William McGregor Paxton


Paxton was a prominent figure in Boston art circles well into the twentieth century. He was a staunch traditionalist and an avatar for the ideals of the Boston School. His aesthetic was highly conservative and went hand in hand with his reverence for the work of the Old Masters, belief in the importance of long and rigorous art training, and utmost respect for the beautiful and harmonious. Paxton executed figure drawings throughout his career, and they were greatly admired by John Singer Sargent and Joseph DeCamp, among others. “"He is something",” DeCamp remarked, “"that only happens once in a while and there may not be another such for another hundred years; a real draughstman”" (quoted in Ellen Wardwell Lee, William McGregor Paxton 1869-1941 [Indiana: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1979)], p.54). The artist was always drawing with pencil, believing that it was wise to “keep in practice for his next portrait-commission” (Frederick G. Hall, “Foreword,” Drawings by William M. Paxton, N.A. [Boston: The Guild of Boston Artists, 1942], n.p.). In 1906, Paxton was appointed instructor of drawing from the Antique at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and remained in this position until 1913.

"Female Nude" dates from about 1930. During the last decade of Paxton’'s life he frequently treated the subject of the female nude in an interior, and his paintings of the nude were awarded the top prize at the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s biennial exhibitions of 1930 and 1938. In treatment and composition the drawing brings to mind his oil Two Models (1931, Location Unknown), in which he focused on the formal possibilities of the nude. Paxton was a great admirer of the art of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and "Female Nude" reflects the influence of this nineteenth-century French artist’s rigorous academic technique, and neoclassical canon of beauty and proportion. Paxton authority Ellen Wardwell Lee has noted that "“the sensitively studied curves one finds in Paxton'’s delineations of the human figure are always superimposed upon impeccably accurate forms and reveal a thorough understanding of both the underlying structure and the apparent shape. . . . Paxton never resorted to drawing by formula [and] unlike many of his contemporaries . . . knew by heart the generic forms of the human body”" (Lee, p. 54).