10 Facts About The Ten

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In 1897, ten painters seceded from the Society of American Artists in protest of the group's increasing focus on “too much business and too little art.” These 10 artists signed a charter for their own new group, agreeing to hold an annual exhibition, for each person to exhibit at every annual show, and to only admit new members who were unanimously supported, yet they assigned no name for themselves. They became known as “Ten American Painters,” or simply “The Ten,” by the press after their first exhibition, called “Ten American Painters,” which featured a Roman numeral X on the program.

Today, to celebrate this day of tens, we present 10 facts about The Ten.

1. The title “The Ten” is not the most applicable description for the group.

Originally, the founding members intended for there to be 12 members of the group: Frank Weston Benson, Joseph DeCamp, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, Willard Metcalf, Robert Reid, Edward Simmons, Edmund Charles Tarbell, Abbott Handerson Thayer, John Henry Twachtmann, and J. Alden Weir. Homer rejected the group's invitation, though, as he reportedly wasn't a fan of official organizations. The New York Times announced “Eleven Painters Secede” on January 9, 1898 (the day after the artists resigned), but after the article went to press, Thayer changed his mind, leaving the final tally at ten members. Despite their signed agreement, most of the members didn't exhibit every year; most of the annual exhibitions featured works by only nine artists. During the group's 20 years, membership at any given time never surpassed 10 artists, but by the time they stopped exhibiting in 1919, eleven artists had been members—William Merritt Chase had joined the group in 1902 upon the death of Twachtman.

Pictured above are the 1908 members of The Ten, with Chase and not Twachtman.

2. The Ten were known for their Impressionist works, but at least one member had originally despised Impressionism.

While studying in Paris, J. Alden Weir was first exposed to Impressionism, and it sure left an impression on him. “I never in my life saw more horrible things,” he said about the style. “They do not observe drawing nor form but give you an impression of what they call nature.” That's not all, though – he went on to say, “It was worse than the Chamber of Horrors.” Eighteen years later, he was singing a different tune, having adopted the style fully by 1891.

Above is Weir's "Autumn Rain," 1890.

3. Childe Hassam was the most prolific member, which may be why he's also the most well-known of The Ten today.

Hassam's first forays into the art world were as a wood engraver and a “black-and-white man” (a freelance illustrator), jobs that necessitated high levels of output. He was successful enough as a freelance illustrator to afford an apartment with a maid for him and his wife in the center of the art community in Paris. Even as a painter, Hassam continued to produce works in larger quantities than his peers. Hassam's output was so large between 1910 and 1920 that one critic complained, “Think of the appalling number of Hassam pictures there will be in the world by the time the man is seventy years old!” By the time Hassam died at age 75, he had created more than 3,000 works of art—mainly paintings, watercolors, etchings, and lithographs.

At left is Hassam's "Flags, Fifth Avenue."

4. They were natural leaders.

For many of the members, The Ten wasn't the only group they helped form. William Merritt Chase established the Chase School—known today as Parsons The New School for Design—in 1896 and taught there for more than 10 years. He also served as president of the Society of American Artists for 10 years. Edmund Charles Tarbell, a popular teacher whose followers were dubbed “The Tarbellites,” co-founded The Guild of Boston Artists in 1914 and served as its president for 10 years. Tarbell also served as co-director of the Boston Museum School with fellow Ten member Frank Weston Benson. J. Alden Weir was the first president of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, though he only served for one year; he later served as president of the National Academy of Design.

At left is Willard Metcalf's "Au Cafe," 1888.

5. Their artwork doesn't just hang in museums and collections; it also graces the walls and ceilings of public buildings.

Artists like Robert Reid and Edward Simmons are as well-known, perhaps more so, for their decorative work as they are for their Impressionistic paintings. Reid developed a name for himself painting murals and creating stained glass designs. He was also a contributing artist for the frescoes of the dome of the Liberal Arts Building at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Simmons was awarded the first commission from the Municipal Arts Society: a series of murals for the Criminal Courthouse in Manhattan; he also decorated the Waldorf-Astoria (NY), the Library of Congress (DC), and the Capitol at Saint Paul (MN).


Above left is Reid's "Knowledge" mural, 1896, from the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building.

At left is Simmons' "Melpomene" (Tragedy) mural, 1896, from the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building.

