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FRANCIS E. GETTY (1860-1944) was a noted American artist known for his bucolic landscape and riverscape paintings, as well as his lithographs and pencil sketches, executed in New England and on the island of Bermuda. He was a member of the Salmagundi Club, an important early art club in New York City.

A native of Massachusetts, Getty spent his youth in Chicago, and later worked in Pittsburgh, where he married. Eventually he returned to Massachusetts with his wife and two sons, residing in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. The historical record reveals that the first display of his work at a major venue came in 1891, when his pencil sketch, The Old Whipple House, appeared in an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. The house, built in 1633 and maintained by the Ipswich (Massachusetts) Historical Society, is one of many pencil on paper and lithographic renderings Getty would create over the course of his lifetime that bore a relationship to the Colonial history of America. In 1896, another early work of his was accepted for representation in an exhibition at the Boston Art Club, a prominent regional arts association of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 

In 1904, Getty moved his family to Winchester, Massachusetts, a spacious suburban community north of Boston admired for its natural beauty, especially its waterways and open fields, which induced many artists, both amateur and professional, to relocate there. According to contemporary reports, it was not uncommon during this period to see certain local artists committing en plein air landscapes of various Winchester scenes to canvas or paper. Getty and his family lived in Winchester until the mid-1920s, with the artist forging a professional career during this time at the Forbes Lithograph Company of Chelsea, Massachusetts, rising from his position as art director to vice-president and partner over a twenty-five year span. Following his retirement, he divided his time between North Conway, New Hampshire, in the summers, and Boston and the island of Bermuda in the winters. It was during these later, more mature years that Getty created many of the pieces for which he would become known. 

Initially visiting Bermuda in 1921, Getty found this locale to be a particularly productive one for his work. He and his wife chose “The Beaches” in Somerset for their stay during the winter of 1924/25 (Royal Gazette, December 23rd 1924 p.1; March 25th 1925 p.1; they being described there as hailing from Winchester, Massachusetts). Returning for the winter of 1925/26, they again lodged at “The Beaches” (ibid, November 3rd 1925 p.8). The couple visited again in 1927, with frequent winter sojourns thereafter. Getty exhibited his work in many of the Bermuda Art Association’s annual shows, often drawing high praise from local reviewers, particularly in the late 1920s and early 1930s (ibid, March 7th and 10th 1928; March 19th and 20th 1931); his pencil drawings were singled out for their “welcome individuality” in a review of the Association’s 1932 exhibition (The Bermudian, May 1932 p.39). In the April 10th 1934 (p.1) edition of the Royal Gazette, the reviewer (appearing under the nom de plume of M.M.) noted “the absence of that fine artist, Mr. Getty.” His Old Town, St. George’s, is regarded as a handsome example of his Bermuda drawings, and the gouache rendering of Fanny Fox’s Cottage (believed to be his work) has been praised for capturing the unique patina of the walls of old Bermuda homes in the days before latex house-paint. His 1921 gouache, Pink House Bermuda, was sold at the San Rafael (California) Galleries in 1996, and in 2007, an attributed St. George’s street-scene watercolor, The Conversation, appeared on the art market; in 2011, his oil-on-canvasboard painting, Old Cottage, Probably a Bermudian View, was auctioned for an amount which reflected his growing reputation. Another highly-regarded gouache effort, Pinty Beach, is known to exist, and one of his St. George’s street-scenes graced the cover of writer/professor Hudson Strode’s book, The Story of Bermuda (New York: Random House, 1932). In 1935, Getty was accorded the honor of being invited to participate in a small-group exhibition at The Book Store in Hamilton, joining Toby Darrell, Samuel Wakeman Andrews, and Norman Black in one of the most prestigious events of that era’s Bermudian art world. 

