Henry Salem Hubbell was active/lived in Illinois, Florida, Kansas / France. Henry Hubbell is known for female figure, portrait and interior painting, teaching.
“Henry Salem Hubbell”
by Jay Williams:
The paintings of one of the least known of the Giverny Circle of American Impressionists, Henry Salem Hubbell, have recently received increased attention from collectors and art historians. He is the latest of a number of worthy American artists whose reputations have benefited from the resurgence of interest in studying and collecting paintings of the American Impressionists.
This once-praised artist would have become well known again in the 1970s and 80s — when the paintings of other Giverny painters such as Richard Emil Miller and Frederick Carl Frieseke were rediscovered by art historians — had he lived out his life in the Northeast, Midwest or even California. Instead, Hubbell left his New York and Connecticut studios in 1924 to live in Miami, traveling outside Florida primarily to take portrait commissions. His portraits have usually been held by families or institutions and not put up for auction, and his genre paintings have remained in collections far from the centers of the art market. Therefore, until recently Hubbell’s name had become dissociated from those of his friends and colleagues in France — especially Miller and Karl Beuhr with whom he was held in equal esteem.
Like Frieseke, Karl Anderson and Buehr, Hubbell completed his basic art education at the Art Institute of Chicago. Following a period of study at the Academie Julian under Bouguereau, Benjamin-Constant and Laurens,  Hubbell enrolled in Whistler’s Academie Carmen soon after it opened in Paris in the winter of 1898 – 99, hoping that his work would soon be accepted into the spring Salon. As an art student Hubbell had probably already encountered Whistler’s ideas about color and composition at the 1893 Chicago Exposition, which housed the first wide-ranging show of his work in America. During one critique the master complimented Hubbell’s progress, predicting that “one day you will be called a great colorist.” On the whole Hubbell found studying with the older painter to be “a great experience,” and later wrote that he “acknowledge[d] the greatest debt to Whistler” for “much assistance and encouragement.” Hubbell also greatly admired Jean François Millet and the tradition of realism.
Hubbell’s earlier French works, such as The Long Seam and The Coachman (Paris Cabman), are reminiscent of the “juste milieu” realists, for whom characterization was so important. Hubbell had been compared in the Paris press to one of the leading painters of this school: “This vigorous attempt to copy nature line by line seems an attempt to follow the example of the French master, Jules Bastien-Lepage.” Bastien-Lepage transmitted and reinforced the peasant painting themes inherited from Millet.
Throughout his career Hubbell retained many of Whistler’s approaches to figure painting, carefully planning the overall harmonies of tone and color in each of his compositions. In a Whistlerian fashion, Hubbell’s paintings The Coachman (Paris Cabman) and The Orange Robe utilize one central hue — red and orange, respectively — to accent the form of a clothed figure. Playing off this hue and the lyrical line and form of the drapery, Hubbell built a visual framework for movement within the composition. Sometimes brush strokes of the same color appear elsewhere in the painting as secondary accents to lead the eye of the viewer through the composition.
After 1906, Hubbell began to explore Impressionist color, as he also began to soften the forms of his figures. Hubbell’s style may have evolved toward Impressionism, but his choice of subject matter for major exhibition pieces remained relatively constant: young attractive women usually clothed in richly-colored or sensuously textured fabrics, often in indoor settings. His paintings shown in the Salons of 1907, 1908, 1909 and 1910 depicted large, sometimes life-size, standing or seated figures. Hubbell was quite versatile in changing scale and could produce beautiful smaller canvases such as Tea Time, which maintains the effectiveness of related Salon-sized pieces such as By the Fireside in its color and composition.
Through the influence of Frieseke, Hubbell became part of the American art colony at Giverny from 1908 to 1910. However, Frieseke’s presence was not the only factor that motivated him to take up residence in the picturesque town. Hubbell came to Giverny partly because of a job offer from Mary Wheeler, an American educator from Providence, Rhode Island, whose female students also had received summer instruction from Miller and Frieseke. Hubbell’s long-term Chicago patron, Lydia Coonley Ward, had recommended him enthusiastically to Miss Wheeler in 1908, and the artist and schoolmistress had met briefly that summer. The following fall the Hubbell and his wife stayed in Wheeler’s home in Giverny, and later in 1908, rented a house owned by another absentee American.
