Gifford Beal (1879-1956)

Gifford Beal (1879-1956)

Born in New York City, Gifford Beal studied with William Merritt Chase in New York and at the Shinnecock Summer School between 1891 and 1900.  After graduating from Princeton University in 1900, he enrolled at the Art Students League, working under Frank Vincent DuMond and Henry Ward Ranger.  Like his older brother, the artist Reynolds Beal, Gifford painted the scenery of New England and particularly the region’s extensive coastline, from the steep cliffs of Maine to the inner harbors of Provincetown, and later Rockport, Massachusetts, where he summered after 1923.  He was also drawn to the streets, houses and residents making up these communities, capturing slices of small town life with energetic brushwork and a bold palette. 

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Beal took a honeymoon trip to England and Scotland in 1908, and made excursions to the Caribbean in 1916 and 1919, but never studied abroad, finding inspiration for his work close to home. His artistic sensibility was entirely American and his choice in subject varied widely, from urban views of New York, pastoral landscapes and floral garden scenes to circus acts, beachscapes and marines. An article in a June 1919 issue of The Touchstone magazine commends this diversity: “Always his work is interesting, for he tells each story in a fresh and different language. He is practically without mannerisms, painting each thing as he sees it, and the result is a group of canvases varied in handling and spirit as the subjects themselves.” [1]

Beal was a member of the American Water Color Society, the Century Association and served as President of the Art Students League from 1913 to 1929.  He became a full member of the National Academy in 1914 and participated in their annual exhibitions, winning numerous prizes over the years, including the Hallgarten Prize (1910), the Clark Prize (1913), the Altman Prize (1931) and the Saltus Medal (1948). He also showed with the Pennsylvania Academy and the Art Institute of Chicago, and exhibited his work throughout New England, including at the Worcester Art Museum, where he took third prize in 1903, the Boston Art Club, and the Newport Art Association. Additional awards include a bronze medal at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904 and a gold medal at the Panama Pacific Exhibition in 1915.  Several retrospective exhibitions were held of his work before and after he passed away in 1956, and today examples of Beal’s oils, watercolors, etchings and lithographs are part of many private and public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and the Art Institute of Chicago. 

References: Falk, Who Was Who in American Art, 1999; Gifford Beal 1879-1956, Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings, Kraushaar Galleries, New York, exhibition catalogue, April 29 – May 29, 1975; “Gifford Beal, A Lover of Sea and Woods,” The Touchstone and American Art Student Magazine, edited by Mary Fanton Roberts, Vol. V, No. 3, June 1919, pp. 240-243 

[1] “Gifford Beal, A Lover of Sea and Woods,” The Touchstone and American Art Student Magazine, edited by Mary Fanton Roberts, Vol. 5, No. 3, June 1919, p. 240.

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