George Fuller (January 17, 1822 – March 21, 1884) was an American figure idealist, poet and portrait painter.. Fuller’s works fullness of beauty and subtilety of impression.
George Fuller was born in 1822 on his father’s farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts. His father, Aaron Fuller, was a farmer. His mother was Aaron’s second wife, Fanny Negus of Petersham, Massachusetts. His parents were not in favor of Fuller becoming a painter. At age thirteen, he went to Boston, Massachusetts to work for a grocer, then tried selling shoes before giving up on this also and returning home. A year or so later, he went to Illinois with a survey team for the railroad, and continued working with the survey team for a couple of years. Fuller then returned home once again, entered Deerfield Academy, and began to paint in his spare time.
Initially, however, he worked for a short time as a clerk in Boston and spent several years (1837-1839) on a railroad surveying expedition in Illinois and Ohio. Returning home, he attended three terms at the Deerfield Academy before moving to Boston in 1840 to launch his career as an artist.
In 1841, his desire to paint overcame his parents’ opposition. He joined his half-brother Augustus as an itinerant painter, and enjoyed some success painting portraits in northern New York. That winter he went to Albany where he studied painting with Henry Kirke Brown for nine months. The next two winters, he studied painting with the Boston Artists’ Association, working on the family farm in the summers. In 1846 he sold A Nun at Confession for six dollars. In 1847, he enrolled in the National Academy of Design in New York. He spent most of the next ten years in New York. Some winters he spent in the southern United States painting portraits and scenes about local life. Friends included painter E.T. Billings, with whom he travelled in the south. In 1857 he was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design.
After a short, unfruitful experimentation with the daguerreotype process, Fuller became an itinerant portrait painter, traveling in upstate New York with his half-brother and aunt. In 1842 he spent several months studying in Albany with sculptor Henry Kirke Brown, a friend from Deerfield whom he had met on the surveying trip. When Brown left for Italy,
Fuller returned to Massachusetts, joining the Boston Artists’ Association in 1843. For the next five years he executed portrait commissions, dividing his time between Boston and the interior of the state.
He then moved to New York City, where he registered in the antique school of the National Academy of Design in 1848. He became an associate member of the Academy in 1853.
His years in New York and Brooklyn (to which he moved by 1852) were interrupted by occasional summer trips to Deerfield and three excursions to the southern states, where he sought portrait work and made a series of genre sketches, with particular attention to the slave population.
His father died in 1859, and he became aware that he would eventually need to return to the family farm to support his family. In January 1860 he began five month a tour of Europe with friends during which they visited London, Paris, Florence, Rome, and Venice. He married Agnes Higginson of Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1861 and brought her home to the Deerfield farm. For the next fifteen years, he worked the farm and painted in his spare time in a studio converted form a carriage house. His farm failed in 1875, and he turned to painting for his livelihood.
In the spring of 1876, the opening of his first art exhibition relaunched his career as a painter. In 1878 the National Academy exhibition included his Turkey Pasture in Kentucky and By the Wayside. The following year he sent to the Academy And She Was a Witch and The Romany Girl. He sent more pictures to the Academy in 1881 as his reputation and commercial success grew.
Fuller intended his farming career to be short, but he ended by remaining at Deerfield for fifteen years, painting little and exhibiting only infrequently. In 1875, however, the price of tobacco fell and he was forced to declare bankruptcy. Fuller’s “second” career began the next year, when he exhibited a group of paintings in Boston in an effort to recoup his financial losses.
Many of the works were sold, and by the time of his second one-person show in 1877 he was hailed as a visionary wonder, emerging from years of rural anonymity to become a force in a new school of poetic, ruminant painting having little to do with his previous straightforward naturalism. Fuller’s new canvases took as their subjects idealized female figures, bleak rural landscapes, and vaguely historical Puritan themes.
In 1878, Fuller showed the oil painting, Reapers Resting, as his first exhibited at the Boston Art Club. Subsequently at the Boston Art Club, he exhibited one oil painting, Head, in 1880; one oil painting, Portrait of Miss A___ in 1881; three oil paintings: Study Head, Portrait of Miss F., and Maidenhood, at the 1882 Boston Art Club exhibition; and the final oil painting he exhibited at the Club, Portrait of Miss C., was January 19–February 16, 1884.
His work continued to enjoy success until his death March 21, 1884, of pneumonia. A memorial exhibition of his works was held at the Boston Museum of the Fine Arts in 1884.
Examples of Fuller’s artwork reside in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.