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William Phelps Phelps



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His friends called this painter “Preston”. He led an active and colorful life that began as the son of a farmer who spent his spare time painting, building furniture and making musical instruments. When he observed his son’s talents with drawing he sent him off (at age 14) to the mill town of Lowell to work for a sign painter named Jeduthan Kittredge. The youngster soon was painting not just signs but also paintings on canvas. He soon fell in love with the boss’s daughter, Anna Marie. In 1868 they were married. The couple set up a sign painting company in Lowell on the same street as his father-in-law’s establishment. Patrons began asking for Preston’s canvas paintings that featured landscapes. He caught the train to Boston to improve his art. Soon, he found local patrons to fund his study overseas in Munich. By this time he was 28 years old and had sired a daughter, Ina Kittredge Phelps and a son, Edward. Leaving his young family behind, he set sail in 1875 to study at the Royal Academy of Art in Munich for two years. He must have encountered success while abroad as on his return he settled his estate and took his entire family back with him to Munich to study under Veltron. He also practiced painting out of doors with travel up and down the Rhine and Düssel Rivers where he set up tents to provide shelter for painting. During this period he sent paintings back to the U.S. for exhibition and sale at the National Academy of Design. He lived with his young family for another three years in Munich where he became known to James McNeill Whistler and David Dalhoff Neal. He became a co-founder of the Munich Art Club with members Walter Shirlaw, Frank Duveneck and William Merritt Chase. Two more years were spent in Paris with wife and children. The also traveled to England, Scotland, and Wales. Then they headed home to settle down in Lowell. Yet another trip to Europe in 1881 took Phelps abroad alone to paint in the Scottish Highlands and travel with William Merritt Chase painting in Italy. Returning to Lowell brought Phelps to develop his affection for the New England coast with summer paintings while also making portraits of prize cattle and bulls. Then he traveled west to paint a monumental (7’x12’) canvas of the Grand Canyon that he painted on site out of doors. This required making a special shelter for the canvas – an approach to plein air painting that encouraged him to develop a portable horse-drawn shed with stove heat after he settled on his family farm in 1890 near Chesham, New Hampshire. It was here that he developed New England landscape paintings in all seasons and became known for his Mount Monadnock landscape scenes. The image of Mount Monadnock from Stone Point is considered one of his best works. Many of his works grace collections such as the West Point Museum, Whistler House, Lowell Historical Society, William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut, the New Hampshire Historical Society, and he Shelburne Museum in Vermont. The Smithsonian Institution holds extensive records of his works. The daughter of Preston, Ina Phelps Hayward (18741-1944) was an artist. So also was his son, Edward, who, in 1901 died at age 27 while rescuing a child from an oncoming train. Six months later, his wife, Anna passed away. Phelps began to drink, remarried in 1906 but divorced in 1910. His financial support weakened and he slid into debt. In the winter of 1917, after he pulled a gun on a friend and neighbor he was taken away to an asylum in Concord, New Hampshire. In the same year all his possessions were auctioned off. At the age of 75, on January 6, 1923, the painter, famous for his landscapes of Mt. Monadnock, died and was buried in Edson Cemetery, Lowell, MA.

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