William Preston Phelps (1848-1923), Rabbit Hunters, Oil on canvas, Dimensions: 12 x 21 ½ inches,actual; 19 ½ x 29 ½ inches, framed in a gilt frame, Signed lower right: WP Phelps, Provenance: Vose Galleries, Boston.
Known as a painter of New Hampshire scenes, William Preston Phelps was born in Dublin, New Hampshire, in 1848. After beginning his career as a sign painter, he opened a studio in Lowell, Massachusetts, where he held a successful exhibition of his work in 1875. Several of his patrons raised money for him to travel to Europe, where he studied in Munich from 1875 to 1880 and then in Paris until 1882. Aside from a trip to the Grand Canyon in 1886, he spent the remainder of the 1880s painting in Lowell and moved back to New Hampshire permanently in 1889. Phelps rediscovered the landscape of his childhood and devoted himself to it, painting many views of Mount Monadnock in the White Mountains.
Rabbit Hunters presents the viewer with a conference in the woods: the standing gentleman holding a rifle has just shot a rabbit, which the crouching figure has retrieved for him. A black dog, which flushed out the rabbit for the hunter to shoot, lies beside them in contentment. The cloudy fall day suits Phelps’ Munich-influenced palette of tans, grays, and dark greens, but he interrupts this color scheme with the prominent orange leaves of a single deciduous tree against a row of evergreens. The composition obscures the view into the distance, where a hill rises from the banks of a river, in order to focus on the plastic shapes in the foreground created by Phelps’ painterly technique.
Phelps exhibited at the Boston Art Club in 1878 and 1884, National Academy of Design in 1878 and 1880, and the International Exhibition at Glass Place, Munich. His work is found in private collections as well as in the New Hampshire Historical Society, Shelburne Museum, Vermont; Whistler House Museum of Art, Lowell, Massachusetts; and the Keene Public Library, New Hampshire.
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