Ross Sterling Turner (1847-1915)

Ross Sterling Turner (1847-1915)

Ross Sterling Turner is as much remembered today for his role as teacher as he is for his watercolor and oil paintings. In addition to offering private art lessons from his studio in Boston, he also taught in the architecture department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1884 to 1914.  In 1909, Turner joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Normal Art School, where he would influence many young artists in the following years.

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Born in upstate New York in 1847, Turner did not begin his career as a fine artist, but rather as a draftsman for the U. S. Patent Office. In 1876, he traveled to Europe and studied painting in Munich, first at the Royal Academy and later with Joseph Frank Currier, who taught lessons for American students alongside Frank Duveneck. Though he never worked under Duveneck personally, Turner met him and William Merritt Chase while in Munich and associated with many of the “Duveneck Boys” painting in Germany and Italy in the late 1870s. During his time in Europe, Turner also explored and painted in Venice, Florence and Rome, and eventually returned to the Unites States by 1883, settling in Boston. There he was privileged to work with another great master, Childe Hassam, and became part of the artist colony surrounding Celia Thaxter’s summer home on the Isles of Shoals. Thaxter’s impressive garden on Appledore Island became a favorite subject for many of her artist friends, including Turner, whose affinity for wildflowers and rambling greenery would be revealed in many of his landscapes from this time forward.

In 1885, Turner married Louise Blaney, sister of artist Dwight Blaney, and settled in Salem, Massachusetts. He maintained a presence in Boston with his many city memberships and showed his work at a number of the local galleries throughout the later part of his career. He also participated in several annual exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy and showed three paintings at the National Academy of Design in 1886.

Turner was also a talented watercolorist and received numerous prizes and awards for his work. In constant search of new subjects, he traveled extensively from the mountains of New Hampshire to the more tropical climes of Mexico, Cuba and Bermuda. Today, paintings by Ross Sterling Turner can be found in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Fogg Museum at Harvard University, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. 

References: See Who Was Who in American Art (1986); Trevor Fairbrother, The Bostonians, Painters of an Elegant Age 1870-1930, (Boston, 1986); D. Roger Howlett, The Lynn Beach Painters: Art Along the North Shore 1880-1920 (Lynn, MA: 1998).   

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