Hugh Henry Breckenridge 1870-1937


  • Signed lower right: Breckenridge
  • Oil on canvas
  • Signed lower right: Breckenridge

Why We Love It

One thinks of night scenes as being monochromatic, relying heavily on dark blue tones. The hauntingly lovely Nocturne by Hugh Henry Breckenridge is a quiet riot of color. Lavenders, pinks and yellows all figure prominently and yet the artist convinces us that it is the middle of a summer night. Only Breckenridge could manage this sleight of hand (or brush).

The Value

Hugh Henry Breckenridge was not only an important and influential painter. With Arthur Carles and Henry McCarter, he developed the modernist curriculum at PAFA and was a beloved and respected teacher at that institution for many years. Nocturne is in beautiful, unlined condition and is in its original Arts and Crafts period frame.

Artist Background

1870: Born in Leesburg, Virginia; 1887-92: Attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art, where he was deeply affected by the legacy of Thomas Eakins; 1889: Awarded first Toppan Prize from PAFA; 1892: Awarded PAFA’s Cresson Traveling Scholarship, which enabled him to travel through Europe and study at the Academie Julian with William Bouguereau; 1894-1937: Began teaching at PAFA, where he was a principle instructor. He was also responsible for developing the modernist curriculum at PAFA along with Arthur Carles and Henry McCarter; 1900: Opened the Darby Summer School of Painting with Thomas Anshutz; 1904: First solo exhibition at PAFA: 1909: Traveled to Europe with Walter Schofield and was deeply affected by the modernist painting he saw; 1910s: Worked alternately in a neoimpressionist technique, which he called “tapestry painting,” and a more academic style enriched by an expressionist palette; 1920-37: Established and taught at the Breckenridge School of Art, East Gloucester, Massachusetts; 1922: Began exhibiting abstract paintings, which demonstrated a deep fascination with color theory; 1937: Died.

Hugh Breckenridge’s artistic training began at the Pennsylvania Academy of the FIne Arts in 1887.  The academic precision and attention to detail that mark his portraits and still lifes reflect the Academy’s emphasis on drawing, close observation, and accuracy.  Like his peers Robert Henri, Edward Redfield, and Walter Schofield, Breckenridge was affected by the legacy of Thomas Eakins and the artistic philosophy he espoused.  However, the year he spent in Europe (1892), made possible by PAFA’s Cresson Travel Scholarship, deeply affected the direction Breckenridge’s art would ultimately take.  His interest in impressionist technique and great love of color first took shape during this initial visit abroad.  A later trip in 1909 would further spark his attraction to the avant-garde and modernist painting.

Over the course of his career, Breckenridge developed two styles: realist portraits and still lifes, which helped him earn a living, and his personal work, which started as impressionist but eventually evolved into expressive abstractions, when his engagement with Modernism reached its peak.  In both bodies of work, Breckenridge’s command of technique is apparent.  Even his most abstract late paintings demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the discrete elements that comprise a great composition.