Thursday, April 4, 2013

Polly Thayer Starr 1904-2006

The Algerian Tunic
I first came across this painting at the Vose Galleries in Boston in 2004. I was stunned with its breathtaking color and discovered it was a self-portrait.  It eventually was sold to The Boston Museum.

Polly came from a wealthy Boston family and died at the age of 102. She was a student at the Boston Museum School during its final heydays as a seminal part of "The Boston School". This included Frank W. Benson, Edmund Tarbell, William McGregor Paxton and Joseph DeCamp. Critical classical painting skills were taught, working from casts, sight-size drawing, all the fine techniques of classical realism. By the time I reached The Boston Museum School in 1960 at the tender age of 17, all this had been discarded. We had no instructors in our figure, portrait or still-life classes. We were essentially left to express ourselves.

" I want to learn to see with my whole being, and to communicate what I experience. William Blake called it seeing through the eye rather than with the eye; instead of superimposing my own expectations on a subject, I seek what the form will reveal of essence, what the visible will tell me of the invisible. It is an effort that requires intense, prayerful attention, but if the seeing is honest and the hand is well trained, a revelation will emerge. "  Polly Thayer Star

Circles 72"x 48"
This was done in 1928 when Polly was 24 years of age.

 Polly did more than figurative work, she explored all aspects of art, landscapes, abstracts etc. She was extraordinarily well trained which flies in the face of the fear that rigorous academic training will stifle creativity. For some it may, because they are afraid to go beyond its limits- but for her it did not. Here is a site to see more of her work:

Here is a transcript of an interview with Polly from the Smithsonian. One of the most interesting parts- to me- is the discussion of the rigorous training that was expected of students at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts when she attended. There are some interesting discussions of how she tried to break out of this mold which can be quite a straightjacket. --"I didn't want to do Chinese jars and pretty kimonos, and interiors, typical Boston School" She went on to other teachers in France, New York and went to study color with Charles Webster Hawthore; and also with Abstractionist Hans Hoffman. Polly did a great deal of portraits, she describes the trials and tribulations of that genre. I have seen some of her "professor" portraits at the Wentworth Institute in Boston, whe I was attending a conference with my husband. How she got through painting those dull old grey men is beyond me. It is my impression, that because of her social strata, she felt obligated to do these and other society portraits but would have much preferred to do her own work.

May Sarton

If you want to learn more about the Boston School, I recommend this beautiful book, which I have.


Candace X. Moore said...

Wonderful post, Sharon. Thanks for all the great information. Gorgeous painting...those colors vibrate.

Sharon Knettell said...

After checking out your beautiful work, I can see why you love her.

When I first saw this work at that gallery it literally blew my socks off. This women artist deserves to be better known. There is an exquisite nude she did. I will try to find it. I cannot believe she went to the same art school I went to. I love her more adveturous stuff as well.