Edward Emerson Simmons 1852-1931

Low Tide, St. Ives Harbor

  • 12 x 18 inches (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
  • Oil on canvas
  • Signed lower left: Edward E. Simmons Signed and dated on verso: Edward E. Simmons / 1887

Why We Love It

The late 1880s were years of dramatic development in the art world and new ideas were toppling older, more academic theories. Landscape paintings by Edward Emerson Simmons from this period (1887) were much admired and exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. James Whistler was a strong influence on Simmons at this time and this painting’s flattened perspective and tonalist palette exemplify the artist’s expert grasp of that Whistlerian philosophy.

The Value

Edward Emerson Simmons was a member of the Ten and is much sought after. However, because he spent so much of his time as a muralist, good examples of his paintings are almost never available. This painting is signed on recto and signed and dated on verso. It is in a fine period frame.

Artist Background

1852: Born in Concord, Massachusetts. Was a relative of Ralph Waldo Emerson; 1874: Graduated from Harvard College. Moved to New York, where Russell Sturgis encouraged him to become a painter. Took a trip out west and stopped in Cincinnati, where he met Frank Duveneck; 1877: Returned to New England and enrolled at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; 1878-80: Traveled to Paris and enrolled at the Academie Julian. Two years later he finished his studies at the Ecole des Beaux Arts; 1881: Settled in the artists’ colony at Concarneau; 1886: Founded artists’ colony at St. Ives on the English coast of Cornwall. His work turned from figure painting to impressive coastal views; 1891: Awarded commission to design 2 stained glass windows for Harvard’s Memorial Hall. Moved back to States and settled in New York for remainder of career; 1892: Commissioned to paint mural decoration for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago; 1897: Joined The Ten American Painters; 1898: Exhibited in the inaugural exhibition of The Ten American Painters at Durand-Ruel Galleries in New York; 1900-1920: Accepted numerous private and public mural commissions. Exhibited sporadically with The Ten; 1931: Died.

Edward Emerson Simmons was an important figure among American Impressionist painters during the latter part of the 19th century, and was unique in that he excelled in a host of media.  Not only a skilled easel painter, Simmons achieved renown through his executions of murals and stained-glass windows, thus he was integral in the movement to cross the currents of art, architecture and design that was percolating during post-Civil War America.  He began training in Boston at the Museum School under the tutelage of Frank Crowninshield before he decided to embark upon the pilgrimage to Paris, frequently made by ambitious young American artists.  He enrolled at the Academie Julian around 1879 where he studied with Boulanger and Lefebvre as well as encountered James Abbot McNeill Whistler, who greatly inspired the young Simmons.  In 1893 he was chosen by Frank Millet to decorate the domes at the Manufacturer’s Building for the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago.  This was a turning point for Simmons as although he continued to paint easel paintings, he had found his niche in murals depicting American life.

Another pivotal moment for Simmons was in 1898 when he joined the group of painters called “The Ten American Painters,” or commonly referred to as “The Ten,” which was led by the pre-eminent American Impressionist, Childe Hassam and included John Twachtman and J. Alden Weir.  Being a member of this group allowed him to exhibit independent of juries, and this secured his fame almost instantaneously.

During the period of 1881 to 1886 Simmons and his wife, the painter and novelist Vesta Schallenberger, lived in Concarneau along the French coast, and then in 1886 they, along with their two sons, moved to St. Ives on the coast of Cornwall, England.  Low Tide, St. Ives Harbor was painted during his English sojourn, and elegantly depicts the monochromatic light of the English coast at a most delicate moment of the day: low tide.  Simmons applies thick, broad brushstrokes and in the Impressionist vein he uses color, rather than shadow, to convey the value of light and dark.