Paxton portrait of his father, James Paxton, is an excellent example of the artist’s mastery of capturing his sitters’ likenesses, and his remarkable skill for rendering flesh tones. In 1909, the piece was singled out by American Art News in their review of Paxton’s St. Botolph Club exhibition of twenty paintings as one of the best in the group, and by Philip Hale in the Boston Herald, who wrote: “The man who unconsciously carries a derby hat because he has always worn one, and didn’t think to buy a silk hat to be painted in, has a face that is just American, simple, shrewd, unaffected, good.” James Paxton operated a successful catering business and, rather than insist on his son pursuing a more stable career, was a staunch supporter of William’s passion for becoming an artist. He sat for him three times during his lifetime, and one these portraits is now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
 Philip L. Hale, Boston Herald, March 1, 1909.
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William Paxton had just come back to Boston from four years of study in Paris with the master academician Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), when he met Joseph DeCamp at the Cowles Art School in 1893. Paxton was influenced by DeCamp’s attempts to set down color exactly as it appeared to his eye. This was a more modern approach to color theory than Gérôme’s, informed by Impressionism, and the young Paxton set to work to master these new ideas. Paxton never did subscribe to the spontaneity of Impressionism in style or technique; his paintings were always carefully thought out and meticulously rendered. While studying with DeCamp, Paxton met fellow student Elizabeth Okie (1877-1971), who would later become his wife. The two artists maintained a studio at the Harcourt Studio building on Irvington Street but relocated to Fenway Studios after the 1904 fire. In 1906 Paxton took his place beside Benson, Hale and Tarbell at the Museum School where he taught drawing from antique casts. He maintained this position until 1913, when he resigned following the departure of Tarbell and Benson in protest of the School’s increasingly modern approach.
Today Paxton’s work can be found in numerous museum collections including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Willed upon his passing to his wife, Elizabeth Okie Paxton
Willed upon her passing to private collection, Walpole, Massachusetts, 1971 to present
- (verso of canvas in pencil) James Paxton
- (verso of canvas in black) 113
- (verso of canvas in black) 28B
- (handwritten and stapled to frame) This Portrait of James Paxton / (Father of the Artist William M. Paxton) / was inherited by me in 1972 From / The Estate of Elizabeth O. Paxton / (signed) Robert Douglas Hunter / (printed) Robert Douglas Hunter
- Remnants of two illegible exhibition labels on top stretcher and crossbar
Lee, Ellen Wardell, Martin F. Krause, Jr., and R. H. Ives Gammell. William McGregor Paxton 1869-1941 (Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1979), illus. p. 27
- Tenth Annual Exhibition of Oil Paintings, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts, May 31 – September 22, 1907, No. 32, as Portrait of My Father
- Paintings by William M. Paxton, St. Botolph Club, Boston, through March 13, 1909, No. 3, as Portrait of James Paxton
- 18th Annual Exhibition of American Art, Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio, May 29 – July 22, 1911, No. 51
- Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, 1915, Cat. No. 3787
- William McGregor Paxton 1869-1941, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana, August 16 – October 1, 1978, No. 13, as Portrait of My Father or Portrait of James Paxton (This retrospective exhibition traveled to the El Paso Museum of Art, TX; the Joslyn Art Museum, NE; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA)