Wilson Henry Irvine
(1869-1936)

Wilson Irvine, Camden Maine

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Biography

American Impressionist painter Wilson Henry Irvine was born just outside of Byron, Illinois in 1869. Though raised in the Midwest, Irvine was captivated by the scenic coast and landscape of New England and spent most of his adult life there. Painting in the American Barbizon tradition, modeled after the nineteenth century French Barbizon School, Irvine sketched and painted directly from nature preferring to work en plein air. His impressionistic style and choice of subjects are often compared to painters of the American Barbizon School, particularly Irvine’s contemporary, Childe Hassam. Irvine stands out from other American Impressionists of his time, for his willingness to push the traditional techniques of impressionism with his aquaprints and prismatic paintings of the late 1920s.

Shortly after graduating from Rockford’s Central High School, Irvine moved from the suburbs to Chicago in order to attend business school. He worked at the Chicago Portrait Company starting in 1893, and began evening classes at The Art Institute of Chicago two years later. Irvine continued taking courses at the Art Institute for eight years. His classes included life drawing and illustration with a heavy focus on human anatomy. In 1895, Irvine founded the Palette and Chisel Club of Chicago with his classmates, and served as both treasurer and president. It was with this group that he began exploring landscape painting, and soon he began showing his landscapes at group shows at The Art Institute of Chicago.

Initially Irvine’s work is reminiscent of early impressionism, with the artist’s use of lively, visible brush strokes and his emphasis on the contrasts of color and texture to create a sense of depth in his paintings. Though he spent a brief amount of time sketching in Brown County with Indiana based “Hoosier” school impressionists Louis O. Griffith and Harry L. Engle, Irvine’s fondness for the east coast especially the New England landscape, ultimately drew him away fro the Midwest. He began taking painting trips to New England in the early 1900s, including spending a portion of one summer painting on Mohegan Island off of the coast of Maine–a favorite spot for many artists. Ultimately, Irvine chose to establish a home in Brooksound, Connecticut near Old Lyme. He began exhibiting alongside Old Lyme artists in 1914 and became an active member of the Lyme Art Association.

Despite settling permanently in New England by 1918, Irvine received vast exposure and was heavily active in the Midwest art scene, exhibiting his work in both regions of the US. As a successful artist living off of the sale of his oil paintings, Irvine was able to travel frequently, scouting new locations in which to paint landscapes en plein air. During the early 1900s, he traveled and painted in Montana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. In 1908, he sailed to France to visit Paris and paint in Brittany at various sites including Pont-Aven, Trémalo, Concarneau, and St. Malo. After settling permanently in New England, in the company of his wife, he again departed for Europe to explore and paint the coasts of England, Northern Wales, Scotland, and to revisit Brittany, France. Irvine exhibited the results of his European travels in two major shows–a two man show alongside Old Lyme painter Guy Wiggins at Carper Galleries in Detroit, Michigan, and a solo show at Carson, Pirie, Scott, and Company galleries in Chicago. In the spring of 1926, he was again represented by Carson, Pirie, Scott in an exhibition in Illinois alongside George Bellows and Winslow Homer.

In the late 1920s, Irvine continued to travel extensively. It was during this period that he began to experiment with etchings and also created an abstract series of what he called “aquaprints” types of monoprints derived from the ancient Japanese method of making marbleized paper. The production of these works was brief and largely overshadowed by Irvine’s more traditional works. Irvine also began experimenting with a method of prismatic painting, in which he would paint from a subject through the refracted lighting of a prism. Irvine showed twenty-two of these paintings in 1930 at Grand Central Art Galleries in New York. Though the vibrant studies in color and light received harsh reviews from conservative critics, the paintings were generally well received when they were first shown. The prismatic paintings, though not characteristic of traditional impressionism, remain illustrative of a significant moment in the artist’s later career.
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In the 1930s, Irvine continued to produce work and exhibit with the Lyme Art Association until his health began to decline and he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in his home in Lyme, Connecticut. Despite the looming shadow of modernism, and the art market’s shifting tastes, Irvine remained relevant as an impressionist painter until the end of his life.

Written and compiled by Lauren A. Zelaya

Wilson Irvine, Camden
Wilson Irvine, The Picnic

1869 Born on February 28 in Bryon, Illinois
1888 Graduates from Central High School in Rockford, Illinois. Moves to Chicago to
         attend business school
1891 Works as airbrush artist in Chicago. Marries Lydia C. Weyher of Lafayette,                     Indiana
1893 Works for Chicago Portrait Company, founded the same year
1895-03 Attends evening life class at The Art Institute of Chicago
1895 Founds the Palette and Chisel Club of Chicago with fellow classmates
1899 Becomes president of Palette and Chisel Club
1900 Exhibits at the Chicago and Vicinity Show at the Art Institute of Chicago
1903 Shows at Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Art                   Institute of Chicago
1908 Travels to France
1911 Becomes president of Chicago Society of Artists
1913 Invited by the Art Institute of Chicago to serve on the jury for the Annual                      Exhibition of Watercolors by American Artists
1914 Buys summer home near Lyme, Connecticut. Begins spending spring and summer          months in the east, painting in Connecticut and on Monhegan Island, Maine
1923 Travels and paints throughout Europe for ten months
1924-25 Travels to Quebec, Canada during the summer to paint landscapes
1928 Spends winter in New Orleans and sails to France later in the year
1929 Travels throughout major cities of France and Spain
1930 Serves on Exhibition & Library Committee for Lyme Art Association
1936 Dies of cerebral hemorrhage at his home in Lyme, Connecticut

