Eric Pape, American 1870-1938 ‘An Elegant Young Lady by the Window’


59” x 46”, oil on canvas/panel


Called “the Master of the Pageant,” Eric Pape was a painter of historical and archaeological subjects, a landscape painter, art teacher, and illustrator.  He was born in San Francisco and studied at the San Francisco School of Design under Emil Carlsen.  While at the School of Design, Pape befriended painters Guy Rose, James Harwood, and Frederick Marvin.  At the completion of their studies, the four young artists, or “The Four Scars of the West,” as they called themselves, traveled to France by steamship from New York.  In Paris, Pape enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, where he trained under Jean-Léon Gérôme.  He also attended classes at the Académie Julian, receiving instruction from Gustave Boulanger, Jules Joseph Lefebvre, and Jean-Paul Laurens.  In spring of 1889, Pape visited the village of Giverny, France, where Claude Monet lived.  At the time, Giverny was rapidly becoming an important gathering place for European and American artists.

In 1890, Eric Pape spent a year in northern Germany.  There he focused on painting peasants in picturesque countryside settings and painted his first large-scale Salon painting, Zevener Spinnerin, which was shown at the Salon Société Nationale des Beaux Arts, Champs de Mars, Paris, in 1890.  In the following year, Pape journeyed to Egypt, where he remained for two years.  In Cairo he established a studio which had previously been occupied by John Singer Sargent.  Located in the garden of a collector of Asian rugs, jewelry, and furniture, the studio provided Pape with a ready source of subject matter to study.  During this time in Egypt, Pape was accompanied by an Egyptian native, with whom he traveled along the Nile and visited the Sahara Desert.  For nine months Pape traveled by camel, sleeping under the stars under the moonlit shadows of the great pyramids.  Pape visited many Egyptian nomadic communities, where he carefully studied the tents and shelters and the vast space of the desert landscape.

In the early 1890s, Eric Pape exhibited his paintings extensively.  In 1891, he showed ten works at the Exposition du Cairo, Egypt.  The following year, four of his paintings were displayed at the Paris Salon.  In 1893, two of Pape’s works were on view at the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago, including The Sphinx at Midnight (location unknown) and The Site of Ancient Memphis (Spanierman Gallery, New York).  Also during the 1890s, Pape sent works to important American exhibiting organizations including the Society of American Artists, New York; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; the Art Institute of Chicago; the National Academy of Design, New York; and the Copley Society of Boston.

By the mid-1890s, Eric Pape was living in New York City, where he was becoming well known as an artist and illustrator.  He created illustrations for many important historical and fictional books, including Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw (1898), Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Great North Road (1899), and H.G. Wells’sThe War of the Air (1908).  Pape’s illustration career complemented his interests as an artist.  While working on The Fair God, published by Houghton Mifflin & Co., he went to Mexico to research Aztec art. From his research came a great many images of historical and archaeological subjects.  Ninety-five of these works portraying the life and customs of the ancient Incas, Toltecs, and Aztecs were shown at the Pan-American Exposition at the Palace of Ethnology and Archaeology in Buffalo in 1901.  Pape was equally successful in showing his paintings at this time.  An exhibition of his works was held in New York at the Keppel Galleries in 1894.  Four years later, New York’s Aldine Association presented a collection of twelve of his canvases.  In 1900, two shows of Pape’s art were held, at the St. Louis Art Museum and the Detroit Museum of Art.

In 1898, Pape founded the Eric Pape School of Art in Boston, which became one of the largest art schools in the country.  Many well known artists received instruction at the school, which remained in operation until 1913. Pape had a home on Cape Ann toward the end of his life, residing at Manchester-by-the-Sea.

Eric Pape’s subject matter was diverse. In his landscapes and genre scenes, Pape used a fluid, painterly style, demonstrating a consciousness of tone and a refined sense of design.  Regina Armstrong described Pape’s approach to painting by writing that “the arresting quality of human appeal seems inevitable in the scenes where Nature has furnished [Pape] but a transient mood . . . he has captured it with no other thought than the passing grace of the moment and to portray it in its own presentation of scene.”[1]

Eric Pape belonged to many prestigious organizations and received many awards over the course of his career.  He a member of the Society of Arts, London; the Players Club, New York; the North British Academy; and the United Arts Club, London.

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