Ernest Lee Major
“Hydrangea and Silver Pitcher”
Oil on canvas; 18 x 22 inches
Signed and dated upper left
Born in Washington, D.C. in 1864, Ernest Lee Major immersed himself into the Boston milieu that orbited around Edmund Charles Tarbell (1862-1938) and Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951). After finishing his education at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in the early 1880s, he was studying under William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) at the Art Students League in New York City. At the age of twenty-one, Major was the first to win the Hallgarten Art Scholarship, which at that time included travel expenses for study in Europe. Major joined the burgeoning ranks of American expatriate artists, most of whom were trained at the Académie Julian in Paris, and he was one of the many American students of Gustave Boulanger (1824-1888) and Jules Lefebvre (1836-1911). Serious about becoming a self-supporting professional painter, Major made his debut in 1886 when he exhibited a landscape at the Paris Salon. Eight drawings in the Salon of 1887 proved Major’s skill in draftsmanship. In the following year, he showed Sainte-Geneviève in the Paris Salon.
In 1888, Major returned to Boston when he resumed his career as a teacher at the Cowles Art School. While teaching at Cowles, his work was seen in exhibitions at the Jordan Marsh Art Gallery and the Boston Art Club. Adhering to classical academicism in his subjects, in 1890 Major sent a painting entitled Diana, Huntress to the Art Institute of Chicago. Major spent most of his non-teaching hours at the famous Fenway Studios in Boston, while during the summers he worked outdoors at Tamworth, New Hampshire. The painter became a regular participant in most large annual exhibitions in Boston, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. His subjects were diverse and included genre, still lifes and landscapes.