This section is from the book "Arts & Crafts Magazine Vol1-2", by Hutchinson & Company.
One first hears of him as a thin and sallow youth dawdling over a furrier's counter in one of the quietest streets in Albany, capital of the State of New York. He proved a failure as a salesman, and seriously annoyed his elder brother, the master of the establishment, by decorating the hat-boxes and walls of the shop with caricatures of contiguous shopkeepers. Regarded by his practical family as a ne'er-do-well, he was allowed to drift into a Bohemian life, spending much of his time at the shop of a dealer in artists' materials, who offered him the first encouragement in his pictorial efforts. At eighteen he was an art teacher at the Female Academy. We next hear of him as one of a curious group of six young fellows, all with artistic tastes and aspirations above their callings. The sextet included a wheelwright, a carpenter, a carriage painter, a doctor's office boy, and a bartender. Strange to say, each one of this odd coterie attained eventually substantial success in the world of art. Launt Thompson and E. D. Palmer did excellent work in sculpture, Edward Gay in landscape, and William and James M. Hart in cattle painting.
Unless we are mistaken, they have all now passed away, George H. Boughton being the last of them. For many years he was, perhaps, the least successful of the group. Each set up a studio in New York, and struggled manfully through many trials. Boughton originally was a landscape painter, and made a speciality of snow scenes, usually with sunset effects. In fact, his first actual success was with such a canvas. It was hung at the National Academy of Design and bought for two hundred dollars for Mr. Robert L. Stuart, a well-known New York merchant, who, in sending his cheque, cordially invited the young artist to call upon him. Mr. Boughton used to describe with his delightful humour his interview with Mecaenas and what came of it. They discussed the painting, and Mr. Stuart asked about the location of the scene. The artist explained that it was an island just south of Albany. There, in the foreground, he pointed out, was the frozen creek on the west, the Hudson washing the eastern shore of the desolate stretch of land. "My original study was so forbidding," said Boughton, "that I added the sunset to give a touch of colour, a glow to the cold and lifeless surroundings. The sun going down behind the green bush hills is; I think, an improvement." Mr. Stuart had listened attentively, but suddenly arose, saying coldly, "Then I am to understand that in Albany the sun sets in the East. If you will excuse me, sir, I will wish you good morning."
Fortunately for the artist the criticism came after the picture had been paid for. He promptly left for Europe, hoping to be gone a year - if his funds would hold out. After six months he returned to England from the Continent, intending to take passage home; but, loitering about the studios of some friends, he was induced to paint a picture and see if he could get it into the Royal Academy. It was accepted, and warmly praised in The Times. Numerous commissions immediately followed, and we may imagine young Boughton, like the lotos eaters of Tennyson, exclaiming: -
" I will return no more, . . . My island home is far beyond the wave; 1 will no longer roam."
His lines indeed had fallen in pleasant places, and from that time forward England became his home, and his career' one of almost unbroken success - a life of ease. His introduction to the British picture-buying public was through one of his well-known scenes of seventeenth century New England Puritan life. They were a novelty, and his compositions of this genre, always refined in colour and graceful in line, became very popular. Yet, as an American writer has justly remarked: "All his women are of one type - yes, of one family. In the scenes of Puritan life he loved to paint they are uniformly tall and noble, cold and classical, intellectual as well as intelligent, and therefore so idealised as to be utterly unlike the sturdy followers of Miles Standish." Later, he forsook the Puritan maidens for charming Englishwomen in picturesque late - eighteenth - century costume, and they were even more popular. The colouring was nearly always the same - his palette was based on the hues of the hydrangea - and the models seemed only to have changed their dresses. Still they were charming, one of the chief causes of their popular success, we imagine, being their rare decorative quality. Of actual modelling, there was hardly more than would have served for a poster or a stained-glass cartoon. That this was not due to lack of ability is evident from Mr. Boughton's excellence as a draughtsman, as shown in his book illustrations, and in numerous sketch books of travel in Holland and elsewhere, as well as in portfolios full of admirable studies both from the nude and draped model. This flat treatment was, simply, his personal mode of artistic expression, and he extended it even to his portraits. In his landscape and sea-shore views, it was necessarily modified when it would have been inconsistent with a just rendering of values. Occasionally, as in the beautiful setting of his "Lady of Shallot," he seemed to have forgotten the convention altogether, and in some of his Holland scenes, such as "The Pavement Weeders" and "The Beach at Scheven-ingen," which we are inclined to regard as among the most satisfactory manifestations of his art.