1903 - 1959
Although John Whorf was a competent post-impressionist oil painter, he is considered one of the finest American watercolorists from the Early 20th Century. His realistic depictions of urban and rural life done in a luminous painterly style are often compared to John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer.
Whorf, born in Winthrop, Massachusetts, in 1903, received his initial exposure to art from his father, Harry C. Whorf, a commercial artist and graphic designer. He was simultaneously enrolled at the St. Botolph Studio and the Boston Museum School as a teenager, and in the summer of 1917 or 1918, he studied in Provincetown with Charles W. Hawthorne.
Whorf is descended from a long line of Cape Cod ship captains, and the Cape landscape had a deep effect on him. Whorf would return to render it continuously throughout his life. He was an active member of the Provincetown art colony, and he moved there permanently later in life. He died there in 1959.
His first solo exhibit, at the Grace Horne Gallery in Boston in 1924, was extremely well received by Boston art collectors and the press. John Singer Sargent purchased a watercolor from Whorf, then proceeded to give the young artist informal instruction.
He continued to be commercially successful throughout his career, including during the Depression years when Whorf was one of the few artists still able to sell his pieces. He received countless awards throughout his career, and his work is in the collections of many major museums including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Art Institute in Chicago.
Although he began by painting oils, Whorf turned increasingly toward watercolors, which he felt better suited his expressive and aesthetic interests. He developed a confident yet spontaneous method of applying paint, interspersing sparkling transparent washes with areas of deep opaque color.
Last updated: August 19, 2012