In the late 1890s Benson began to paint outdoors and over the next two decades he produced many of his most popular plein air paintings, primarily of his family at play during idyllic summers. The setting is the island of North Haven, Maine; the family rented Wooster Farm there, beginning in 1901, and later purchased it. In Calm Morning Benson depicted his three oldest children fishing over the side of a dory—Eleanor, the eldest, to the left in the stern of the boat; Elisabeth to the right; and George standing. Benson’s bright, luminous colors and long varied brush strokes give the effect of warm sun shining on the children and the inside of the boat, contrasting with the cool, quiet ocean. He skillfully captured the reflections on the stern of the boat and the deep green color of the water in its shadow. Although Benson usually composed and painted a finished oil directly on the canvas, for Calm Morning he took a more academic approach, making three oil studies which he combined into this larger work. Benson was pleased with the result, declaring it his “best out of door work.”
This text was adapted from Janet L. Comey’s entry in Impressionism Abroad: Boston and French Painting, by Erica E. Hirshler et al., exh.cat. (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005).