|William Partridge Burpee, American (1846-1940) began a rapid course in adopting pastel as an additional medium in his art. Best evidence suggests that he began tentatively using pastel during his second trip to Europe in the summer of 1900. There he settled onto the beaches of Katwijk, Holland where the fisherfolk provided colorfully dressed subjects on beaches much like those that he had painted at Lynn and Swampscott, Massachusetts. His European trips allowed Burpee to see the great Old Master works in museums as well as to see contemporary works and engage working European artists. In pastel, newly added as one of his major media, he left behind the American mannerisms that related to the Luminists and increasingly practiced the principles of Tonalism and Impressionism that he became deeply involved in during his time abroad. In 1904, he was honored with a medal for his work in pastel at the St. Louis Worlds Fair. It appears that the medium of pastel allowed Burpee to fully explore the effects of light at various times in the day, and he was able to capture the beauty of his subject with a limited palette. In only four years, the Worlds Fair jury ratified Burpee’s mastery of pastel.|
Coincident with his new interest in pastel and his natural inclination towards Tonalism was the major memorial exhibition of the works of James Abbott McNeill Whistler at Copley Hall in Boston which opened February 23, 1904. One hundred and fifty Whistler oil paintings, watercolors, and pastels were shown with 225 etchings and a large collection of lithographs and drawings. This exhibition clearly influenced Burpee’s style, subjects, and even his titles—which became more Whistlerian.
This exhibition will show the progress that Burpee made in modernizing and simplifying his work in this demanding, but very beautiful medium.