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September 2007

Frank W. Benson’s Portrait of My Daughters

Arch Facial Plast Surg. 2007;9(5):376-377. doi:10.1001/archfaci.9.5.376

Frank Weston Benson was born into a prosperous maritime family in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1862. When he was 18 years old, Benson attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts. He later traveled to Paris, France, where he attended the avant-garde Académie Julian and studied under Gustave Boulanger and Jules Joseph Lefebvre. In Paris, Benson saw the works of the great Impressionist masters and began to experiment with painting out of doors (en plein air) himself, producing works like Paris Parade (private collection). Although Benson's submission was not accepted for the Paris Salon, the official exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, his painting After the Storm (private collection), depicting 2 Breton girls standing on the shore overlooking rough seas, was accepted by the British Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 1884. Bolstered by this success, the young artist set up a studio and executed portraits for members of Boston society. One of his most sensitive and intimate paintings is his portrait of the young Gertrude Schirmer (Museum of Fine Arts). In a style derived from John Singer Sargent's intimate portraits of children, Benson portrays her seated in a diminutive rocking chair. Formally perched in a stiff ruffled frock, she seems constrained by the formality of her surroundings; her delicate pink dress emphasizes her youth, and her face conveys the suppressed energy of childhood.