During the 19th century, New York’s Hudson River School popularized the work of painters like Thomas Cole who created dynamic and romanticized landscapes. The school had a large hand in perpetuating the powerful styles of Romanticism and Luminism, which emphasized elements of classical beauty and mythology in art. In the northeast region of the United States, a deep-seated appreciation of romantic art encouraged artists to capture the world around them through portraiture, landscape painting, and sculpture.
New England’s unique geographical positioning, too, played an important role in inspiring artists of the area. The region has long been celebrated for its four distinct seasons, each bearing individual properties on the natural landscape: the fall’s colorful foliage gave way to snow-capped mountains in the winter, and springtime flower buds bloomed in anticipation of summer’s hazy, atmospheric days. Many artists seized the opportunity, capturing the terrain with their own approach. Some preferred an Impressionist approach with quick brushstrokes and pastels while others took a Realist approach, producing paintings with such painstaking accuracy that they could be mistaken for photographs. Later in the 20th century, artists began exploring with abstraction of form, color, and texture.
Today, the market for American art bustles with competition for works by artists like Mary Cassatt, Arthur Dove, and Georgia O’Keeffe, but regional American artists from the 19th and 20th centuries offer some of the best talent on the market for a fraction of the cost. For new buyers looking to grow their collections, a perfect place to start is regional auction houses and galleries, which routinely offer swathes of work by lesser-known artists.
To find some of these hidden gems in American art, our editors explored Grogan & Company‘s (headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts), 30th Anniversary Auction on November 5. Below are works by six American artists that you may not know, but should. See who made the list.
William McGregor Paxton
Trained in the French style of painting at the École des Beaux Arts, William MacGregor Paxton brought Parisian flair to his depictions of Boston, Massachusetts. Paxton’s subjects are primarily single portraits of women and girls captured in moments of domestic quietude: a patron’s wife arranging flowers, a young girl sitting in the garden, a servant sweeping the stairway. Some of his subjects confront the viewer with a pointed gaze while others are caught seemingly unaware. Paxton’s subdued color palette highlights his subjects, who stand out from the muted colors of the background. His body of work masterfully captures soft lighting, detailed surroundings, and graceful figures, as seen in the present work, “Portrait of Ruth Gaston.”
William Trost Richards
William Trost Richards was a student of the Hudson River School and was part of the American Pre-Raphaelite movement. Over the course of his career as a painter, Richards gained a reputation for achieving near-photographic accuracy of his depictions of the natural world. His penchant for Realism differed from fellow Hudson River painters who tended to embrace Romantic, idealized landscapes. In the 1870s, Richards painted some of his most famous scenes of the White Mountains and, despite his departure from the techniques used by the Hudson School, Richards’s work was well-received. He drew additional inspiration from artists Thomas Cole and Edwin Church, who also painted realist landscapes.
Aldro Thompson Hibbard
Aldro T. Hibbard was born in Massachusetts and spent his adult life traveling up and down the New England coast. Hibbard’s love of the region is apparent throughout his oeuvre, which focused heavily on seasonal landscapes of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. After Hibbard finished his training at Massachusetts Normal Art School and at the Boston Museum School, he traveled extensively. Upon discovering the small fishing town of Rockport, Massachusetts, he opened a small summer school that was eventually turned into a gallery.
George L.K. Morris
A graduate of the prestigious Yale University School of Fine Arts, George Lovett Kingsland Morris traveled to Paris where he studied Cubism, Surrealism, and sculpture. Morris was an active advocate for abstract art and was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists Group. He constantly wrote in defense of abstract art in a number of publications including Plastique, the Paris Review, and his own magazine The Miscellany. Morris’s own paintings illustrated distinct phases in his career that relied heavily on muted colors and Native American imagery, but over time evolved to embrace more simplistic, non-objective art. As an artist and critic, Morris’s work provides an interesting study of the intersection of theory and practice.
Alice Marion Curtis
Under the name A.M. Curtis, Alice Marion Curtis painted serene New England scenery. As an artist who focused primarily on landscape painting, Curtis seldom depicted human subjects in her work. When she did, the figures appeared discretely as a tiny detail in an expansive vista. A native of New Bedford, Massachusetts, Curtis traveled the New England coast throughout her career in search of inspiration for her paintings, which often featured a nautical theme.
John Singer Sargent
From the striking scene of the dancer in “Jaleo” to “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit,” John Singer Sargent’s work as a master portraitist earned him international prestige. So what is his name doing on a list of lesser-known American artists? Sargent’s affinity for portraiture often overshadows his other works, which include particularly intriguing studies of light. In “Candelabra with Roses,” Sargent’s skill for capturing light and shadow is revealed. With an Impressionist eye, the work captures the murky blue shadows of the background, vibrantly colored magenta flowers, and the smooth silver sheen of the candlestick, providing a balance of color and texture.