Coastal Landscape serves as a superb example of Benson’s watercolor work, particularly regarding his non-birding themes. The effect of light on form provides the primary source of visual interest, and the artist’s keen color sense is shown by the warm tones of the sun-splashed rocks set against the darker tones of the leaves, with the overhead branches casting rich blue shadows across the foreground. His engaging design is also to be commended, as the strong horizontal format sweeps the viewer’s eyes throughout the composition and illustrates his advice to his daughter Eleanor, who took up painting in 1929, to find “the contrast between the sharp outline of branches against the sky with the soft edges of shrubbery and foliage.” Reviews of exhibitions during the 1920s were enthusiastic about Benson’s embrace and sensitive handling of the watercolor medium: “He has great knowledge of the limitations of aquarelle knowing when to stress his medium or to have respect for the beauty of the white surface on which he is working, or, with a brush full of color express a brilliant note of sunlight through foliage.”
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Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Benson’s professional life centered on nearby Boston. There he attended the Museum School before going to Paris in the fall of 1883 to study at the Académie Julian under Jules-Joseph Lefebvre and Gustave Boulanger. After his return to the United States in 1885, he worked for several years as a portraitist in Salem and as a teacher at the Portland Society of Art in Maine.
In 1889, Benson and his friend Edmund C. Tarbell were appointed to the faculty of the Museum School; under their guidance it became one of the most reputable and profitable art schools in the country. Through their example and their teaching, Benson, Tarbell, and fellow artist Joseph DeCamp, who taught at the Massachusetts Normal Art School, were responsible for the prevalence of a painting style closely identified with Boston. Known collectively as the Boston School painters, these artists explored a range of subject matter, although depictions of elegantly dressed young women in well-appointed interiors were a specialty, as were images of their wives and children in sun-drenched landscapes. After the turn of the century, Benson came to be recognized for his idyllic scenes of his family at their summer home at North Haven, Maine.
By descent through the Reynolds family for three generations