Edmund Tarbell was the leading figure in the group of painters that came to be called the Boston School. He was both an alumnus of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and an important teacher there. Between his studies at the Museum School as an aspiring young artist and his appointment as the school’s chief instructor of painting in 1890, he honed his education in Paris. There he familiarized himself with both the academic tradition and the new Impressionist style. Like his friend Frank Weston Benson [08.326], Tarbell first earned success with brilliant outdoor studies of his family, sunlit scenes of leisure that brought him national acclaim.
At the end of the 1890s Tarbell began to bring Impressionism inside, creating images of elegant women in interiors suffused with light. As one critic remarked, within his studio Tarbell became “the master and not the slave of nature.”At first Tarbell drew inspiration from the cropped asymmetry of Edgar Degas’s scenes of dancers [39.669], but New England Interior and other works like it mark a definitive shift in his art. Rather than using modern painting as his model, Tarbell began to turn to the art of the past. He especially admired the seventeenth-century Dutch masters Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch [03.607]. American collectors increasingly prized the work of both of these artists and they became a topic for scholarly study; Tarbell’s Boston friend and colleague Philip Hale wrote the first American monograph on Vermeer. From the Dutch painters, Tarbell borrowed his quiet, contemplative subjects, balanced compositions, and subtle harmonies of light and color. His interiors, like theirs, often include doorways open to other rooms and paintings within the painting. But Tarbell did not create historical scenes: his models wear contemporary clothes and the settings are modern, often furnished with antiques, Japanese prints, and copies after old master paintings. In works like New England Interior Tarbell inculcated the present with the values of the past, employing careful craftsmanship and creating exquisite beauty.
1. W. Stanton Howard, “A Portrait, by E. C. Tarbell,” Harper’s Monthly Magazine 112, April 1906, 704.
This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting [http://www.mfashop.com/9020398034.html], MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).
New England Interior
- Edmund Charles Tarbell, American, 1862–1938
- 77.15 x 64.13 cm (30 3/8 x 25 1/4 in.)
- Medium or Technique
- Oil on canvas
- Accession Number
- On view
- Joseph P. and Anne B. Pellegrino Gallery (The Boston School) - 223