Thomas Buford Meteyard at the Boston Athenaeum

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Watercolor self-portrait by Thomas Buford Meteyard, one of the few images from the Athenaeum show that can be found online.

From now through February 18, 2018, the Boston Athenaeum is hosting what may be the largest ever exhibition of work by visual artist  Thomas Buford Meteyard.  Meteyard was a member of the Visionists who created beautiful illustrations for Copeland & Day publications such as the “Vagabondia” poetry series written by his good friends Bliss Carman and Richard Hovey.  He was also part of a group of young American artists who journeyed to France to learn the secrets of Impressionism from Monet and his circle.  Both groups of friends hung out at the beach house in Scituate, MA where Meteyard lived with his mom.

The show contained pieces lent by Meteyard’s descendants, who now live in the UK, as well as several pieces recently donated to the Athenaeum by Boston-based writer and art dealer Nicholas Kilmer.  The majority of the pieces do not exist online and are difficult to find in books, and photography is not allowed in the gallery, so make sure you catch the show before February as you may not get another chance to see them all.

I attended the opening, which drew a surprisingly large crowd, and featured a talk by the curator David B. Dearinger.  This was my first time visiting the Athenaeum, which is a members-only library, but is open to the public for events such as exhibit openings.   The entire ground floor was open for the event, and the chance to see the inside of the building and its permanent collection of sculptures and paintings was as exciting as the show itself.

I was most excited to see Meteyard’s drawings and prints, but the highlights of the show were his Impressionist paintings.  Seeing them in person, from various distances, and appreciating the way the abstract brush strokes and seemingly odd combinations of color somehow resolve into a very natural-feeling image, is a much different experience than viewing them online or in a book.

More info on the show and other Athenaeum events can be found here: http://www.bostonathenaeum.org/exhibitions/current-exhibition .

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Francis Watts Lee

Francis Watts Lee (1867-1945) was a publisher and photographer based in Boston.  He is best known for publishing the Visionists’ journal The Knight Errant, helping to introduce a distinctive soft-focus lens that became associated with American pictorialism, and for his family’s role as friends and muses to several influential photographers.

Lee grew up in Roxbury, MA.  He attended the Chauncey School in Boston where he made friends with F. Holland Day.  He was married to Agnes Rand Lee, a poet and the daughter of William Henry Rand of Chicago, co-founder of Rand, McNally Company.

Lee was a staunch believer in Christian Socialism and a supporter of social justice-oriented Episcopalian organizations such the Order of the Holy Cross founded by hid friend Father James O. S. Huntington.  Like many of his fellow Visionists, he was also inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement.  Lee began a small press, Elzevir, committed to the fine art of print, like those of his friend Day and his hero William Morris.  Elzevir published The Knight Errant, a quarterly art and literature journal representing the perspectives of his friends Day, Ralph Adams Cram, Bertram Goodhue, Louise Imogen Guiney, and their circle.

Lee paid great attention to detail and the four issues of the “quarterly” took two years to release.  During this time he became a father and began a more reliable job running a printing press at the Boston Public Library, where he was Guiney’s co-worker.

Lee’s photography included sensitive portraits of his family and other women and children, and of Father Huntington.  Through Day he became part of a circle of pioneering photographers that included Gertrude Kasebier and Alvin Langdon Coburn, and Lee’s family became frequent models.  One of Kasebier’s best-known works, Blessed Art Thou Among Women, is an image of Agnes Rand Lee and daughter Peggy taken at their home in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston.

Lee was the most technically experimental of this circle, and worked with Henry Smith of Pinkham & Smith Company, prescription opticians and
photographic suppliers in Boston, to commission a special soft-focus lens for pictorialist photographers.  The first of its kind in the US, it was inspired by a lens Coburn purchased in England.

In 1910 Francis and Agnes Lee parted ways.  Francis married Marion Lewis Chamberlain, an MIT grad who worked in the fine arts department of the library.  They lived in Walpole, MA and Francis continued working at the library until he retired at the age of 70.

Source:

Patricia J. Fanning (2012) Francis Watts Lee: A Reintroduction, History of
Photography, 36:1, 15-32
 (requires academic access)

Further reading:

Patricia J. Fanning: Artful Lives: The Francis Watts Lee Family and Their Times, 2016

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Above: Portrait of Francis Watts Lee by Gertrude Kasebier.  Platinum print at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

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Above: Gertrude Kasebier: “Blessed Art Though Among Women.”  The models are Agnes Lee and daughter Peggy Lee at their home in Jamaica Plain.  A platinum print at The Met.

Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue

Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (1869-1924) was an architect and designer originally from Connecticut who spent a formative part of his career in Boston.  His architectural projects included the Los Angeles Central Library, campus buildings at Yale, West Point, and other universities, Saint Thomas Church and the Church of the Intercession in New York, and the Nebraska State Capital.  However his most familiar legacy may be the Cheltenham typeface that he co-designed, now used for headlines by The New York Times.

Goodhue began his architectural career in New York with an apprenticeship at the firm of James Renwick, Jr., who designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  In 1890 Goodhue won a competition to design a cathedral in Dallas, Texas.  Looking to complete the project as part of a younger firm, he chose the newly-formed Cram & Ferguson in Boston.

He and Ralph Adams Cram became collaborators and friends.  Cram later wrote “his pen-and-ink renderings were the wonder and the admiration of the whole profession, while he had a creative imagination, exquisite in the beauty of its manifestations, sometimes elflike in its fantasy, that actually left one breathless.  His personality was as baffling to any powers of description as was his artistic facility  Exuberantly enthusiastic, with an abounding and fantastic sense of humour, he flung gaiety and abandon widely around whenever he was in the temper to do so.”

Goodhue and Cram were core members of the Visionists, and Goodhue contributed designs to several of their publications, including the cover art for the Knight Errant journal.  During this period he also worked as a designer for other small presses.  In 1896 he co-designed the Cheltenham font (initially known as “Boston Old Style”) with Ingalls Kimball, director of the Cheltenham Press in New York.  (A native of W. Newton, MA, Kimball also co-founded Stone & Kimball press in Boston.)

Goodhue was a partner in Cram, Wentworth, & Goodhue (later Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson) from 1891 until 1914.  He collaborated on the neo-Gothic churches that made a name for the firm in New England, as well as the project that brought them national recognition– the master plan and key campus buildings for the US Military Academy at West Point.  After moving on to his own firm in 1914, he explored other styes including Spanish Colonial Revival and Romanesque.

Architectural sculptor Lee Lawrie worked with Cram, Wentworth & Goodhue and continued to collaborate with Goodhue through his life.  Lawrie is probably best known for the statue of Atlas in Rockefeller Center opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.  He also designed a Gothic tomb for Goodhue within the Church of the Intercession.

Sources:

Wikipedia

My Life in Architecture by Ralph Adams Cram

The Architecture of Ralph Adams Cram and His Office by Ethan Anthony

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Above: Portrait of Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue by fellow Visionist F. Holland Day. 1892.  Platinum print in the Library of Congress.

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Above Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (left) and Ralph Adams Cram (center) in their architectural office at 1 Park Sq., Boston, with a client (and a dog).  Courtesy of Cram & Ferguson archives.

Below: Sculpture of Goodhue by long-time collaborator Lee Lawrie.  Photo by Wikimedia user Einar Einarsson Kvaran.

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Against an epoch

Men against an epoch; is it not that after all? One by one in this last night, the beautiful things have disappeared, until at last, in a world grown old and ugly, men, forced to find some excuse for the peculiarity of their environment, have discredited even beauty itself, finding it childish, unworthy, and unscientific: not only beauty in Art, but beauty in thought and motive, beauty in life and death, until the word has become but a memory and a reproach. This is the condition that demands the new chivalry. The fight against Paynims and dragons was the work of a carpet knight compared with this ; yet in this fact is there any cause for discouragement? God forbid! But whatever the issue, the Quest lies clear in sight, and he would be craven knight indeed, who would shrink from this new ‘siege perilous.’

From the editors’ introduction to the first issue of the journal The Knight Errant, published by Elsevir Press, 1892.

According to Ralph Adams Cram’s autobiography, the editors included Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, Francis Watts Lee, F. Holland Day, Herbert Copeland, and Cram.  “Paynims” means “pagans” in the medieval European sense. Text from Archive.org/JSTOR Early Journal Content.

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Above: “The Knight Errant” by British Pre-Raphelite painter John Everett Millais, 1870.  Oil painting at the Tate Britain.  The Pre-Raphaelites were favorites of the Visionists.