Located in the heart of one of America’s most history-minded cities, the Guild of Boston Artists has dedicated 2014 to celebrating its own centenary. This private nonprofit foundation has a membership of 47 New England artists. Who nominate and vote in new cohorts upon the death or resignation of current ones. It is this intimate size, and of
course the outstanding quality of work the members produce, that make the Guild distinctive among art organizations dedicated to education and community outreach.
As reported in the October 2013 issue of Fine Art Connoisseur, the modernist-leaning Armory Show of 1913 (presented in New York City, Chicago, and Boston) sparked a debate about the future of American art. Not surprisingly, the Boston painters Edmund C. Tarbell (1862-1938) and Frank W. Benson (1862-1951) feared that it would soon become more difficult to exhibit the traditionally beautiful art they cherished.
Tarbell was a key leader of the so-called “Boston School” of painters inspired by Vermeer and Velázquez, among other historic masters. Thus they resolved to create a gallery of their own, and promptly drew many colleagues into the effort, most importantly the talented, wealthy, and socially connected artist Lilla Cabot Perry. A supply of $100 bonds was sold to both artists and patrons. Enabling the organizers to buy and renovate the Back Bay building where the Guild remains today, still surrounded by the city’s most prestigious galleries.
Tarbell served as the Guild of Boston Artists ’s first president for 11 years, and was succeeded by Benson for a further 13. Subsequent presidents have included such talents as R.H. Ives Gammell, Aldro T. Hibbard, A. Lassell Ripley,
Robert Douglas Hunter, and Robert Cormier. It was just this year that Paul Ingbretson stepped down after 11 years of leadership, succeeded by the Guild’s first female president, Jean Lightman. The list of former members reads like a who’s who in American art. Lilian Westcott Hale and her husband, Phillip Leslie Hale. William Paxton, and Laura Coombs Hill are just some of the names in its ledgers.
To celebrate its century of accomplishment, the Guild of Boston Artists invited Martin J. Walsh, Boston’s new mayor, to serve as honorary chairman. This summer featured an impressive show of art by Tarbell and his Boston School colleagues. Including seldom-seen works still owned by his descendants (through the Tarbell Charitable Trust). Looking forward, this autumn will feature more intriguing programs. As usual, one of the Guild’s two galleries will present the members’ group exhibition in both September and October. The other space will be dedicated September 11-27 to a show surveying the painters of scenic Cape Ann (Massachusetts) yesterday and today. The historical portion has been curated by artist member David Curtis, and the newer works by Guild director Bill Everett. On September 13, several exhibiting artists will join a public roundtable to discuss their own works and those of their forerunners.
Next up (October 9-November 1) is a retrospective of Robert Douglas Hunter (b. 1928), who is best known for exquisite, horizontalformat still lifes in the Boston School tradition. On October 16, Hunter’s admirers as well as many of his former students will gather for a reception in his honor. The centenary year culminates with a massive exhibition of artworks made by current Guild members (November 8-January 3); this will take over both galleries and will see its highest visitation on November 20, the date of a celebratory gala for which tickets must be
purchased in advance. With the exception of that gala, admission to the Guild is always free to the public. Everyone is invited to visit and buy directly from its walls.
Here’s wishing the Guild another century of excellence and collegiality.