The women Hubbell depicted during this period exude a refined elegance that is enhanced by their stylish dress. In 1909 critic Charles Caffin discussed Frieseke and Hubbell as two of the “new American painters in Paris,” and published a painting by each artist in Harpers New Monthly Magazine depicting women in indoor settings. Frieseke often painted nudes at this time, but Hubbell painted only clothed models because of the preferences of his American patrons. This was simply a marketing decision, however, not a reflection of any prudishness on Hubbell’s part, since he later wrote to Frieseke, enthusiastically complimenting him on his nude figure paintings being shown in Chicago.
Whether painting clothed or nude figures Hubbell and his Giverny compatriots shared an approach toward the female subjects of their paintings: Their images of women were, above all, idealized and spiritually elevated, much like the Kore in Greek art. Hubbell and his friends transformed everyday women into demi-gods, whether they were clothed or nude, whether they were professional models, family members or friends.
The elegant young women Hubbell selected as his subjects in By the Fireside were Marjory Gane and Grace Southwick, two young friends of Ward. The young women were visiting Giverny during the winter of 1908 – 09. Gane and her mother accompanied the Hubbells to the opening of the Spring Salon. Mrs. Gane wrote to Hubbell’s benefactor, Ward that “I am in a better position than Mr. Hubbell to tell you of the success his pictures had, the buzz of praise constantly round them….”
Hubbell’s By the Fireside and The Orange Robe were very well placed, and both paintings were mentioned by several critics as highlights of the exhibition. This was not the first time that The Orange Robe had been singled out for praise in the Paris press. When Hubbell had a preview showing of several works destined for the spring Salon at the Societé Internationale exhibition, critic Henry Austy commented that the work showed “a happy daring in the arrangement of the tones, a harmony in the composition, and a beautiful sentiment of intimacy and elegance.
Although canvases such as The Orange Robe seem quite spontaneous in their brush work and coloration, comparing the Salon piece with the smaller canvas of the same subject reveals that Hubbell made significant changes in the larger, final version, rounding the form of the central figure, increasing the number of sensual, fabric surfaces and changing the location and prominence of the tea table. The formal elements — and especially Hubbell’s limited palette — are not engineered by formula, but are carefully considered and preconceived in the way that Whistler taught. Hubbell’s melding of interlocking forms and gestural brushwork gives a feeling of swirling movement to the surface. His brush strokes through and around the figures are particularly long, imparting energy to the composition in the manner of Manet.
The women depicted in The Orange Robe and in By the Fireside symbolize a feminine sensibility that was entirely mysterious to most men of the early twentieth century. On a superficial level Hubbell was undoubtedly fascinated by the sensuous elegance of such traditionally feminine images; but his sensitivity went beyond anything as simple as a voyeur’s gaze. The Orange Robe and similar canvases symbolize the vitality, creative potential and balance provided by his own inner feminine side, that archetype of the male psyche that Carl Jung called the “anima.”
While in Giverny, Paris, and elsewhere in France, Hubbell had painted portraits occasionally, but had resisted being labeled a portraitist. “During the twelve years of my study and work in Paris I had no intention of being a portrait painter,” he told an interviewer. “However, in my very first criticism at the Academie Julian the master, Jean Paul Laurens, on seeing my first day’s painting said, ‘Ah, here is a young man who will be a portrait painter.’ To myself I said, ‘You are wrong there, Monsieur Jean Paul,’ but the master was right.”
If Hubbell had remained in France, as Frieseke did, he could have avoided relying on portrait painting for an income. By 1910 Hubbell had achieved outstanding success with his sales through the Salon and private sales rooms. When the artist showed five pieces in the December 1909 exhibition by members of the International Society of Painters, Sculptors and Gravers, he sold four of his five paintings the afternoon the show opened. The fifth was bought a week later by the French government.
