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Artist Biography

 A painter whose work noted critic R.H. Ives Gammell cited as “the most individualistic painting produced by any Boston painter of the second generation,” Gertrude Fiske was born into an established New England family that descended from Governor William Bradford. Closely associated with Boston, she kept a studio in the city as well as at her family’s longtime home, Stadhaugh, in suburban Weston, quite likely the site where the present work was painted [The Boston Painters, 1900-1930 (Orleans, Massachusetts: Parnassus Imprints, 1986), pp. 173; Trevor Fairbrother, The Bostonians: Painters of an Elegant Age (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1986), p. 207].

At Stadhaugh, Fiske worked in a studio located on the top floor of a converted barn, overlooking a wooded setting which served as the backdrop for several of her works. Marian Waitt of the Boston Journal called Fiske’s first solo exhibition “one of the most original exhibitions of paintings to be held at the Guild of Boston Artists since its inception,” continuing:

There is a bigness, a wholesome breeziness, a way of regarding the big pattern of a motive and putting it in simply and flatly, that enables her with her fine sense of color to get the utmost out of a motive in its decorative possibilities….The individuality of this woman’s work is refreshing. Treatment, subject, color and manner of seeing things are unlike that of any painter we know about. They are absolutely the result of the painter’s own vision. [”Wholesome Breeziness Marks Fiske Paintings,” Boston Journal, February 9, 1916]

In a glowing review of Fiske’s exhibition at The Rhode Island School of Design, the reviewer singled out the artist’s rendering of birch trees such as those in the present work for particular praise:

The gallery is attractively hung and the ensemble is noticeably brilliant, many of the pictures being painted in a high key. At the end of he first gallery hang two landscapes which are noteworthy for the strikingly beautiful treatment of the birch trees in light and shadow. The “Autumn Landscape” is all in green and gold and crimson with the autumn woods, blue sky and the green meadow with its path of sunlight, glimpsed through a line of slender birches, touched with blue shadows.” [“Miss Gertrude Fiske’s Works on View at School of Design,” Providence Sunday Journal, February 4, 1917].

Apparently one of the only students who completed the full seven-year course of training at Boston’s Museum School, Fiske studied there under legendary instructors and noted impressionist painters Edmund Tarbell, Frank Benson, and Philip Leslie Hale in the years between 1904 and 1912. During the summers, she attended painting classes in Ogunquit, Maine, with Charles H. Woodbury, known for his bold and visually dynamic style. Fiske continued to paint in Ogunquit (at her home on Pine Hill Road, as well as at nearby Wells Beach) each year throughout her life. Though she traveled to Europe -- one of her close friends was an Italian countess who had an estate on the island of Capri -- Fiske focused primarily on American subjects, and most of her work centers on the people and places in her New England milieu.

Among Fiske’s early successes were her silver medal at the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition, which was followed by her first solo exhibitions at the Guild of Boston Artists (1916) and the Rhode Island School of Design (1917). She won a number of prestigious prizes in the National Academy of Design’s annual exhibitions, and was elected to full membership in that organization by 1930.

Not only was Fiske an accomplished painter, but she also devoted substantial quantities of her time and energy to art organizations. A member of the group who founded the Guild of Boston Artists, she also was instrumental in establishing the Concord (Massachusetts) Art Association and the Ogunquit Art Association. As an indication of the regard in which she was held, she was appointed to the Massachusetts State Art Commission in 1929, the first woman to achieve that honor.

A related work, Goldfish, 1914, which depicts two young women absorbed in quiet activity, was exhibited at the 1914 Carnegie International, where a member of Pittsburgh’s prominent Mellon family purchased it for his collection. In its intimate, utterly uncontrived view, Picking Wildflowers evokes the same sense of effortless charm a contemporary reviewer observed in Goldfish:

There is something very spontaneous and fresh in the conception. We are not reminded of posed models, but we are suddenly called to a scene that is actually happening. The two young women are highly interested in their investigations and betray it in their every attitude. Such pictures have undying charm and attraction.” [“Pittsburgh Pictures: Unusually Fine Exhibition at Carnegie Institue,” May 4, 1914, unidentified clipping in Gertrude Fiske Papers, Archives of American Art, reel 4281, frame 99]

On the reverse of the painting is a label identifying it as part of the collection of Blythefield Country Club, along with some other partially legible notations. Blythefield was established in 1928 by financier Joseph H. Brewer, who had extensive interests in public utilities and banking during the 1920s. Apparently hurt by runs on his banks after the 1929 stock market crash, Brewer may have transferred the painting into the Club’s collection to protect it from claims by creditors, or it may have served as collateral for a loan. Blythefield’s art collection was apparently a notable one, cited as “a harmonious modern grouping,” in a 1929 article [Grand Rapids Furniture Record, November 1, 1929, page 1].

Fiske’s works are in the permanent collections of numerous museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art; the National Academy of Design, New York; the Addison Gallery of American Art (Phillips Academy), Andover, Massachusetts; the Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine; and the Ogunquit (Maine) Museum of American Art.