Howard Russell Butler (1856-1934)

Howard Russell Butler (1856-1934)

A talented scholar and man of intellect, Howard Russell Butler began his career not as an artist but as a New York City lawyer.  Butler received both his undergraduate and law degrees at Ivy League schools (Princeton and Columbia), yet was ultimately dissatisfied with his choice of career.  In 1884 he made the decisive move to pursue painting and opened a studio in Mexico alongside Frederick Church.  

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Butler enrolled at the Art Students League and the Academié Colarossi, joining the artists’ colonies of Concarneau, St. Ives and Paris, and filling his canvases with impressionistic oils of the European landscape.  His painting companions included John Singer Sargent, and Butler quickly joined other American artists in the Paris Salon, receiving honorable mention in 1886.

Butler returned to the United States in 1887 and discovered the “American Barbizon” of East Hampton, where he joined such artists as Charles Platt and Bruce Crane.  His works became constant additions to exhibitions at the National Academy, the Pennsylvania Academy, the Corcoran Gallery, and the Boston Art Club.  His diverse entries reflected his multiple addresses, with oils and watercolors of Mexico, California, Maine, and Massachusetts coastlines.  While these seascapes are often compared to those of Frederick J. Waugh, Butler was a true Renaissance man, not dedicated to one sole subject matter, but working as a noted portrait artist – Thomas Moran and Andrew Carnegie were among his sitters – and more surprisingly, a painter of astronomy.  

A supervisor of astronomy exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History, Butler chronicled a solar eclipse alongside scientists of the U.S. Naval Observatory in 1918, displaying the resulting painting at the Hayden Planetarium.  His other celestial works included depictions of Mars and Earth as if viewed from the moon, and the eclipses of 1923 and 1925.  His interests in science were coupled with his sincere devotion to the arts, and Butler worked to establish the American Fine Arts Society.  He was also an active member of the National Academy of Design, the Society of American Artists, the New York Watercolor Club and the Art Students League.  Today his works are displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Natural History, among others.

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