What a great photograph (1908 – courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum Photo Archives).
In the late 1800′s a group of painters banded together to provide themselves an association that approved of Impressionism, the period’s cutting edge, and mounted quality exhibitions. Leaving the confines of The Society of American Artists, they were dubbed “The Ten” by newspapers, although the New York Times headline ran “Eleven Painters Secede”. At their first meeting in 1898, they were Childe Hassam, John Twachtman, J. Alden Weir, Frank Benson, Joseph de Camp, Thomas Dewing, Willard Metcalf, Robert Reid, Edmund Simmons, and Edmund Tarbell. Winslow Homer had been invited but declined due to his distaste for organizations, and Abbott Thayer had been one of the group Society seceders, but preferred not to be part. There were no by-laws, no paperwork, and no officers. There was an agreement that all members would participate in an annual exhibition, and new members would be invited unanimously ( William Merritt Chase).
Not all members were impressionists, notably Dewing, a tonalist,who enjoyed the camaraderie of the group. Alden Weir, who had remarked in the 1880′s that Impressionism “was worse than a chamber of horrors”, had changed his stripes. All had studied in Europe and in Paris, specifically, which was de rigueur in the late 19th Century art world. All painted until their deaths. Robert Reid and Edmund Simmons turned much of their skill toward mural painting. Most taught. Chase started the Chase School which became Parsons New School for Design.
In an example of revolt, the exhibitions were hung in the new style which allowed ample room between paintings providing the viewers room to appreciate the individuality of the painters, rather than floor to ceiling, wall to wall. Most exhibitions were held in New York and traveled to Boston, but the tenth which was mounted at the Pennsylvania Academy (where Chase was then teaching) showed 100 paintings representing all members. This, the largest of all the exhibitions, considered now to be the height of The Ten, was greeted with disappointment from the ever-jaded critics who said that the artists had “too restrictive a circle” and needed “external influence”. The twenty-first and final exhibition was at the Corcoran in Washington DC where Tarbell was director of the Corcoran School.
In 1902, a New York Times article said The Ten “appear to live in some realm apart from mankind where the important things are not the struggle for existence or the Boer War, but whether Jack Jones has succeeded in painting a child in full sunlight just right…” Sounds like they were living right.