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Artist Biography

 Edward Emerson Simmons was born in Concord, Massachusetts, and was named after his cousin, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Simmons attended Harvard and upon graduation in 1874, he moved to New York City, where he met the architect Russell Sturgis. Initially, Simmons wanted to be an architect but Sturgis recognized Simmons’ talent as a painter and recommended that he become an artist. After some unsuccessful attempts in sales and teaching, Simmons finally took Sturgis’ advice and studied painting under Frederic Crowninsheild at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1877. In 1878, he went to Paris to study and enrolled in the Académie Julian under Lefebvre and Boulanger, and subsequently at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. From 1881 to 1886, he lived on the Breton coast in Concarneau where he met Willard Metcalf and Theodore Robinson. From 1884 to 1885, Boston friends Edmund Tarbell and Frank Benson visited Simmons.

In 1886, Simmons was a pioneer in the founding of the art colony at St. Ives, a small fishing town on the Cornish coast of England. Soon after his arrival he turned from figure painting to coastal views of the St. Ives Bay, some of which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1888. That year Simmons became a member of the Society of American Artists in New York and his seascapes first began to attract critical acclaim in America. His St. Ives scene A Passing Train entered the collection of noted New York art patron, Thomas B. Clarke. Another titled Night, a nocturnal image of St. Ives Bay, won a bronze medal at the 1889 Paris International Exposition. These St. Ives views continued to attract attention, and he showed two of them at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901, where one garnered a gold medal.

Simmons returned to the United States in 1891 to work on a commission from Harvard College to design stained glass windows for Memorial Hall, which were executed by Tiffany Studios. Simmons had planned to return to Europe but instead remained in the United States because of subsequent commissions for murals and other large decorative works. While Simmons did not abandon easel painting, the majority of his time was devoted to mural commissions, including many directed his way by the great architect Stanford White, one of his closest friends. Simmons also executed murals for the Criminal Courts Building, New York City, the Library of Congress, Washington D.C., as well as panels for the Boston Statehouse and for the Minnesota State Capitol.

In 1897, Simmons became a member of the Ten, an exhibiting group of American Impressionist painters, including Childe Hassam, Edmund Tarbell, John Twachtman, Robert Reid, Thomas W. Dewing, Joseph DeCamp, Frank W. Benson, Willard Metcalf, Julian Alden Weir, and William Merritt Chase, who became a member after Twachtman’s death in 1902. Because of his focus on murals, easel paintings by Simmons rarely appeared in exhibitions, with the exception of his participation with the Ten. Even then, he sometimes showed earlier works, such as a series of St. Ives paintings exhibited in 1902. In 1906, he returned to easel painting and focused on painting landscapes. He worked in Old Lyme, Connecticut, the Midwest, and Puerto Rico.

In addition to his numerous extant murals, Simmons’ work is housed in prestigious public collections, including the Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago; George Walter Vincent Smith Museum, Springfield, Massachusetts; and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. He was married to Vesta Schallenberger, a noted writer and artist.

References:


William H. Gerdts, American Impressionism (New York: Abbeville Press, 1984)
William H. Gerdts, Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting (New York: Abbeville Press, 1990)
Patricia Jobe Pierce, The Ten (Concord, N.H.: Rumford Press, 1976)