William Partridge Burpee was born in Rockland, Maine on April 13, 1846 to Nathaniel A. and Mary Partridge Burpee. As a young man he was educated in Rockland schools and in the Kents Hill Academy in Readfield, Maine. He exhibited a great deal of interest as a youth in painting and drawing, and received his formal training from the marine painter, William Bradford (1823-1894) – probably in the late 1870s. Burpee’s early work of the 1880s reflects Bradford’s influence as well as other painters such as Fitz Hugh Lane, Frederic Edwin Church, Martin Johnson Heade, F. A. Silva and A. T. Bricher.
After briefly advertising himself as an artist in the Rockland City Directory in 1882, Burpee appeared that year in Boston. By September 1, 1885, he was painting figures on Lynn Beach, Massachusetts, between Nahant and Swampscott in a style that now reflected the influence of French painting – particularly Eugene Boudin and Emile Louis Vernier. He showed life of the beach with children at play, dorymen, lobstermen, netmenders, women waiting for the return of the boats, clamdiggers, and drying and folding sails. He began exhibiting in Boston in 1881 (Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association) and soon became a regular exhibitor (1890) and a member (1894) of the Boston Art Club. Until his trip abroad, Burpee maintained a position in bookkeeping and accounting.
In 1897, Burpee left Boston to tour Spain, Italy, France and England. He returned to the United States in 1899 and the next year returned to spend the summer in Holland. After his international travel and visits to the salons in Paris he became much more international in his viewpoint and his style became much more impressionistic. During the summer in Holland, he discovered pastel and soon developed a great facility and liking for the medium.
He was honored at the St. Louis Exposition of 1904 with a bronze medal for pastel. He also exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Gallery, Washington D.C., the American Watercolor Society, the L. D. M. Sweat Museum (now Portland Museum of Art), the Boston Society of Watercolor Painters and the Copley Society, Boston.
Burpee is last listed with a Boston address in 1913. He reappears in Rockland in 1914 and is listed as dividing his time from 1927-1933 between Rockland and East Orange, N.J. He died in Rockland, Maine in 1940.
His work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, the Rockland Public Library, Cheekwood, Nashville, Tennessee, Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, S.C., the Louisiana State University Museum of Art, the William A. Farnsworth Museum, Rockland, Maine, and the Portland Museum of Art, Maine. For more information see: William Partridge Burpee: American Marine Impressionist by D. Roger Howlett. Burpee is also one of the seven “Lynn Beach Painters” described in the 1994 book, The Lynn Beach Painters: Art Along the North Shore 1880 - 1920 also by Howlett.