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Hamilton Easter Field

New York, 1873−New York, 1922

The American artist, critic, educator, gallerist and collector Hamilton Easter Field was among the foremost proponents of modern art in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. His multifaceted collection reflected his educational philosophy based on the juxtaposition of old and new: while a connoisseur of nineteenth-century French and Japanese art, he also established a pioneering collection of folk art and paintings by living American and European artists. After traveling frequently between France, Italy, and New York, he aided in the transmission of European art in order to develop new extensions of modernism in the United States.

Born to a prominent Quaker family, Field studied architecture briefly at Columbia University and enrolled at Harvard before setting off for Paris and Rome, where he stayed intermittently from 1894 to 1910. During this period, Field received intermittent formal academic instruction in painting, but acquired a substantial collection of nineteenth-century French prints, Italian and French architectural and old master drawings, and Japanese art. In Paris, Field often stayed with his uncle, Charles Edward Haviland, who was married to the daughter of prominent French art critic Philippe Burty; it may have been through Burty that Field forged a friendship with the artist Henri Fantin-Latour, who would have a formative impact on Field’s teaching philosophy and interest in Japanese prints. Field returned to New York from 1902 to 1905. His work was exhibited in New York for the first time in a group exhibition at the William Clausen Gallery in 1905. From 1905 to 1910, Field resided primarily in Rome, where he socialized with Bernard Berenson, Leo Stein, and Roger Fry.

In 1909, Field’s cousin Frank Burty Haviland introduced Field to Picasso and, later that year, Field commissioned the artist to complete a series of eleven paintings for the library of his family’s home in Brooklyn Heights. Although the project was never completed, the commission impacted much of Picasso’s creative production in the decade that followed. With their large scale and specified dimensions, the canvases were unusual for Picasso’s Analytic Cubist style of the period. Picasso completed only eight of the panels, including Nude Woman (1910; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) and Pipe Rack and Still Life on a Table (1911; The Metropolitan Museum of Art), which bears Field’s initials.

Field returned to New York in 1910 with his companion, the artist Robert Laurent, and established the Ogunquit Summer Art Colony, a progressive school for young artists in Maine. It was attended by several students from the Art Students League in New York and attracted American artists including Marsden Hartley, Robert Henri, Georges Bellows, Samuel Wood Gaylor, and Yasuo Kuniyoshi. He opened a small gallery called the Ardsley Studios in his residence in Brooklyn in 1912 where he intermittently exhibited his own work, American painting, Japanese prints, and French and Italian works on paper. In 1916 he purchased an adjacent building and established the Ardsley School of Modern Art, where several pupils lived and worked. Field also expanded the gallery space and exhibition program, mounting his first major show at Ardsley, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Cubism, in 1916. In his exhibitions Field often juxtaposed works by living American and European artists with nineteenth-century French drawings and prints, for example, showing Honoré Daumier caricatures with paintings by Marsden Hartley (1916); combining Childe Hassam and Japanese prints; or juxtaposing lithographs by Fantin-Latour with paintings by Albert Gleizes (1919).

While he tirelessly promoted living American and European émigré artists, Field advocated an American tradition of modernism by looking to colonial painting and to decorative arts and crafts. His multifaceted collection served as an integral component of his teaching, and he imparted to his pupils an appreciation of American folk art, especially hooked rugs and paintings on glass. He published a weekly column as art editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (1919) and served as an associate editor of Arts and Decoration before launching his own magazine, The Arts, in 1920, endeavoring to promote diverse strands of American modernism.

After returning to New York in 1910, he regularly sold works at the Anderson Galleries. Between 1918 and 1920, he sold drawings by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Jean-François Millet, Guido Reni, Rembrandt, James Abbott McNeil Whistler, J. M. W. Turner and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. Two works formerly in his collection are now in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art: a pen and ink drawing by Tiepolo, The Baptism of Christ (ca. 1770–90) and Puvis de Chavannes’s preparatory chalk drawing for War (1861). At least six ukiyo-e prints once in Field’s collection are also now at the Met, including Suzuki Harunobu’s Mother and Son (1769), which bears Field’s distinctive collector’s seal. Several Qing dynasty woodblock prints included in the posthumous sale of Field’s collection at the American Art Association in New York in December 1922 are also in the Museum’s collection.

Field was also an active member of several New York arts institutions, serving as president of the Brooklyn Artists Association and secretary of the Society of Independent Artists. Frustrated with what he perceived as the Society’s betrayal of the founding credo “no juries, no prizes,” Field became a founding member of Salons of America, created in 1922 to mount bi-annual exhibitions promoting modernism “open to all; with equal chance for all.” Exhibitions continued until 1937.

In 1930, eight years after Field’s death, his heir Laurent established the Hamilton Easter Field Art Foundation. The foundation’s collection, which includes works by William Glackens, Hartley, Henri, and John Marin, as well as by Field himself, now resides at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine. Field’s Ogunquit Summer Art Colony continued to operate until 1962.

For more information, see:

Jeffers, Wendy. “Hamilton Easter Field: The Benefactor from Brooklyn.” Archives of American Art Journal 50 (2011): 26–37.

Rubin, William. “Appendix: The Library of Hamilton Easter Field.” In Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism, 63–69. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1989.

See Robert Laurent’s statement on the project (1966) in the Hamilton Easter Field papers at the Archives of American Art.

How to cite this entry:
O'Hanlan, Sean, "Hamilton Easter Field," The Modern Art Index Project (August 2018), Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.