|Edward Simmons   Click Images to Enlarge|
The Beach, St. Ives, Cornwall, Foggy Morning, 1893
Oil on canvas
Painter-writer Edward Emerson Simmons was born October 27, 1852 in Concord, MA the son of Unitarian minister George Frederick Simmons and Mary Emerson Ripley. When his father died (ca. 1858), the family was left in poverty and Simmons was raised in Concord’s Old Manse by his mother, grandmother and Bible-toting grandfather. For years, Simmons liked to listen to his father’s cousin Ralph Waldo Emerson tell stories because he “rendered the commonplace sacred,” Simmons said in From Seven to Seventy, p. 22. Throughout his staunch New England upbringing, the only solace Simmons found was through art, literature and song.
The artist entered Harvard (1870) and found academia exhilarating, even though classmates nicknamed the “Wambat.” As a member of the Hasty Puddings Club, Simmons became a founder of the Harvard Crimson (then called the Magenta) and was secretary of the Harvard Art Club. After obtaining an A.B. in 1874, Simmons went to NYC to become an architect but was talked out of it. Packing a gun for protection, he traveled alone to Cincinnati and met the famous teacher-painter Frank Duveneck, who convinced to go to Europe and become a painter.
In 1875, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote Simmons a letter of introduction that landed him a job as drama critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and a teaching position for $75 a month at the Strawberry Valley School. He socialized with painters William Keith and Thomas Hill and enjoyed California until a close friend was shot on a city street, when he returned to Boston to study at the Institute of Technology, met painter William Rimmer. Rimmer convinced Simmons to study at Boston’s Museum School with Frank Crowninshield who taught him to draw before he went to France. In 1878, he studied in Paris at the Academie Julian with C.R. Boulanger, J.J. Lefebvre and was inspired by a friendship with J.A.M. Whistler. After winning an award at the Academie (1881), he painted in Concarneau and Pont Aven his La Blanchisseuse won an honorable mention at the Paris Salon (1882). In 1891, he was commissioned to construct a stained-glass window for Harvard and in 1893, Frank Millet chose Simmons to decorate the domes at the Manufacturer’s Building for the World’s Columbian Exposition. From that point on, Simmons devoted himself to murals of American life rather than painting canvases to hang on “strings” in the wrong light. In 1898, he joined The Ten American painters to exhibit independent of juries and became famous almost instantaneously.
From 1887-91, Simmons lived with his wife Vesta Schallenberger (married 1883-1903) and their son in St. Ives in Cornwall, England and Theodore Robinson accompanied Simmons on many painting adventures. Summers were spent in Denis, Montreuil and Grez, France; Stuttgart, Germany; and in the Forest of Fontainebleau outside of Paris. In 1903, he divorced his first wife and married Alice Ralston Morton, who gave birth to their son in 1904.
Simmons remained a dedicated, inquisitive painter and spokesperson for artist’s rights until his death in Baltimore, MD in November 1931.
Murals: Boston State House; Library of Congress; Astoria Hotel, NYC; state capitol buildings, St. Paul, MN and Pierre, SD and the Mass. State House.
References: Patricia Jobe Pierce, The Ten (NH: Rumford Press, 1976) and “Edward Simmons,” American National Biography (Oxford Univ. Press, 1999); Edward Simmons, From Seven to Seventy: Memories of a Painter and a Yankee (1922); Arthur Hoeber, “Edward Emerson Simmons,” Brush and Pencil, March 1900; Pauline King, American Mural Painting (1902).