George William Whitaker, tonalist landscape, still life and marine painter, was called the "Dean of the Providence Painters". His largest scale canvases are typically still lifes and well-designed landscapes which seldom include people or animals. He was also a teacher, becoming the first instructor in oil painting at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Born in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1841, Whitaker spent his student years in New York where he apprenticed to an engraver uncle. While still in his youth, his talent was as a tonalist painter was recognized and mentored by the renowned landscape artists George Inness and Alexander Wyant and others associated with the Hudson River School. With this encouragement the young artist went to study in France under Laszlo DePaal, a Hungarian artist. Although some scholars state he studied at the Academie Julian with Fehrer, he is not listed in the school's records. In Paris, his paintings became heavily influenced by Barbizon painters of the Fontainebleu, especially the talented Francois Millet. In 1895, he moved into Sydney Burleigh's “Fleur de Lys” studio building.
George Whitaker's excellence in art is equaled to his contribution to the development of a Rhode Island art community. He was instrumental in recognizing the need for an organization to nurture and support talented artists within the state. The Providence Art Club was formally instituted in 1880 by Whitaker and his friends Sydney Burleigh, E.M. Bannister and Charles Walter Stetson. The club provided not only a formal association with fellow artists but a public forum in which to present his work. Whitaker was also a founder of the Providence Water Color Club.
Whitaker exhibited at the Brooklyn AA, the National Academy of Design, the Rhode Island School of Design, Doll & Richards (Boston), Boston Art Club, and the PA Academy of Fine Art. His work is represented in the permanent collections at RISD Museum, Providence Art Club, R.I. Historical Society, Kresge Art Center, Michigan.
When Whitaker died in 1916, he was known as “the Dean of Providence Artists.”
References: Who Was Who in American Art, vol. 3, p. 3537; Who's Who in American Art, 1915; National Academy & PAFA Exhibition Records