Untitled Document

Artist Biography

 Highly regarded as the South's finest Impressionist painter, Paul Sawyier was raised in Frankfort, Kentucky where he found much inspiration for his paintings in the surrounding covered bridges, riverscape, and local landmarks. His father Dr. Nathaniel Sawyier, had dreamed of becoming an artist himself, but was persuaded into a more practical profession; thus, it is of little wonder that young Paul Sawyier was encouraged at an early age to develop his artistic abilities and consequently tutored by an itinerant artist from Cincinnati.

Sawyier's serious artistic study began in 1884 at the Cincinnati Art School under Thomas S. Nobel, an American who studied under Thomas Couture in Paris. In 1889 Sawyier ventured to New York City to take painting classes at the Art Students' League under American master, William Merrit Chase, whose painting style Sawyier is often compared. Sawyier returned to Cincinnati in 1891, studying painting under Frank Duveneck. Having never actually traveled to Europe to complete his art studies, Sawyier never-the-less had been exposed to European influences indirectly through the tutelage of Chase and Duveneck, two of the greatest exponents of French Impressionist painting traditions in the United States.

Shortly after his study with Duveneck, Sawyier returned to Kentucky where he painted nostalgic images of Frankfort and surrounding areas. Living on a houseboat for several years, Sawyier cruised up and down the Kentucky River photographing and making sketches for his paintings, becoming a bit of a local personality referred to as "The River Artist." In 1913, he moved to New York, first to Brooklyn then upstate where he continued to paint, and occasionally painted Kentucky scenes from memory or photographs.

Although considered an Impressionist painter, Sawyier's landscape painting style did not follow true French pleinairism. Like many American painters of his era, Sawyier incorporated select elements of Impressionism into his own unique style of painting. Beginning his compositions outside, Sawyier recorded the necessary elements in pencil first, adding a few splashes of watercolor. He would then return to his studio, completing the painting in his meticulous technique of bright color patches with particular attention to the effects of light. Sawyier's watercolor technique combined a generous amount of gouache with watercolor to heighten forms and lend them a more solid appearance juxtaposed with the opaque passages of color. He rarely allowed the bare paper to play a large role in his watercolors, more often covering the whole field with transparent and opaque areas of color.

Paul Sawyier was a popular artist in his day, having many loyal collectors of his work not only in Kentucky, but also in New York. Sawyier was not the type of artist who yearned for recognition and rarely exhibited his work. As one such story goes, Sawyier disregarded an invitation by President Taft to exhibit his works at the Corcoran Art Gallery. His paintings are considered of a historical relevance, many of which are housed in the Kentucky Historical Society and private collections, not only in the Frankfort area, but also across the United States.