Gifford Beal, American (1879 - 1956)

Gifford Beal was born in New York in 1879 and spent most of his life and career there. Even as a young man, he was drawn to art, taking art classes as a teenager and later studying for many summers with William Merritt Chase, who had founded the nation’s first summer school for art in Shinnecock Hills, Long Island. After graduation from college, Beal studied at the Art Students League. Early in his career he was recognized as an up-and-coming artist, and in 1908 he was invited to be an associate of the National Academy of Design. In 1914, he became a full member. He was elected to membership in the Century Association in 1913, a few years before Duncan Phillips, who became a close friend. It was through their friendship that Phillips met his future wife, Marjorie Acker, Beal’s niece and herself an artist. In 1914 Beal was elected president of the Art Students League; he held that position until 1929. His first solo exhibition was held at Kraushaar Galleries in New York in 1920; this began a lifelong association with that dealer.

Beal’s early work was extremely popular in both subject matter—leisure activities in charming settings—and in method: sparkling color and light carried by quick impressionist brushstrokes. Gradually, he moved away from the impressionist style learned from William Merritt Chase and adopted a broadly realistic style that he used to depict the rugged life that he observed on the New England coast during many summers spent by the sea. Muted tones, strong, thick brushstrokes, and simplified compositions characterize his works of mid career. By 1940 Beal turned his attention to theater and circus scenes, subjects that had attracted him periodically over the years. For these works, he again used the radiant color and light effects that had distinguished his early works.

Late in his career, Beal’s style became more forceful and expressive. His subjects were drawn from life in New York and from his exotic travels. In 1950, Beal wrote in a letter to Phillips, “I am too old to do modern work. But I think I can at least keep it fresh and young looking…”

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