Painting of the Week – George Whitaker

Painting of the Week – George Whitaker


George William Whitaker (1840- 1916), The Hayride, Oil on Canvas 26” x 36”              $2,800.

This painting is a remarkable Barbizon inspired landscape by George Whitaker. A student of George Inness, Whitaker painted expressive landscapes with big skies. There is a strong contrast between dramatic skies painted with free and forceful brushwork. The workers are headed home on top of the Hay wagon after a day’s work. This painting is a tribute to the honor and dignity of the laborers of the land.


George William Whitaker, was best known as a tonalist landscape artist, as well as a painter of fruit still-life and seascapes. He was respectfully called the “Dean of the Rhode Island Artists” for his stewardship of the fine arts in that community.  He was also an educator, becoming the first instructor in oil painting at the Rhode Island School of Design. Born in Fall River, Massachusetts, Whitaker was orphaned by age 2, and raised by

his maternal grandparents in Providence, RI. Attending Providence public schools, his talent at drawing was noticed. By age 14 he spent his youthful years as part of a Utopian community near Red Bank, New Jersey, known as “North American Phalanx”. He was apprenticed to his uncle, an engraver, in New York.  His artistic career started later than most as he worked as an engraver in New York City until age 31.

During his time working for his uncle the engraver in New York City, Whitaker became interested in painting. He began studying with the painters of the Hudson River School, and was mentored by the renowned landscape artists George Inness and Alexander Wyant. In 1870 he accompanied Inness to Europe, and went to study with Hungarian painter László Paál at the Julian Academy in Paris. Whitaker was heavily influenced by the painters of the Fontainebleau forest region in France, later known as the “Barbizon School”. Whitaker was a devotee of the Barbizon School throughout his life. Rather than depict nature as a background, they elevated natural scenes to be the subject of the artwork, with an overall tone of colored atmosphere or mist. In later life, Whitaker was not a fan of the more modern art movements coming out of Europe. He never abandoned his tonalist style. Whitaker exhibited at the National Academy in 1867 and 1869 and the Providence and Boston Art Clubs throughout the 1880s.

George Whitaker’s excellence in art is equaled by his contributions to the development of the nascent Rhode Island art community.  He shared studio space with renowned Rhode Island artist Sydney Burleigh in Burleigh’s Fleur-de-lys studio building. He wrote articles for the A.E. Society, a club for professional men which he organized. He actively offered art critique for multiple providence and rhode Island publications. He was instrumental in recognizing the need for an organization to nurture and support professional artists within the state.  In 1880, the Providence Art Club was formally founded by Whitaker and his colleagues Edward Bannister and Charles Walter Stetson. The club provided a professional association with fellow artists as well as a public forum in which to present their work.  Whitaker was also a founder of the Providence Water Color Club. Whitaker also played a significant role in the 1877 founding of the Rhode Island School of Design, as was its first instructor of oil painting.

His paintings are in many significant Rhode Island collections including the RI School of Design Museum, the RI Historical Society, the Providence Art Club, Brown University and the Moses Brown School. His work is also in the Kresge Art Museum at Michigan State University.