William Wallace Gilchrist gained notoriety as a portrait painter who captured introspective moments of stillness in his subjects. His genre and landscape scenes, too, excelled in creating serene and deeply personal images of his surroundings. Gilchrist commonly used family members as models, capturing the idyllic calm of a home environment. He expressed a deep desire to preserve cherished everyday events for future generations.
Gilchrist, born 1879, was raised in a prominent family in Philadelphia. He was the son of the celebrated composer William Wallace Gilchrist, Sr. Showing artistic talent from an early age, Gilchrist excelled in working with watercolors. During summer vacations in Prout’s Neck, Maine, he had the exceptional privilege of visiting with Winslow Homer, who offered guidance and critiques of his work. Gilchrist pursued his formal studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, studying with Cecilia Beaux, Thomas Anshutz, and William Merritt Chase. He then continued his education abroad, with four years spent in Munich, Paris, and London.
As an established painter in Philadelphia, Gilchrist kept company with William Merritt Chase, Maurice Prendergast, and Charles Burchfield. He was a member of the Philadelphia Art Club, the Fellowship of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Watercolor Club, and the Salmagundi Club. He was awarded the Third Hallgarten Prize from the National Academy of Design in 1908, followed by a gold medal from the Washington, D.C. Society of Artists in 1914, and a silver medal at the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial Exposition of 1926. His work drew high praise at the Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915 in San Francisco, leading to numerous postcards and reproductions.
Major exhibitions of his work were held at the Portland Museum of Art in 1917, and at Bowdoin College following his death in 1926. His work remains distinctive in its deep reverence for quotidian domestic scenes, portrayed with exceptional tranquility and optimism.
Written by Zenobia Grant Wingate