Paul H. Buchanan, Jr. Collection
WILLIAM MCGREGOR PAXTON (American, 1869-1941)
Rose and Blue, 1913
Oil on canvas
30-1/2 x 25-1/2 inches (77.5 x 64.8 cm)
Signed and dated lower left: PAXTON 1913
Possibly original frame.
W. H. Lazelere, Morristown, PA, 1914 (by purchase);
with Victor Spark, New York, 1969-1979;
Purchased from Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, June 5, 1979.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 109th Annual Exhibition, 1914, no. 313 (label verso),
"William McGregor Paxton" Indianapolis Museum of Art, August 15 - October 1, 1978; El Paso Museum of Art, October 12-December 3, 1978; The Josyln Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, January 5 - February 11, 1979; Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, March 24 - May 6, 1979 (lent by Victor D. Spark, NY) (label verso).
Philadelphia, North American Painting, March 10, 1914;
Ellen Lee, William McGregor Paxton, N.A. 1869-1941, exh. cat., Indianapolis, Indiana, 1978, cat. no. 32, p. 132; ill. plate 32.
Peter Hastings Falk, ed., The Annual Exhibition Record of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, vol III 1914-1968, Sound View Press, Madison, CT, 1989, p. 362 (address given as Fenway Studios, Boston).
William McGregor Paxton, Edmund Tarbell, Philip Leslie Hale, Frank Benson, and Joseph DeCamp became known collectively as the "Boston School" painters during the first decades of the 20th century. Their genre scenes of beautiful women in light-filled domestic interiors earned them much popular and critical acclaim. As a group, Paxton and his colleagues were influenced to some extent by French Impressionism, but more profoundly by the rediscovery of the work of Johannes Vermeer - the 17th-century Dutch master from Delft whose work had fallen into obscurity for nearly 200 years. Vermeer's paintings of women performing mundane activities were a revelation: they had an enigmatic quality which owed everything to the Dutchman's mysterious ability to render the play of light on a blank wall, a piece of silk, or an earthenware pitcher. The light imparted a level of emotional seriousness to his objects it touched, and seemed almost reverent - and meaningful - though successfully defining what that meaning is in any concrete way remains persistently illusive.
The Boston painters' emulation of Vermeer mirrored an international wave of enthusiasm for the painter around the time that a catalogue of his work was published in 1911. Wealthy American collectors including Henry Clay Frick of New York and P.A.B. Widener of Philadelphia jumped at the chance to acquire rare works by this most "modern" of the Dutch Old Masters. Closer to home, Paxton's Boston colleague, Philip Leslie Hale, wrote a book on Vermeer himself, which appeared in 1913, the date Paxton produced this painted "homage" to the Dutch master.
Also in 1913, the year he produced Rose and Blue, William Paxton decided to resign from his teaching position the Boston Museum School, where he had taught since 1906, so that he could devote more time to his painting. At some level he must have come to a realization that what he wanted to paint next would require all of his time and attention. By most critical assessments, Paxton was embarking, in 1913, upon the best phase of his career. Rose and Blue ushered in this five-year period, when his close study of Vermeer's ability to render such a beautiful envelope of space, also brought him the closest he would ever come to being an impressionist.
In Rose and Blue, a woman distractedly handles a pearl necklace in a room hung with an oriental brass censor. The smoky atmosphere of the room suggests that the censor is perfuming the air. Unlike many works leading up to this one, Paxton has truly diffused the light to the point that most of the forms in his painting fall in and out of sharp focus, depending upon their positions in space. The artist's use of a soft flocked wallpaper for the background plane (whose ornament he blurs into an indiscriminate pattern) makes this interior seem like a dreamy vision rather than a real one. The state of reverie he achieves, coupled with the way the woman fingers the delicate necklace, becomes a subtle meditation on the ephemeral nature of earthly existence.
William Paxton exhibited this work at the Pennsylvania Academy Annual Exhibition in 1914, the same year in which it was purchased by W. H. Lazelere of Morristown, Pennsylvania, presumably from or immediately after the exhibition. Judge Buchanan also saw this painting in an exhibition before he bought it. Rose and Blue was part of the large Paxton traveling retrospective organized in 1978 by the Indianapolis Museum of Art where Buchanan served as a trustee. At the time of the show, the painting was owned by New York dealer, Victor Spark who sold it at auction after the end of the tour. Paul Buchanan was the buyer.
On the back flyleaf of his copy of the 1978 exhibition catalogue, Buchanan jotted down his thoughts about Paxton: "Essentially a fine portrait painter - got the likeness. Admired Velazquez. Friends considered his best works to be small rooms with colorful figures." It is interesting that Buchanan picked up on Paxton's interest in the Spanish painter, whose distinctive painterly effects were described as an ability to "breathe paint onto the canvas." Certainly the breathy atmosphere in Rose and Blue owes perhaps as much to Velazquez as it does to Vermeer.
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