Getty’s multi-faceted oeuvre also encompassed book illustrating; he provided the pictures for Alfred Paul Rogers’ collection of essays about rural New England life, Notes of a Countryman (Boston: Bruce Humphries, 1938), a volume much coveted by collectors. Moreover, two of his works, a lithograph and a painting (both housed in the permanent collection of the Boston Public Library), were reproduced in the well-received historical treatise, Chronicles of Old Boston: Exploring New England’s Historic Capital, by Charles Bahne (New York: Museyon Books, 2012). Other noteworthy achievements of Getty’s artistry include: the lithograph North Square, now hanging in the Boston Public Library. The area depicted was once the center of Colonial elegance, surrounded by stately trees and beautiful residences. Paul Revere’s home, constructed in 1650, appears in the lithograph: on the night of the Boston Massacre, Revere displayed patriotic captions in its upper windows; the 1927 pencil-on-paper sketch, McKean Gate, Harvard, a prime example of Getty’s skill at replicating even the most minute and subtle details of an architectural structure; the lithograph, Wayside Inn at Sudbury, a representation of a nationally significant historic landmark that has been serving travelers along the old Boston Post Road for nearly 300 years; the oil-on-canvasboard painting, The Saco, capturing a portion of the famous river in New Hampshire; the 1929 lithograph, Old North Church, a portrayal of the location from which the famous “One if by land, and two if by sea” signal is said to have been sent. This phrase is related to Paul Revere’s midnight ride of April 18, 1775, which preceded the Battles of Lexington and Concord during the American Revolution; the 1928 lithograph, House of the Seven Gables, a rendering of the legendary colonial mansion built in 1688 in Salem, Massachusetts, made famous by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel of the same name. The house is now a non-profit museum, and it and the surrounding area have been designated as a National Historic Landmark District; the 1927 lithograph, Faneuil Hall, an image of the marketplace and meeting-hall which has served Boston since 1743, and is sometimes referred to as “the cradle of liberty.” It was the site of several speeches by Samuel Adams, James Otis, and others encouraging independence from Great Britain. In 1960, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark; the 1927 lithograph, Swan Boats, Boston Public Garden, depicting the fleet of double-pontoon boats that carry passengers around a pond in Boston Public Garden. In operation since 1877, they have become a cultural icon of the city; and the 1928 lithograph, Louisberg Square, which emphasizes the small, grassy oval surrounded by a wrought iron fence around which some of Boston’s most stylish and ornate residences, built in the Greek Revival tradition, are situated. 

In the book, Rediscovering Some New England Artists, 1875-1900, by Rolf H. Kristiansen and John J. Leahy (Dedham, MA: Gardner-O’Brien Associates, 1987), local residents of Conway, New Hampshire, recalled the sight of Getty, together with his best friends, the noted landscapist William Paskell and the artist James Hunting, coming and going through the shops of town, jovially fancying themselves as gourmet cooks and trying to look the part. One local shop owner, in a play on words, nicknamed the men “The Three Musty Steers,” a moniker of which they apparently approved; the trio was known to frequent the studio of the (regionally) famous artist and past president of the Boston Art Club, Benjamin Champney, seeking advice and the distillation of knowledge from the venerable old painter, who had spent many years living and painting abroad. The daughter of the homeowners who had taken in Paskell as a boarder remembered the three artists - joined by the local parish priest, Father Eugene Belford - conversing for hours on various subjects related to art, as well as listening to opera on the radio and eating gourmet meals; they would also often congregate at Father Belford’s rectory to play bridge.

Francis E. Getty died in Boston in 1944. Three years after his death, the Winchester Public Library held an exhibition of twenty-two of his artworks, many donated by the Getty family and still owned and displayed by the library. In July 1965, the North Conway Library Association mounted an exhibition called A Century of Art in the White Mountains. A painting of Getty’s entitled New Hampshire Scenery was included in the exhibition.

The historical record reveals that Getty was a private man whose words or thoughts have not readily been captured for posterity. But on a blank page inside the first edition of the book which he illustrated, Notes of a Countryman, an inscription appears: Dated July 1, 1938, it reads, To my grandson Francis, from his Grandad. 

Written June 2016 by Brian Flon, author of "Hell's Kitchen Requiem" (2014), available as an e-book at Amazon, ITunes, and Barnes & Noble.

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