Distinguished painter, teacher and writer, William Starkweather, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1879. His parents immigrated to America when he was four, settling in New Haven, Connecticut.
William Starkweather, Afternoon Light, Essex, Massachusetts, 1915
After graduating from high school, William Starkweather decided to pursue a career as an artist. He initiated his studies at the Art Students' League in New York during the late 1890s. In November of 1899 he traveled to Paris where he studied at the Académie Colarossi. In January of 1900 he saw The Sad Inheritance by the Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla at the Exposition Universelle. Starkweather came away deeply inspired by Sorolla's rich color and vibrant brushwork, characteristics which had led to his being dubbed the "Spanish Sargent." Returning to New York in 1901, Starkweather settled into a small garret on Washington Square South. He supported himself and saved for a trip to Spain by teaching at a private boys' school and illustrating books. In 1903, he arrived in Seville and immediately contacted Sorolla, who agreed to take him on as his student. Starkweather worked under the Spanish master of the next three years. He was back in New York around 1906, painting landscapes and urban scenes in a style based on Sorolla's colorism and fluid technique as well as his own powerful draughtsmanship. In 1909, Sorolla came to New York to attend the opening of an exhibition of his work organized by the Hispanic Society of America. Starkweather was invited to coordinate Sorolla's American itinerary. He also lectured on his teacher's work, and Spanish art in general, and published what would be the first of many articles and essays. A year later, Starkweather was appointed an assistant curator at the Hispanic Society. As part of his work there, he traveled throughout Spain, Europe and the United States, while continuing to paint in his spare time.
Starkweather's association with the Hispanic Society ended in 1916. During the 1920s, he made a number of painting trips throughout New York State and the northeast, spending much of his time at Eastport, Maine and Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick. He also visited Italy in 1925. He continued to write about Spanish art as well as other artists whose work he admired, including Sargent, Winslow Homer and Anthony van Dyck. He also taught at several institutions including the Cooper Union School, Pratt Institute and the Trahagen School before joining the faculty at Hunter College as an instructor of watercolor painting in 1936. During this decade and the next, he continued his frequent painting trips, going as far north as the Magdalen islands in Quebec. He also produced many views and interiors of his home in Brooklyn Heights.
William Starkweather had many one-man shows in New York, at such venues as the Folsom Galleries and the Fifteen Gallery. He also exhibited with the Society of Independent Artists, the American Water Color Society and the Allied Artists of America. He continued to work in a realist style, with much success, at a time when most American artists had turned to abstraction. In 1948, Major Edward Brown helped establish a museum dedicated to Starkweather's work. Situated at Endless Caverns in New Market, Virginia, the museum had a permanent display of Starkweather's oils and watercolors until its closure in 1976.
William Starkweather died in 1969. Examples of his work can be found in many prominent collections, including the Metropolitan Museum, the Brooklyn Museum and the Hickory (N.C.) Museum of Art. In 1988, an exhibition of his travel pictures was held at the Bertha and Karl Leubsdorf Art Gallery of Hunter College. 1
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1 See William E.B. Starkweather: The Travel Pictures (exh. cat.) (New York: Hunter College, 1988), with an essay by Anthony Panzera.