Despite these successes the Hubbells felt no desire to stay on permanently in France. As patriotic middle-class Americans, they wanted their son Henry Willard to finish his high school education in America, even though this goal might conflict with the artist’s career. The Hubbells returned to America in 1910.
Believing that many wealthy Americans’ tastes were more conservative than their European counterparts, Hubbell immediately sought to establish himself as a portrait painter and thereby ensure himself a wider market in his homeland. Inevitably, the artist’s life and work was shaped by the commissions he accepted after 1910. The portrait painter’s constant interaction with different — and not always likeable — personalities in various communities would not have suited some artists, but to Hubbell it was a rewarding lifestyle. He went on to paint the portraits of several college presidents, judges, architects and artists, and a number of Secretaries of the Interior, including Harold Ickes, Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone and Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Hubbell’s portrait paintings reflected, as Robert Henri put it, “an appreciation” of the humanity of his many sitters. Henri had become Hubbell’s friend during a return visit to America in 1905. Hubbell had, apparently, written him a complimentary letter to which Henri replied, “I am happy to say that the feeling is mutual. Your pictures when I saw them in the Philadelphia exhibition caught me at once.” Henri and Hubbell later showed their portraits together at Knoedler gallery in a 1913 exhibition for members of the National Association of Portrait Painters.
In the summer of 1912, soon after the artist and his wife bought a new co-op apartment near Gramercy Park, they purchased an old farmhouse and barn as a summer home and studio. Henry and Rose’s country home was located in Silvermine, near Norwalk, Connecticut. The Hubbell’s busy social life centered on interaction with other creative people who lived in the area. One group was “The Knockers,” a club organized for artists by their neighbor and close friend, Solon Borglum, brother of the Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum. The Hubbell’s were active members of this club, which grew to become the well-known Silvermine Group of artists which is still in existence today.
The Hubbells’ home was a popular gathering place for critics, such as Charles Caffin, artists and writers, because as Rose Hubbell wrote, “we made it a place in which people wanted to play. Artists and actor friends came to us from the city, so there were ‘stunts,’ costume parties and impromptu dances.” Painted about 1913, while the Hubbells were involved in these fanciful diversions, Luminous Reflections reveals Hubbell’s love of romantic drama and the muses of the theater. Moreover, the painting is rich with allusions to Venice as more than a historical center of colorist painting, but as a place of the imagination. Although Hubbell had only one opportunity to actually see Italy during his ten-year stay in Europe, Luminous Reflections was inspired by a painting of a Venetian interior by John Singer Sargent.
The intensely romantic, golden light from the large windows allows Hubbell to indulge in a fully impressionist handling of the glazed window surface, softly defined walls, and a floor so reflective that it has been described as “wet.” While Monet and other French Impressionists sometimes depicted the effect of light on varied surfaces for its own sake, Hubbell uses the light to create an air of dramatic enchantment. The large, almost empty room seems like a stage, and the few period furnishings appear to be props. The chair in the right rear corner of the room suggests the presence of a third person, the artist, as both painter and thespian.
Another canvas from Hubbell’s Connecticut period, The Chinese Lantern, set in the interior of the artist’s Connecticut farmhouse, projects some of the same theatricality, although it is obviously descended from other genre pieces such as The Orange Robe. In those paintings Hubbell posed his models as though they were engaged in some social activity. Here, although the youthful model holds a sugar bowl, the teapot and companion are nowhere in evidence. The young woman seems disengaged from any activity beyond returning the viewer’s gaze. The scene seems familiar and undeniably domestic, but Orientalizing color and design lend it an air of exotic “otherness.” Hubbell’s abiding interest in Oriental motifs — derived from his collection of Japanese prints — was an abiding influence on the palette and composition of many of his genre paintings.
