John Fulton Folinsbee ( Born in March 14, 1892, Buffalo, New York (state) – Dead May 10, 1972, New Hope, Pennsylvania), was an American landscape painter and member of the art colony at New Hope, Pennsylvania. He is refers to the school of American impressionism, whose center was located in New Hope. Particularly revered and explored the work of Paul Cézanne. Later gradually evolved towards realism and modernism. He is best known today for his impressionist scenes of New Hope and Lambertville, New Jersey, particularly the factories, quarries, and canals along the Delaware River.
He was born in Buffalo, New York, the middle son of Harrison and Louise Mauger Folinsbee.Beginning at age nine, he attended children’s classes at the Art Students’ League of Buffalo, but received his first formal training with the landscape painter Jonas Lie in 1907.Folinsbee contracted polio at age 14, which rendered his legs useless, weakened his right arm, and left him permanently wheelchair-bound. He attended The Gunnery, a boarding school in Washington, Connecticut, from 1907 to 1911, where he studied with Elizabeth Kempton and Herbert Faulkner.He later studied with Birge Harrison and John Carlson at the Woodstock art colony (summers, 1912–1914),30 and with Frank Vincent DuMond at the Art Students League of New York.
At Woodstock, he met Harry (Tony) Leith-Ross, who became a lifelong friend and later followed him to New Hope. In 1914, Folinsbee married Ruth Baldwin (August 8, 1890 – February 13, 1991) – daughter of William H. Baldwin, Jr. and Ruth Standish Baldwin – whom he had met in Washington, Connecticut. The couple moved to New Hope in 1916, and had two daughters, Beth and Joan.
Early in his career, Folinsbee painted in a tonalist style, with an interest in light and atmosphere that grew directly from his time with Harrison and Carlson in Woodstock. By the late nineteen-teens, he had moved away from tonalism into a more structured, impressionist style. In the mid-1920s, Folinsbee began studying the work of Cézanne, which led to a trip to France in the summer of 1926. The paintings that resulted from this trip, and those that followed later in the decade, reflect a deep understanding of Cézanne’s compositional strategies and a desire to reveal the underlying structure of forms. Folinsbee’s exploration of structure led eventually to an analytical, highly individual expressionist style in which he painted for the remainder of his career. His palette darkened, his brushstrokes loosened further, and his sense of light and atmosphere became more dramatic. These later works are concerned with conveying a sense of mood and an intense emotional response to the world around him.
Folinsbee painted en plein air, directly from nature, and always had a sketchbook or a box of 8 x 10 inch canvasboards with him, ready to capture any scene that caught his eye.He and Leith-Ross were famous for spending afternoons sketching on the bridge at New Hope (and for tossing anything that displeased them into the Delaware River). n.24 Folinsbee could handle “paintings as large as 24 X 30” from his wheelchair.Larger works were painted in his studio from drawings and oil sketches. He frequently repeated the same scene on different sizes of canvas, or as an etching or lithograph.To paint a large work, he would lean a canvas against the studio wall and sit on the floor before it, his withered legs tucked under him.Relying on notes made on the spot about color and light, he would edit the scene as he painted, emphasizing or eliminating elements to enhance the overall mood.”The larger studio paintings were never simply blown-up versions of a successful small painting: rather they were developments of a theme along expressive lines, with memory and emotional reaction playing an important role.
The Folinsbees purchased an acre of riverfront land about a quarter-mile upstream from the bridge, across the street from the house they were renting. In 1924, they hired architect (and landscape painter) Morgan Colt to design them an Arts & Crafts-style house and studio. Folinsbee painted dozens of views of the river from the property – most notably Winter Nocturne (1926), River Ice (c.1936), and his last major work, Zero Morning (1970) – and some views of the house itself. They lived at 160 North Main Street until their deaths.
In 1929, the Folinsbees were among the founders of Phillips’ Mill, an arts center housed in a former grist mill, and Ruth Folinsbee served as the first vice-president of its community association.He participated in art exhibitions there from 1929 into the 1960s. His Shag Ledge (c.1959) was awarded the 1963 First Patron’s Prize by Phillips’ Mill. The Folinsbees were also founding members of the Bucks County Playhouse.
The Great Depression dealt a heavy blow to artists, with little market for luxury goods such as landscape paintings. Folinsbee resorted to bartering his works for services, including dentistry for his daughters.Portraits – for which he typically charged $400 to $500 for a head-and-bust and $1,000 for a three-quarter-length, n.3 – became a larger part of his output.Edward Beatty Rowan, assistant chief of the Public Buildings Administration’s Section of Painting and Sculpture, offered him a commission for a post office mural in Freeland, Pennsylvania.Completed in 1938, Folinsbee’s mural is both pastoral and industrial: depicting the town’s church spires peeking out from among the autumnal-colored hills, but also the town’s massive coal breaker and its long culm dump.
Folinsbee was also a teacher. One of his better-known students, Peter G. Cook (who married his daughter Joan in 1938), became a colleague and friend. The pair collaborated on murals for two other federal projects: the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Paducah, Kentucky (1939),100 and the post office in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania (1942).-02
In the mid-1930s, Folinsbee and his family began spending their summers in Maine. He bought a farmhouse at Murphy’s Corner, between Bath and Wiscasset, in 1949. Despite his intense wariness of the ocean,he embarked on a new aspect of his career—as a marine painter. His Off Seguin (Ellingwood Rock) was awarded the 1952 Palmer Marine Prize by the National Academy of Design. With the prize money, Folinsbee bought a 25-foot motorized Hampton dory (flat-bottomed open boat) that he named “Sketch” and equipped as a floating studio.
Folinsbee was diagnosed with cancer in the late 1960s, which further weakened his right arm. He stopped painting in 1971, and died a year later in New Hope.
Folinsbee’s work has been described as the “rural counterpart” to the Ashcan School.Critic Robert E. Baum (son of artist Walter Emerson Baum) saw in him “the power, frankness, and story-telling quality of a George Bellows or a Winslow Homer. This man sees the rhythm of beauty coupled with a color harmony in many workaday nooks that may seem ugly to the average passerby.” In Modern American Painting (1940), Peyton Boswell, Jr. placed him among the “Lyricists”—”the moody ones, dreamers and mystics,” who “work sometimes in pattern, but more often in terms of light, shadow and chiaroscuro. They use color and form for emotional rather than aesthetic reasons.”
Folinsbee was elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1919, and a full academician in 1928. He was elected a member of the Salmagundi Club in 1913, a life member of the National Arts Club in 1922,and a member of the Century Association in 1937. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1953.
Folinsbee was represented by Ferargil Gallery in New York City for most of his career, and his paintings were exhibited across the country and in several international exhibitions. He won nearly every award given by the National Academy of Design, receiving some of them multiple times. He exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts most years from 1915 to 1952, and was awarded the 1931 Jessie Sesnan Medal (for Canal and River). He also won awards from the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Salmagundi Club, and other arts organizations, including a bronze medal at the Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1926.
Folinsbee’s work is in the permanent collections of major museums, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the National Academy of Design, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. A bronze bust of him by his friend Harry Rosin is in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Folinsbee’s students included artists Peter G. Cook and Evelyn Allen Faherty.
Son-in-law Peter G. Cook wrote a personal memoir, John Folinsbee (1994). Kirsten M. Jensen, senior curator at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, is the author of Folinsbee Considered (2014), a scholarly biography and catalogue raisonné. The Michener Museum maintains an online version of the catalogue raisonné, which is updated as additional Folinsbee works are identified.