An American Impressionist's Sun-Dappled Days

Brilliant blue skies, sparkling sunlight, flowing white dresses; Frank Benson is renowned for these. Critic William Downes calls Benson's scenes "an impression of the natural joy of living, a holiday world."

Originally from Salem, Mass., Benson was a founding member of the "Ten American Painters," a pioneering group of American Impressionists who worked out of Boston at the turn of the century. In 1914, the Boston Herald hailed Benson as the "nation's most medaled painter."

It was Benson's summer vacations to coastal Maine that inspired his most celebrated works. His artistic world from 1900 to the early 1920s focused on his family life on North Haven Island and his striving to balance family and career.

Through Nov. 8, the Farnsworth Museum of Art in Rockland, Maine, is exhibiting "Reality and the Dream," which includes a selection of Benson's work inspired by his holidays on nearby Penobscot Bay.

Over the years these summer sojourns became increasingly important to the artist as he sought to escape the heavy demands of his career. Children play a significant part in the pictures he painted there.

Cast as carefree and joyous, Benson's young daughters and son are his constant models, their fresh white garments drenched with sunlight and ruffled with sea breezes.

Unlike his French counterparts, Benson never let his brush dissolve his forms. His figures are well-defined. His hilltop-reverie motif - the figure silhouetted against a blue sky or shimmering sea - is perhaps his most popular. In time, the sun-dappled white dress became emblematic of his work and his family's serene, light-filled holidays.

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