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. . under [Folinsbee's] brush subjects that would not rise above the commonplace with lesser artist become beautiful and powerful. . . . -Peyton Boswell, 1922
John Folinsbee came to New Hope in 1916 at the suggestion of tonalist painter Birge Harrison. He and his wife, Ruth, helped to found the Phillips Mill Community Association in 1929. Primarily known as a landscape painter, he also did portraits. His early impressionist landscapes employ light colors. Following a 1926 trip to France, Folinsbee began to use darker, brooding colors, and his work became more expressionist in approach. Known for his paintings of shad fish along the Delaware River in Lambertville, the painter also depicted the factories around his home and the Maine seacoast.
At the age of 14, Folinsbee was stricken by polio while swimming and very shortly thereafter, his older brother was killed in a diving accident. These two tragic events deeply influenced Folinsbee's way of depicting bodies of water. In his paintings, the water has a deep, moving and powerful quality.
Known for his paintings of shad fish along the Delaware River in Lambertville, the painter also depicted the towns, shorelines, factories and countryside around his home in Bucks County and the Maine seacoast.
John Folinsbee, photograph of Peter A. Juley and Son, James A. Michener Art Museum library
Maine was a whole new world to paint. There was the sharpness in the air. There was the clear light, the unspoiled landscape. . . . the rocks and pines and islands, and bay waters with twelve-foot tides. And finally, there was the sea. It was an exciting change from the steamy summer somnolence of the Delaware valley between the river and the no-longer-used canal. -Peter Cook, John Folinsbee, 1994
Many of the Impressionist painters from the New Hope area traveled to Maine in the summer. In the early decades of the twentieth century, a trip to Maine was a long and arduous journey and required days of preparation, as well as a two-day journey, with stopovers along the way. Several of the painters, such as Edward Redfield and Fern I. Coppedge, chose Monhegan Island as their summer retreat.
Beginning in 1935, Ruth and Jack Folinsbee summered regularly in Maine. They first went to Montsweag, where Ruth's mother had rented a house. Then in 1950 (1949?), they bought a house at Murphy's Corner, where he painted for the next twenty summers. Exposure to the rugged coast and the dark, cold seas opened up a new area of interest for Folinsbee, and he began to paint seascapes. Usually dark and ominous, his seascapes were also influenced by the two tragic events of his childhood, both associated with water: His brother drowned after diving into shallow water, and a week later, he was stricken with polio while swimming, leaving him permanently wheelchair-bound.
When Folinsbee won the Palmer Marine Prize at the National Academy of Design in 1951, he stated, "Now that I've won a marine prize, I might as well become a marine painter."
Jack Folinsbee family and friends, National Academy of Design, May, 1965, photo gift by Peggy Lewis, James A. Michener Art Museum archives
It [the Woodstock School] was training that supplied energy, credibility, and mood to his work at ever stage of his career. -Peter Cook, John Folinsbee, 1994
Inspired by a copy of Birge Harrison's Landscape Painting, given to him by then-girlfriend Ruth, Folinsbee enrolled in 1912 at the Art Students League Summer School at Woodstock, New York. Harrison directed the school, and taught there, emphasizing a tonalist approach. He dictated to students, "Get the value right and the color will take care of itself." From Harrison's teaching, as well as that of John Carlson, Folinsbee learned to construct paintings with a solid and dynamic structure, based on the use of light and dark. At Woodstock, Folinsbee met Scotsman Harry Leith-Ross, with whom he maintained a life-long friendship. As part of weekly critiques of students' work, instructors awarded the best work a place of honor. By the end of the summer, Folinsbee and Leith-Ross tied for the highest number of those awards, but Folinsbee won the overall first prize (earning him $25) at the final Summer Concours.
John Folinsbee, High River, n.d., oil, 24x30, courtesy of The Newman Galleries
Education and Training
The Gunnery School, Connecticut, 1907-1911
Art Students League Summer School, Woodstock, New York, 1912
Teachers and Influences
Birge Harrison, John Carlson, Frank Vincent DuMond, Robert Spencer;
Giotto, Masaccio, El Greco, Paul Cezanne, George Bellows, George Luks
Connection to Bucks County
John Folinsbee lived in New Hope from 1916 to 1972. He and his wife, Ruth, moved to New Hope upon the suggestion of Birge Harrison, who had several friends in the flourishing artists' colony. Ruth Folinsbee was involved with the founding of the Philips Mill Art Association, which brought people together for art exhibitions, theater performances, and social gatherings. She also was one of the original subscribers and stockholders of the Bucks County Playhouse in 1939. John Folinsbee chaired the Art Committee for the Philips Mill Association in 1930.
Colleagues and Affiliations
Along with Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber, Lloyd R. Ney, and writer Henry Chapin, John Folinsbee formed the New Hope Scientific Society, a social group which gathered for evening games of poker. Harry Leith-Ross was a close friend from his Woodstock School days, who acted as best man at Folinsbee's marriage to Ruth Baldwin on October 10, 1914. Other colleagues in New Hope included William Lathrop and Robert Spencer. Folinsbee was very close to his son-in-law, Peter G. Cook, also a fine artist.
Major Solo Exhibitions:
Playhouse Galleries, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1953
Richard Stuart Gallery, Pipersville, Pennsylvania, 1981
New Jersey State Museum, New Jersey, 1981-82
James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 1995
Major Group Exhibitions:
National Academy of Design, New York, New York, annually from 1913
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1915-19, 1921-46, 1949, 1952
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1916, 1919, 1921, 1923, 1926, 1928, 1930, 1932, 1935, 1937, 1939, 1941, 1943, 1945, 1951
The Pennsylvania Impressionists: Painters of the New Hope School, James A. Michener Arts Center, Doylestown, Pennsylvania,1990
The Lenfest Exhibition of Pennsylvania Impressionism, James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2001 -
Objects of Desire: Treasures from Private Collections, James A. Michener Art Museum, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 2005 - 2006
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Everson Museum, Syracuse, New York
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
Third Hallgarten Prize, National Academy of Design, 1916
Bronze Medal, Philadelphia Sesquicentennial, 1926
Bronze Medal, Corcoran Gallery, 1921
Sesnan Gold Medal, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1931
Second Altman Prize, National Academy of Design, 1936
First Altman Prize, National Academy of Design, 1941, 1950
Edwin Palmer Marine Prize, National Academy of Design, 1952
Affiliations and Memberships:
Phillips Mill Community Association
National Academy of Design, New York, 1965