William S. Horton’s thick, luscious brushwork is more French than it is American. He secretly painted from the age of seven and when his wealthy parents destroyed his canvases and threw away his paints that did not deter his ambition to become a painter of importance.
Horton was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and grew up in Lisbon, North Dakota. During his teens, he left home to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. He then traveled to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and returned to New York City to study at the Art Students League. In 1895, he went back to Paris to study with Jean-Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant at the Academie Julian and became a close colleague of Impressionists Claude Monet, Pissarro, Whistler and Derain.
He exhibited regularly at the Paris Salon by 1914. In 1917 he painted in England and often returned to the U.S., but the artist preferred Paris and London as environs in which to live and paint.
As the art critic Henri Fritsch Estrangin said, “Horton’s work is a feast of color and light—(He) compares to Turner in his symphonic tendencies.” Like Monet, Horton painted a subject repeatedly (like snowscapes in Gstaad and Montana) in order to capture a scene’s essence in every light. Horton spent the majority of his professional life abroad and was loyal to the technical achievements of the French Impressionists. A critic of Paris Soir stated, “He has been the first American artist to educate himself with the Impressionists and to be their best disciple,” but that was not true because others had done the same prior to Horton (Tarbell, Benson, Hassam, Enneking, Robinson, Wendel).
Horton was a member of the New York Watercolor Society; Salmagundi Club; American Federation of Art; Society International; Salon d’ Automne of Paris and other art clubs, but he remained somewhat distant from clubs and exhibitions, preferring to paint in nature hours on end. In 1892 he married debutante Miss Lorrie Gray, a well-to-do member of New York Society. Having enough money to live comfortably, Horton concentrated on painting and developed an individualistic style that cannot be mistaken for anyone else’s palette. His work is energetic, vibrant and confident. When he died in London in 1936 there were more than 1,000 paintings in his studio.
His work is represented at the Musee Carnavalet, Paris; The National Museum of Stockholm; the National Museum, Washington, D.C.; Terra Museum, IL; Colby College, ME; Bradford Museum, England; Luxembourg Museum; Musee du Jeu de Paume; and more. In 1939, the Galerie Charpentier of Paris gave Horton a retrospective. His work was purchased by collectors and museums worldwide. Since that time, Knoedler’s (NY), Vose Galleries of Boston, Hammer Galleries (NY) and other art galleries have held solo exhibitions of oils, pastels and watercolors by William S. Horton.