6. Like any turn-of-the-century artists worth their salt, they all studied in Europe.

Paris was, of course, the place to be if you were an artist—nine of the eleven members of The Ten studied in Paris. The Académie Julian was attended by John Henry Twachtman, Robert Reid, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Frank Weston Benson, Willard Metcalf, Edmund Charles Tarbell, Edward Simmons, and Childe Hassam. J. Alden Weir was the sole member of the group to attend the École des Beaux-Arts. Twachtman also studied in Munich, as did William Merritt Chase and Joseph DeCamp. Both Twachtman and Chase studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, while DeCamp attended the Royal Academy of Munich.

Above is Chase's "An Italian Garden," 1909.

7. They painted into their old age.

All of The Ten continued painting up until their deaths, whether they died relatively young, like Twachtman (age 49), or after a long life, like Simmons (age 79). While they remained creatively productive through the years, the critics didn't always reflect kindly on them. At the 1913 Armory Show, Childe Hassam and J. Alden Weir were nicknamed “the mammoth and the mastodon of American Art” because they were the oldest exhibitors there at ages 54 and 61, respectively.

At left is Twachtman's "Fishing Boats at Gloucester," 1901, painted the year before he died.

8. They retreated from the cities—Boston and New York—to summer houses, farms, and artist colonies.

A 1902 article in the New York Times observed that The Ten “appear to live in some realm apart from mankind where the important things are not the struggle for existence or the Boer war, but whether Jack Jones has succeeded in painting a child in the full sunlight just right...whether Robert Robinson has managed to get the proper atmosphere in his townscape...” The artists' retreats to artist colonies or their own farms probably helped cultivate this distance from worldly concerns.

William Merritt Chase, Edmund Charles Tarbell, and Frank Weston Benson all had summer homes, in Shinnecock Hills, NY; New Castle, NH; and North Haven, ME, respectively. Willard Metcalf and Thomas Wilmer Dewing spent summers at the Cornish Art Colony in New Hampshire, while the artist colony at Cos Cob, CT (outside of Greenwich), was frequented by Childe Hassam, John Henry Twachtman, and J. Alden Weir. Hassam also visited the artist colony at Appledore Island, off the coast of New Hampshire, and Weir owned two farms—one in Branchville, CT, and another in Windham, CT. Weir's Branchville farm and studio are now a protected National Historic Site, while his Windham farm remains in his family.

Above left is Dewing's "In the Garden," 1892-1894.
Directly above is Benson's "Eleanor Holding a Shell," 1902.

9. Many of the women in their paintings are their wives and daughters.

Edmund Tarbell, Frank Weston Benson, and William Merritt Chase all earned fame for their glowing paintings of their wives and daughters. Tarbell and his wife Emeline had four children: Josephine, Mercie, Mary, and Edmund. All four kids and Emeline, as well as other relatives, feature prominently in Tarbell's paintings. “In the Orchard,” which cemented Tarbell's standing in the art world, depicts Emeline with her siblings. Benson, too, established himself with a series of paintings featuring his family. He spent some 20 summers painting his wife, Ellen, and their daughters at the family's Maine summer home. Chase and his wife Alice had eight children, but only two of his children frequently posed for him—his oldest daughters, Alice and Dorothy.

Above is Tarbell's "In the Orchard," 1891.

10. The Ten's tenth anniversary exhibition in 1908 was, fittingly, their biggest.

The 1908 exhibition was one of the rare exhibitions when all the members actually fulfilled their agreement to exhibit: all 10 of the 1908 members exhibited that year. Amongst The Ten, they had nearly 100 works entered for the exhibition. 1908 was the group's apex; the group began a slow decline not long after the exhibition. By their 20th anniversary, their annual exhibition was considered “a retrospective of artists whose days together had served a purpose that was now a part of the past.”

The 1908 exhibition catalog is available here.

At left is DeCamp's "The Cellist," 1908, which was included in the 1908 exhibition.

Larger versions of all the works shown here are available; just click on the images.

Fans of The Ten should check out the William Merritt Chase gallery and Wikimedia category; the Joseph DeCamp gallery and Wikimedia category; the Childe Hassam gallery and Wikimedia category; the Edmund Tarbell gallery and Wikimedia category; the John Henry Twachtman gallery and Wikimedia category; the Wikimedia categories for Robert Reid, Thomas Dewing, J. Alden Weir, Willard Metcalf, and Frank Weston Benson; and 2008's Quick 10: The Ten.

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October 10, 2010 - 1:10am
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