William McGregor Paxton


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Painter. A leading Boston artist, he favored exquisitely finished figural compositions, usually depicting leisured women in tastefully furnished, upper-class interiors. On occasion, attractive young female servants appear, generally as ornaments rather than laborers. Successful as well as a portraitist, Paxton also painted more freely brushed landscapes and outdoor genre scenes indebted to impressionism, as well as a few still lifes and nudes. Born in Baltimore while his parents were visiting from Boston, he grew up in Newton, a Boston suburb. In 1887 he began his professional training at the Cowles School of Art with Dennis Miller Bunker. On the first of a number of visits to Europe, in June 1889 he departed for Paris to study with Jean-Léon Gérôme. He returned in 1893 with sound knowledge of academic draftsmanship. A studio fire in 1904 destroyed much of his early work. Partly in response to the Vermeer craze gripping Boston during the first decade of the century, his mature style features carefully staged, placid interiors where subtle effects of light play across porcelains and porcelain complexions alike. The New Necklace (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1910), picturing two idealized women amid decorative objects, characteristically evokes a nostalgic fantasy of cool languor and sumptuous wealth. During most of his career, Paxton lived in Newton and then in Newton Centre, where he died. He generally summered at the seashore, usually on Cape Cod. His wife, painter Elizabeth Vaughan Okie Paxton (1877–1971) specialized in domestic genre scenes and soft, unostentatious still lifes, recalling those of eighteenth-century French artist Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Like her husband, she favored carefully constructed compositions, controlled light, and studied color harmonies. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, she trained in Boston with Joseph DeCamp, Edmund Tarbell, and Philip Leslie Hale, as well as Paxton. They married in January 1899. Following her husband's death, she lived in Boston, where she died.

Subjects: Art.

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