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Henry Golden Dearth
American Early Modern Painter
Like many American painters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Henry Golden Dearth studied in Paris and would return to France each summer to paint. Known as a Barbizon School-style landscape painter for much of his career, Dearth painted at Montreuil-sur-Mer in Normandy during the summer months and on Long Island when he returned to New York in the winters. He exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900, taking a bronze medal, and at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901, where he received a silver medal. Around 1912, he changed his artistic interests and began to paint portraits, still lifes, and, especially, scenes of rocks and water pools on the coasts of Maine and Brittany, employing a more colorful palette and a flatter, more decorative post-Impressionist-influenced style. (1)
Dearth was born on April 22, 1864 in Bristol, Rhode Island, and at the age of fifteen moved with his family to Waterbury, Connecticut. His love for art led him to enter the studio of the portrait painter Horace Johnson (1820-1886) and then leave for Paris in 1883 to study at the École des Beaux-Arts with Ernest Hébert and, privately, in 1887 with Aimé Morot . He made his debut exhibition in 1888 at the New York National Academy of Design and in 1889 exhibited with the more progressive Society of American Artists, (2) and was elected an Academician in 1906 when the National Academy and the Society merged. His numerous awards included the Society of American Artists’ Webb prize in 1893, a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, and silver medals at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901 and at an exhibition in Buenos Aires in 1907.
When Dearth began to concentrate on portraits, still lifes, and coastal paintings around 1912, he also changed his technique and began to use thick pigments of high-key color laid down in juxtaposed broken patches in order to achieve a brilliant chromatic effect. In these late paintings, he emphasized the decorative effect of the subjects he portrayed, especially the medieval, Persian, and Asian objects that he composed both as subjects and backgrounds for his still life and portrait paintings. Believing that this new style was his true legacy, Dearth requested that the Metropolitan Museum of Art exchange one of his earlier Barbizon-style paintings for an example of his new work, and when this, indeed, happened in 1915 and Boulogne Harbor was exchanged for Cornelia, (3) a New York Times critic remarked that the two pictures seen together would have formed an extraordinary commentary on the completeness and rapidity of a style change possible to an impressionable painter. (4)
Dearth died prematurely in New York City from heart disease on March 27, 1918. (5) After his death, a memorial exhibition of his works travelled to nineteen American cities.
(1) Critics immediately commented on this change in Dearth’s style. As early as February 1912, a The New York Times critic wrote: “The sudden going over of Roger Fry to the ranks of the Post-Impressionists can hardly have been a greater mental shock to the art lovers of London than is the absolute change of vision and technique revealed in these paintings by Mr. Dearth to those who remember his rich and sober earlier canvasses. His present work blazes with strong color, broken color, his patterns are bold and strongly emphasized, his surfaces are striated with heavy strings of undiluted pigment, realism and chiaroscuro are thrust aside in favor of decorative expression….” “Art at Home and Abroad; Representative Work by Contemporary Artists in the Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy,” The New York Times (February 4, 1912), SM15.
(2) See Richard Lynch, Henry Golden Dearth Exhibition September 22 - October 3, 1981 (Hammer Galleries: New York, 1981) and Peter Birmingham, American Art in the Barbizon Mood (Washington, D.C., 1975), passim.
(3) “Art Museum Gets Two New Pictures; ‘Ernesta,’ by Cecelia Beaux, and ‘Cornelia,’ by H.G. Dearth, Charming Works,” The New York Times (July 12, 1915), 7.
(4) "Miss Beaux and Mr. Dearth in the Metropolitan," The New York Times (August 1, 1915), SM 22.
(5) "Henry G. Dearth, Painter, Dies at 53: New York Artist, a National Academician, Who Won Several Medals, Expires Suddenly" The New York Times (March 26, 1918), 11.