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Elijah Baxter

1849 - 1939

The passion for European art study by American artists was fueled by the desire to be immersed in the ambiance of a great artistic heritage and the necessity of professional instruction. The basic foundation courses of drafting, drawing from models and oil painting were paramount to professional status at home. Elijah Baxter was one of the early artists to secure European training in Antwerp Academy in the 1870’s. This tenure was due to the generosity of the notable Rhode Island family, the Sprague’s. The patronage of the Sprague’s came after Baxter’s financially insecure childhood as the son of a mariner. Good fortune and a benevolent Providence artistic community embraced the young Baxter and John Arnold, Marcus Waterman, Edward Bannister and others raised funds to establish a studio for the artist where he went on to meet notable community members like Mayor Doyle and Governor Sprague and furthered his artistic career.

Baxter brought back the skills and experience of European study in the mid 1870’s, becoming another resource to the Providence artistic community. The long, arduous days at Antwerp, two hour early morning sessions beginning at 6 a.m., studio work throughout the day and an evening anatomy class were further enhanced by the young artist’s excursions to Ghent to study the old master paintings on church alters and visits to the history museum at Brussels. The hard work abroad paid off and when Baxter returned to his Providence studio his career flourished. He landed several shows and critical reviews. The Boston Herald wrote “Simple in subject and color, marked by severe gravity of treatment; not in the least prim, on the contrary a refreshing freedom on breadth. Mr. Baxter cannot be accused of imitation. The cultured person finds them full of beauty.” By the late 1870s he built a studio in Warwick and married, well on his way to a self sufficient career as an artist. At the end of his 91 years of life he would be recognized as one of Rhode Island’s most notable artists. An activist in the establishment of the Rhode Island School of Design, a founder of the Newport Art Association and a member of the Boston Art Club, the Providence Art Club and St. Botolf Club. Later in his life he removed to Newport befriending Henry Clewes and relocating his studio on Narragansett Bay. He continued to develop as a painter remaining committed to painting out doors and embarking on new adventures. Understanding the importance of his own art training he embarked in 1899 to found the Rhode Island Academy of Fine Arts. A school dedicated to training artists from Rhode Island where every year the best pupil in the class would be honored with a stipend for European study. After a lifelong career in the arts, Baxter would encourage and support further art training abroad as an essential ingredient to the art education of a young artist.

All works are available and range from $1,800 to $18,000.


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