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Boughton, George Henry (1833-1905)

Artist, Essayist, Illustrator, Travel Writer

Born in Norwich, England as a farmer's son, Boughton emigrated to Albany, New York with his family at the age of three. At age nineteen, and without the benefit of formal training, he sold his first painting, The Wayfarer , at the American Art Union exhibition. In 1858 he exhibited Winter Twilight at the New York Academy of Design. His influences included Edward May, with whom he studied during a visit to Paris, and Édouard Frère. In 1862 two of Boughton's paintings were exhibited in the British Institution. He submitted two pieces to the Royal Academy in 1863, and over the next forty-two years Boughton exhibited eighty-seven pieces there. He made London his permanent home in 1862, married Katherine Louise Cullen on Feb. 9, 1865, became a full member of the Royal Academy in 1896, and died in 1905 of heart disease (Hardie).

Described by Mrs. Aldrich as a "Royal Academician and charming artist,” the true extent of Boughton’s connection to Pfaff’s is unknown, but we know he did move within the social group (Aldrich 231-2). Mark Lause connects Boughton and other members of the Hudson River School to Pfaff’s as these Pfaffian artists were moved by more “natural and exotic themes” rather than the economically stable portraiture of the “high and mighty” (62). Lathrop, a writer for Harper’s, does lists Boughton as a member of the Pfaff’s group and asserts that he may have been involved in the production of the Saturday Press : “This was Pfaff's; and thus arose the 'Pfaff group,' which assisted in the publication of the Saturday Press, and included in its circle Walt Whitman, Fitz-James O'Brien, T.B. Aldrich, and William Winter, with the painters George H. Boughton, Homer Martin, Winslow Homer, and some whose names are less widely known” (Lathrop 832). William Winter also lists him as someone who frequented Pfaff's and is also mentioned as a member of "Sol's [Eytinge] group of artistic companionship" (Old Friends 66, 319). We do know that he was a tenant of the Tenth Street Studio building from 1857-61 which helps establish Boughton’s connection to well-known artists and Pfaffians (Blaugrund 133).

Remembered as a figure and genre painter, Boughton illustrated works by American writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Washington Irving. He also wrote a narrative about his travels in Holland, the aptly titled Sketching Rambles in Holland (1885). Along with Elihu Vedder, he is mentioned by contemporaries as one of the most gifted artists of his day. An 1870 art critic suggests that Boughton was a humorist as well as a "poet-painter," and his pictures "have always had something in them--something well rendered, and something personal" (E. Benson 11). His work was also admired by Vincent Van Gogh.