After living in New York City, Silvermine, Connecticut and Pittsburgh — where he was Head of the School of Painting and Decoration at Carnegie Institute of Technology — Hubbell relocated to booming Miami, Florida, in 1924, hoping eventually to “escape from portraits altogether.” There he was commissioned by a prominent businessman to paint his monumental The Building of the House in 1930. This grand-scale painting with its heroic figures was meant to symbolize Hubbell’s vision of developing Miami as a center of fine art and architecture.
Hubbell’s own self-designed home on Miami Beach, known as the “Casa Rosita” was smaller than the grand structure depicted in The Building of the House, but it held a similar symbolic value for Hubbell. The house celebrated his long and happy marriage and Hubbell’s commitment to traditional domesticity. It was on the central patio of their home, the focal point of that airy house, that Hubbell set the affectionate portrait of his wife, In the Patio (At the Casa Rosita). Along with The Building of the House and Rosemary at Six, In the Patio symbolizes the great humane and artistic ideals of Hubbell’s life which for him were inseparable.
With the execution of these major works of the 1930s, Hubbell’s career entered its final phase. He completed two important series of portraits: four of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and three of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Harlan Fiske Stone. The artist continued to do landscape paintings, such as Dusk, Miami Beach, for his own pleasure and a few portraits until the death of his wife, Rose, in November, 1944.
Hubbell’s own health failed in June, 1946, when he had a stroke that prevented him from painting again. At this time Hubbell sent one of the finest paintings of his Giverny period, By the Fireside, to his old high school in Lawrence, Kansas, in the hope that his gift would spur further growth of the arts there. The artist confirmed the gift in his will, and also left In the Patio (At the Casa Rosita) to the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami. These gifts indicate his deep devotion to education and community arts development, and his hope that these institutions would continue to prosper. Hubbell died peacefully with his family in 1949, without knowing that his vision for Miami as a center for art and education would be fulfilled.
Hubbell’s well-crafted paintings, celebrating the “grandly simple” figurative traditions of Whistler, Velazquez, and Hals may have seemed nostalgic, hopelessly romantic or even irrelevant in the two decades following his death. However, in the current “fin de siecle period,” when pluralism has replaced modernism and tradition is once again informing art, it seems especially appropriate to appreciate the work of Henry Salem Hubbell.
1 William H. Gerdts, Monet’s Giverny: An Impressionist Colony (New York: Abbeville, 1993), pgs. 162 – 5.
2 Henry Hubbell studied with Jean-Paul Laurens, Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant and Adolph-William Bouguereau at the Academie Julian. Later he arranged private critiques with Raphael Collin. See Jay Williams, Henry Salem Hubbell’s Study in Europe: His Search for a Mentor (unpublished paper), 1993.
3 Joseph and Elizabeth R. Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, Philadelphia: (J. B. Lippincott and Co., 1908), pgs. 129 – 30.
4 Rose Strong Hubbell, It Happened to Us: Memoirs of an Artist’s Wife, unpublished manuscript, 59, Henry Salem Hubbell Papers, Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, New York.
6 Henry Salem Hubbell, to Lydia Avery Coonley Ward, Wyoming, New York, 1904, autobiographical statement, Henry Salem Hubbell Papers.
7 d’Arcy Moreil, Paris American, 15 May 1904, npn, Henry Salem Hubbell Papers.
8 See Phillipe Burty, “Modern Painting,” The Academy 20 April 1878, pgs. 354 – 5. Also, Gabriel Weisberg, “Jules Breton, Jules Bastien-Lepage and Camille Pissarro in the Context of Nineteenth-Century Peasant Painting and the Salon,” Arts Magazine 56 (1982): pgs. 115 – 20.
9 William H. Gerdts, American Impressionism, (New York: Abbeville Press, 1984), p. 272.
10 Lydia Avery Coonley Ward, “Holiday Notes,” Wyoming Reporter, datelined Berlin, 16 December 1908, clipping file, no publication data, Henry Salem Hubbell Papers. See further discussion of Hubbell’s economic decisions in Jay Williams, Miracles Too Erratic To Depend On: Financial Pressures and Artistic Aims in Henry Salem Hubbell’s Career, 1913 – 1918, unpublished paper.
