Alice Ruggles Sohier (1880-1969)

Alice Ruggles Sohier (1880-1969)

Alice Ruggles was raised in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood until graduating from high school in 1899, after which she moved to with her family to Buffalo, New York, and entered that city’s Art Students League under the guidance of Lucius Wolcott Hitchcock. She returned to Boston in 1904 and enrolled at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, furthering her studies with notable teachers Edmund C. Tarbell and Frank W. Benson. Her years at the Museum School were marked with great achievement; in 1905 she was awarded a general scholarship as well as the Sears Prize for portraiture, and in 1907 she won the highly coveted Paige Traveling Scholarship, which afforded her two years of study in Europe. Ruggles met her future husband, Louis Amory Sohier, that same year, yet despite his wish to marry soon, she chose career over love and departed Boston for a two-year trip exploring France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.[1]


[1] William Brewster, Jr., Frederick A. Bosley & Alice Ruggles Sohier, Paintings by Two Students of Edmund C. Tarbell, (Portsmouth, NH: Portsmouth Athenaeum, 2001) and Alice Ruggles Sohier: An American Impressionist (Youngstown, OH: Butler Institute, 1992).

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Sohier’s artistic development was largely shaped by Tarbell, whom she considered to be her mentor, truest critic and later a close friend. She relied on their established teacher-student relationship during the early part of her career, and even later, while he was in Paris, Sohier would often write to Tarbell asking for his advice on painting. Indeed, Tarbell’s influence was clear early on, as noted by a Boston Evening Transcript review of her 1910 Museum of Fine Arts exhibition: “It is rather an unusual thing to see in the work of a pupil such a close approach to [Tarbell’s] finer qualities of style. In the single figures in interiors, the ‘Girl Reading,’ ‘Girl Mending,’ and ‘The Japanese Print,’ etc., there is the Tarbellesque reserve and distinction, the sincerity and simplicity, the charm of character, as well as those more technical merits which might have been looked for in a student’s performances…This exhibition, in a word, shows clearly that she is one of the most capable and sensitive painters in the brilliant succession of Paige traveling scholarship holders, and that her career will be watched with the closest interest.”[1]

For over two decades following her Museum of Fine Arts debut, Alice Ruggles Sohier was featured in twenty-nine exhibitions throughout the country, including the annuals of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Art Institute of Chicago, and she was awarded a Bronze Medal at San Francisco’s Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915. Closer to home, she joined the Concord Art Association and was an active early member of the Guild of Boston Artists, holding solo shows there in 1916, 1922 and 1925. Interestingly, despite this active exhibition schedule and her name often appearing in the era’s newspaper reviews, today her paintings rarely come on the market and many presumably remain in private hands. In the fall of 1992, the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, held a retrospective titled Alice Ruggles Sohier: An American Impressionist, and at present two museums count a Sohier interior painting among their permanent collections: the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Zanesville, Ohio, Museum of Art.

[1] “Miss Ruggles’s Work in the Museum of Fine Arts.” Boston Evening Transcript, March 9, 1910, 32.

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