Painter, critic, and art historian. A Bostonian conversant with advanced currents in Paris, he introduced aspects of impressionism, postimpressionism, and symbolism to the United States. In addition, he wrote criticism for periodicals and for a Boston newspaper and spurred the American revival of Vermeer's reputation. Within the Boston art community, his enthusiasm for the Dutch artist affected other artists even before publication of Jan Vermeer of Delft in 1913. Born in Boston, Hale came from a distinguished family known for intellectual, literary, and political accomplishments. Following a year at Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Arts, he trained at the Art Students League with J. Alden Weir and Kenyon Cox before departing for Europe early in 1887. In Paris he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian. In the summer of 1888 he worked in Giverny, where he returned each year but one through 1893. Among the earliest Americans to visit there, he became acquainted with Monet and adopted an impressionist technique. During the same years, he traveled in Europe and returned home several times. In 1893 he embarked on a teaching career of more than thirty years at Boston's museum school and, later, elsewhere. In the 1890s he developed a method sympathetic to the postimpressionism of Georges Seurat and other pointillists. Characteristic images picture women nearly dissolved in veils of color in golden outdoor settings. These works have a dreamy, nonnaturalistic quality that presages his later symbolist mode. Around 1900 he returned to firmer drawing, along with brightly colored impressionist brushwork. A sparkling scene, The Crimson Rambler (Pennsylvania Academy, c. 1908–9) couples the appeal of a pretty girl with luxuriant red climbing roses in a freely brushed evocation of summer. Soon Hale also began a series of interior scenes that suggest the impact of his Vermeer studies, while also pursuing a taste for mysterious and suggestive symbolist allegory. In the early 1920s he returned to figural impressionism, often conveying sweetness of tone of within relatively simple compositions. In addition to his Vermeer monograph, he published several other books on art topics. He died in Boston.
His wife, Lilian Westcott Hale (1880–1963), primarily a figurative painter, ranked among the period's leading Boston artists, more successful as a painter than her husband. She concentrated on domestic interiors and portraits, but also painted landscapes and still lifes. A distinguished draftsman, she produced exquisitely finished charcoal drawings, as well as accomplished pastels. Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Lilian Clarke Westcott trained at the art school there and in William Merritt Chase's summer school before entering Boston's museum school in 1900. Principally Edmund Tarbell's student there, she married in 1902 and graduated in 1904. From 1908 on, she and her husband lived in suburban Dedham. She worked at their residence, a circumstance that perhaps encouraged her partiality to themes of children and domesticity. In paintings such as Home Lessons (Phillips Collection, 1919), depicting a studious little girl surrounded by artifacts of high culture, she combined the compositional rigor, firm drawing, and quietude of Vermeer's example with an impressionist interest in the play of light. From the mid-1950s she lived in Virginia but continued, as she had for some time, to summer in Rockport, on the Massachusetts shore. Only months before she died on her eighty-third birthday during a visit to St. Paul, Minnesota, she won her last award for painting and visited Italy for the first time.