11 Charles H. Caffin, “Some New American Painters in Paris,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 118 (January 1909), pgs. 284 – 293. Reproduced as illustrations for the article were Hubbell’s The Samovar and Lorette and Frieseke’s Lady on a Gold Couch and The Yellow Tulip.
12 Hubbell wrote to Frieseke: Your pictures [at the Art Institute of Chicago] were well hung and looked fine…It must be acknowledged though that the great American public, and even many whom you would not naturally classify that way, look askance at the nude in painting. If you stick to it long enough though you will win over the G. A. public. I thought your nudes of Berthe seated the finest ever. Rough draft of a letter in the artist’s hand, Henry Salem Hubbell, Chicago, to Frederick Carl Frieseke, Giverny, France, c. 1910, Henry Salem Hubbell Papers.
13 Ward, column datelined 16 December 1908, Henry Salem Hubbell Papers.
14 Henri Austy, Nouvelle Revue, Paris, 1 January 1909, 138, Henry Salem Hubbell Papers.
15 Transcript of an interview given by Henry Salem Hubbell to an anonymous interviewer on radio station WKAT, Miami, Florida, November, 1937, 2 – 3, Henry Salem Hubbell Papers.
16 Hubbell, It Happened to Us, pgs. 89 – 90.
17 Hubbell, It Happened to Us, p. 186.
18 Robert Henri, 58 West 57th Street, New York City, to Henry Salem Hubbell, probably Hotel Roland, New York City, 15 March 1905, Henry Salem Hubbell Papers.
19 Stanley Olmstead, “Portrait Painters Exhibit: Canvas by Sargent Shown Together with Examples of More Modern Artists’ Work,” The Evening [Post], ca. February 1913, clipping file, Henry Salem Hubbell Papers.
20 Rose Hubbell wrote that she and her husband greatly admired John Singer Sargent’s “presentation picture” — shown in London when he was elected to membership in the Royal Academy — of “an exquisite Venetian interior, a lofty shadowed room across which a streak of sunlight streamed just touching the figures of two people dressed in white.” Hubbell, It Happened to Us, 109.
21 H. S. Hubbell, Gates Mills, Ohio to Willard Hubbell, Miami, 28 July 1925, Henry Salem Hubbell Papers.
22 Businessman Alden Freeman asked Hubbell to document the process of building his lavish Spanish revival residence, the Casa Casuarina, patterned on the Alcazar de Colon in Santo Domingo. The Casuarina, on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, was designed by Arthur Laider Jones and constructed by Willard Hubbell, the painter’s son. The house was restored by its most recent owner, designer Gianni Versace.
23 “Paintings and Other Creative Work at Festival: Curry, Hubbell and Others to Get Home State Recognition,” Lawrence [Kansas] Journal-World, 19 February 1948, 1, Henry Salem Hubbell Papers.
About the Author
Jay Williams is the Gary R. Libby Curator of Art at the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach, Florida. He formerly served as curator of the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia, and chief curator of exhibitions and public programs at McKissick Museum of the University of South Carolina. He recently contributed articles on John James Audubon, Mark Catesby, and Alexander Wilson to the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.
Resource Library editor’s note
The above text was reprinted in Resource Library on September 28, 2009, with permission of author, which was granted to TFAO on August 11, 2009.
This article appeared in the September – October 1998 issue of American Art Review. It is adapted from the 50-page soft-cover illustrated catalogue The Figurative Paintings of Henry Salem Hubbell: An Elegance Rediscovered. The catalogue accompanied the exhibition Henry Salem Hubbell: An Elegance Rediscovered, which was on view in 1998 – 1999 at the McKissick Museum, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina. Organized by the McKissick Museum, the exhibition traveled to the City of Orlando, Florida’s municipal gallery in the spring of 1999.