Benson’s First Painting of His Favorite Model

“My Little Girl” currently for sale

Frank W. Benson once said that he was delighted when his “home grown models” began to arrive.  Of his four children, his oldest Eleanor was the child he used most often as a model.  There exist at least 16 paintings of her.  This is the only one that is a true portrait. Except for three exhibitions it has never left family walls.

Oil on canvas, 44  l/2″x  36 “

Signed and dated lower left, Frank W. Benson 1895

Condition:  Excellent.  Framed in a simple, gilded frame.


Frank W. Benson to his daughter Eleanor Benson Lawson

Eleanor Benson Lawson to her daughter Joan

Joan Lawson to her daughter Ellen


Boston Art Club, January 1896, No. 39. This painting won third prize at the

PennsylvaniaAcademy of Fine Arts, 1896. This was one of five paintings that Mr.  Benson hung at the Academy’s annual exhibition.

CincinnatiArt Museum, 1896.  This is one of two paintings that Mr. Benson hung at this exhibition. 

Frank W. Benson: A Retrospective. Berry-Hill Galleries, New York 1989.


Faith Andrews Bedford, Bruce Chambers and Susan Faxon. Frank W. Benson: A Retrospective. New York: Berry-Hill Galleries, l989. Illustrated, Plate 9.

Faith Andrews Bedford. Frank W. Benson: American Impressionist. New York: Rizzoli, 1994. Illustrated p. 68, Plate 36.

The Boston Art Club show was always the first show of the art exhibition calendar.  In January 1896, its jury awarded Frank W. Benson third prize for his charming portrait of his oldest child, Eleanor.  The critics loved this charming portrait “of a child dressed in white.   She is perched on a cricket and a jolly little cat sits beside her”  The painting  has not left the family’s walls since an exhibition in 1896.

Benson could keep to himself neither his joy at winning with a picture of his five-year-old daughter, nor his relief at receiving the third prize of $1,000.  The day of the award he wrote to J. Alden Weir, that their mutual friend, Frank Duveneck (who was one of the jurors) had taken him out for “a few whiskies” and told him of the good news.  Benson congratulated Weir on taking the first prize.  “I was never so glad to hear that anyone had taken a prize as when I heard that you had the $2,500,” he wrote. “Truly  old man  I congratulate you with all my heart and I hope  you  take  as  much  satisfaction  in it as I do mine . . . I never needed it so much in my life. . .”

Benson’s income as an instructor at the Museum of Fine Arts School was not large. Although he had gained a strong reputation as a portraitist and was selling some of his studio works, his expanding family was outgrowing their small house near Salem’s harbor.   By the time Benson exhibited this painting of his first child he and his wife Ellen had two other children: a daughter, Elisabeth and a son George (whose portrait, “My Little Boy,” hung beside the one of his sister at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts exhibit in Philadelphia just a few weeks after the Boston Art Club Show closed).  The Bensons’ last child, Sylvia, was born two years after this portrait of her sister was first shown.

Eleanor, was the favorite of what Benson liked to call his “homegrown models.” He portrayed her in at least sixteen paintings, both studio works and en plein air.  With her sisters, she posed for their father’s famous Impressionist depictions of them on the breezy hillsides or sun dappled forests of North Haven Island, Maine, where the Bensons spent their summers at their home Wooster Farm. Her father captured her reading in the garden or sitting on a fence by the apple orchard.  He depicted her in a veiled hat, working on a bit of embroidery or waving at sailboats racing in the waters just off their dock.  In his studio in Boston, Benson painted Eleanor reading to Elisbeth.  In the family’s stately home on Salem’s Washington Square, she and Sylvia are shown in an elegant dining room, setting the table for a formal dinner.

Ellen Perry Peirson Benson with brother George, age about eight months and Eleanor, age three

At last “My Little Girl” grew up.  Her father’s last painting of her shows Eleanor sitting on a garden bench with her first baby, a son whom she named Frank Benson Lawson.  Fifteen years later, Eleanor’s father began teaching her to paint.  Her sensitive portraits and sparkling landscapes show that she learned her lessons well.

i    Boston Herald, Sunday, January 11, 1896. 

ii  Frank W. Benson to J. Alden Weir, 10 January 1896. Weir Papers