Untitled Document

Artist Biography

 John Whorf was one of the most accomplished and esteemed watercolorists of the first half of the twentieth century. Creating realist depictions of urban and rural imagery, he worked in a luminous painterly style often compared to that of John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer.

Born in Winthrop, Massachusetts, Whorf received his initial exposure to art from his father, Harry C. Whorf, a commercial artist and graphic designer. His first formal instruction began, however, at age fourteen when he enrolled simultaneously at the St. Botolph Studio in Boston, where Sherman Kidd taught him, and at the Boston Museum School, where his teachers were Philip L. Hale and William James.

Spending the summer of 1917 or 1918 in Provincetown, Whorf attended a class with Charles W. Hawthorne, a popular teacher who rendered portraits and landscapes in a bold and painterly style. The Cape Cod landscape had a deep effect on Whorf and he would return to render it continuously throughout his life. He was also attracted to Provincetown's growing art colony, and during his first stay he met such leading contemporary painters as Max Bohn and E. Ambrose Webster.

About 1919, Whorf visited France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco. In Paris, he enrolled briefly at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the Grande Chaumière, and the Académie Colarossi. During his time abroad, Whorf turned increasingly away from oil painting and began to focus on watercolor, which he found suited his transient lifestyle and his expressive and aesthetic interests.

Whorf returned to Boston during the early 1920s. In 1924, his first solo exhibition was held at the Grace Horne Gallery. The show was extremely well received; fifty works were sold, and Whorf was commended as Boston's leading watercolorist by the press. His paintings also captured the attention of John Singer Sargent, who purchased a watercolor from the artist. Whorf claimed that following his successful debut, he received informal instruction from Sargent.

Throughout the rest of his career, Whorf remained a popular and prolific artist. He exhibited his work annually at Grace Horne in Boston and at the Milch Gallery in New York; during the summers, he showed at the Shore Galleries in Provincetown.

He depicted landscapes and figural works, however, he is best known for his city views that have been compared to those of Edward Hopper and Reginald Marsh for their realistic approach. Yet Whorf's fluid technique reflects the more painterly styles of Sargent and American Impressionist Frank Benson. He developed a confident and spontaneous method of applying his paint, creating works in which he interspersed sparkling transparent washes with areas of deep opaque color.

Although he often traveled in America and abroad in search of painting subjects, Whorf and his wife Vivienne settled in Provincetown in 1937. There the artist painted landscapes and figural subjects, and continued to enjoy a successful career. He was one of two contemporary Massachusetts artists represented in the Museum of Modern Art's 1938 exhibition of American art created in Paris. In 1947, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Design. The artist’s work is represented at Museum of Fine Arts Boston; Metropolitan Museum of Art; M.I.T.; Fogg Art Museum; Addison Gallery of American Art; Amherst College Art Museum; John Herron Art Institute; Museum of Modern Art; Los Angeles County Museum; Worcester Art Museum; Montclair Art Museum; Art Institute of Chicago; R.I. School of Design; Corcoran Gallery of Art; St. Louis Museum of Art; Butler Art Institute; National Museum, Stockholm, Sweden; Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy; Yale University; Baltimore Museum of Art; and more.