1911 Municipal Art League Purchase Prize, Art Institute of Chicago
1912 Martin B. Cahn Prize, Art Institute of Chicago
1915 Clyde M. Carr Prize, Art Institute of Chicago
         Silver Medal, Panama-Pacific Exposition
         San Francisco Purchase Prize
1916 Silver Medal, Chicago Society of Artists
         Chicago First Prize, Palette and Chisel Club Exhibition
         Chicago First Prize, Municipal Art League, Chicago
1917 Mrs. William Frederick Grower Prize, Art Institute of Chicago
1921 William S. Eaton Purchase Prize, Lyme Art Association, Connecticut
1928 Charles Noel Flagg Prize, Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts
1934 Mr. and Mrs. William O. Goodman Prize, Lyme Art Association, Connecticut

1900 “Chicago and Vicinity Show,” Art Institute of Chicago
1902 Palette and Chisel Club Exhibition, Marshall Fields galleries, Chicago
1903 “Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture,” Art Institute of Chicago
1903-18, 1920-23 “Chicago and Vicinity Show,” Art Institute of Chicago
1908 Carnegie Institute Annual Exhibition, Pittsburgh, PA
         “Annual Exhibition of Watercolors by American Artists,” Art Institute of Chicago
1909 “Annual Exhibition of American Painting and Sculpture,” Art Institute of Chicago
1911 “Annual Exhibition of Watercolors by American Artists,” Art Institute of Chicago
         Carnegie Institute Annual Exhibition, Pittsburgh, PA
1912-19, 1923-26 “Annual Exhibition of American Painting and Sculpture,” Art Institute
         of Chicago
1912 Fourth Annual Corcoran Biennial, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
1913 “Annual Exhibition of Watercolors by American Artists,” Art Institute of Chicago
         Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Annual Exhibition
1914 “Annual Exhibition of Watercolors by American Artists,” Art Institute of Chicago
         Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Annual Exhibition
         Carnegie Institute Annual Exhibition, Pittsburgh, PA
         Lyme Art Association
         Solo exhibition at Palette and Chisel Club
         Solo exhibition at Barrere Art Shop, Chicago
1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, San Francisco
         National Academy of Design Winter Exhibition
         Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio
         Lyme Art Association
1916 Solo exhibition at Art Institute of Chicago
         Palette and Chisel Club Exhibition at Society of Allied Arts, Peoria
         Corcoran Biennial, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
1917 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Annual
         National Academy of Design Annual Exhibition
         National Academy of Design Winter Exhibition
1918 Solo exhibition at O’Brien’s galleries, Chicago
1921 Exhibition of the Friends of the Native Landscape, Art Institute of Chicago
         Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Annual Exhibition
         National Academy of Design Winter Exhibition
         Lyme Art Association Exhibition
1922 Second Retrospective Exhibition of the Art Institute Alumni Association,
         Art Institute of Chicago
         National Academy of Design Winter Exhibition
         Solo exhibition at Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company galleries, Chicago
1923 National Academy of Design Annual Exhibition
1924 National Academy of Design Annual Exhibition
         National Academy of Design Winter Exhibition
         Lyme Art Association Exhibition
         Two-man show with Gregory Smith at Rockford Art Association, Illinois
         Grand Rapids Art Gallery, Michigan
         Carper Galleries in Detroit, Michigan
         Solo exhibition at Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company galleries
1925 Grand Central Art Galleries, Atlanta, Georgia
         National Academy of Design Annual Exhibition
         Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Annual
         Solo exhibition at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut
1926 Corcoran Biennial, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
         National Academy of Design Annual Exhibition
         National Academy of Design Winter Exhibition
1927 Lyme Art Association
         Milch Galleries, New York
         Curtis H. Moyer galleries, Hartford
         Albert Roullier Galleries, Chicago
1927-1936 National Academy of Design Exhibitions
1929 Lyme Art Association
1930 Solo exhibition at Grand Central Art Galleries

Allied Artists of America
American Artists’ Professional League
Art Club of Chicago
Artists’ Guild
Chicago Society of Artists, Director and Ex-President
Chicago Society of Etchers, Honorary Member
Chicago Watercolor Club, Director
Cliff Dwellers’ Club, Chicago, Board of Directors
Committee for the Encouragement of Local Arts Clubs, Director and first chairman
Little Room Arts, Chicago
Lyme Art Association, Lyme Connecticut, Committee Member
National Academy of Design, Associate Member
Palette and Chisel Club, Chicago
Salmagundi Club of New York
Society of Western Artists

Wilson Irvine sold work

Art Institute of Chicago
Autumn

Museum of Art at Brigham Young University
Old Mexico Street

Smith College Museum of Art
Landscape, Lyme, Connecticut

Cheryl Cibulka Gordon. Explorations of An American Impressionist: the Art of Wilson Irvine (1869-1936). Adams Davidson Galleries. Washington, DC: Garamond Pridemark Press, 1990.

Harold Spencer. Wilson Henry Irvine and the Poetry of Light. Old Lyme, CT: Florence Griswold Museum, 1998.

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