Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Letter From William McGregor Paxton

"Girl Combing Her Hair" by W.M. Paxton.. Image from The Art Renewal Center

Around ten years ago my family bought me a special art book on Ebay for my birthday. The book is "William McGregor Paxton" by Ellen W. Lee, R.H. Ives Gammell and Martin Krause, Jr. - it's long out of print, but you can find used copies on Amazon pretty readily (I just checked).

Not only is it a wonderful book, but my birthday present contained an old letter from Paxton to one of his students, J.J. Lankes. Lankes studied with Paxton at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the letter had been in the possession of  Lankes family since it was received in 1915.

I thought I would type out the body of the letter here. I'm inspired to do this because I'm a fan of the landscape painter Stapleton Kearns' blog. A while back he posted  another letter than Paxton had written to another one of his students, and you can read that post here.(The fact that Paxton wrote such supportive letters to his students indicates to me that he was a good and supportive teacher and very probably a nice person as well as being a great painter.) [EDIT: I can't seem to get this link to go to Kearn's specific post on Paxton's letter. I will get the Digital Marketing Division, Tech Sector Subdivision of Linda Tracey Brandon, Corp. Inc., LLC, PLC to check this out. Meanwhile, go to Kearns' July 16, 2012 blogpost to see the letter and discussion.]

Kearns has a better claim to this Paxton information than I do, as he was once a student of R.H. Ives Gammell himself. Mr. Kearns has a lot of generous information to share if you wander over to his blog.

Here's the content of the Paxton letter tucked away in my book, it's not much, but it's a shame not to share it. He makes a good point about a "bad hanging".
[Postmarked Chatham, Mass.]

Dear Lankes -

When your letter came I was in San Francisco and I did not receive it until my return.

You are very kind to write, but I don't like to kick about a bad hanging for all you can get by it is to have some one else's picture badly hung if yours is changed. Then there are two sore heads instead of one.

It seems to me that you have sized the picture up pretty accurately. You see there are several elements that go to the making of a reputation, painting is one of them though you might not guess it at a glance.

I'm glad and sorry to hear that Fashery [sp?] wants to go to war. It must be some thing of a problem for a man to decide with a family dependent on him.

If you get a chance to go to San Francisco do it. It is the best show of American pictures I have seen and the whole show is very wonderful.

Just at present we are at Chatham, Mass. waiting for some decent weather which we have not had all summer.

Will you give my regards to Mrs. Lawkes and tell her I'm delighted that she likes my pictures.

Sincerely yours,

W M Paxton
August 9, 1915

Included in the envelope is a small gray card, a ticket to an exhibition of Paxton's paintings held at the Saint Botolph Club in February, 1913. I'm not sure why this ticket was in the envelope, since it pre-dates the letter by a couple of years. It appears that somebody (Paxton?) sent this ticket to Lawkes - either he went to the show and kept the ticket, or he never made it to the show and kept the ticket anyway.

One critic wrote of this exhibit, "Today, Paxton goes to the limit of possibilities with pigment and makes no hard work, no effort evident in doing it. He is passed master of his craft... He is seemingly now near the zenith of his career."

Incidentally, I blogged about Paxton a couple of years ago, I included a list of advice he gave to other painters - see this link to a 2011 post.  It explains how to make painting look easy... ! I need to go read this again.

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