John P. Benson (1865-1947)

John P. Benson (1865-1947)

John P. Benson, the younger brother of noted Boston painter Frank W. Benson, was born and raised in Salem, Massachusetts, two blocks from the wharves that brought hours of enjoyment to John and his siblings. As a child, Benson spent much of his time outdoors pursuing his favorite sports, hunting, fishing, and sailing on the family’s boat, the “Viva.”  He and his older brother Frank inherited their artistic talents from their mother, but with Frank already enrolled at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, their father insisted that John pursue a more practical route. He chose architecture, training in Paris at the Académie Julian and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and in 1889 he was hired by the reputable New York firm, McKim, Mead & White. Eventually, John Benson would establish his own company in New York and ran a successful practice until his retirement in 1923.    

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Even with a demanding career, Benson found time to paint in his leisure. In the early 1920s, after his children were grown, he took up painting full time, perhaps in response to a 1921 telegram from Frank: “John, if you are going to paint – PAINT!”  The subjects of his first works were marine scenes of the harbors of Salem, Massachusetts, and Kittery, Maine, where he and his wife Bessie moved in 1925, and he kept a careful log of his paintings from 1922 to 1944, helped in part by an enduring interest in photography begun during his youth in Salem. Among other venues, Benson exhibited with Kennedy Galleries in New York, and in Boston at the Guild of Boston Artists and Doll & Richards Gallery. A review from a February 1926 exhibition at Doll & Richards celebrates the artist’s innate talent for capturing truth in his marine depictions:

“Mr. Benson by the circumstances of birth and youthful association has obviously been able to acquire a very genuine appreciation of boats and to recognize peculiarities of individual craft. Furthermore when he makes one boat cross the bow of another one can be fairly confident that he does so with sails properly set and everything in true nautical fashion.”[1]

Benson continued to paint up until his death in 1947. A memorial exhibition was held at the Guild of Boston Artists in 1948, followed twenty years later with a retrospective show at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. 

References: See Who Was Who In American Art (1999).; The Artistic Legacy of John Prentiss Benson, compiled and edited by Nicholas J. Baker (2003); Dorothy Brewington, Dictionary of Marine Artists (Mystic, CT, Mystic Seaport Museum, 1982‚Äč

[1] Unidentified news clipping, February 25, 1926 (likely Boston Evening Transcript)

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