William Huston [1832-1920]
Oaks on Shelter Island, 1897.
Oil on board
9 x 12 inches
Signed and dated on verso.
WILLIAM HUSTON (June 4, 1832 – March 10, 1920)
Landscape and still life painter in oil and watercolor. Born in Pennsylvania, the son of Hannah West (1795 – 1893) and Dr. Robert Mendenhall Huston (1795 – 1864). His father was a prominent physician, served as the president of the Philadelphia Medical Society and was a professor of materia medica and therapeutics at Jefferson Medical College. In 1850 the family resided in Blockley Township, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.
The Huston family were Quakers, and it would make sense that Huston attended a Friend’s school, at least in his youth. Where he may have done his artistic training is currently a mystery. It is possible that he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, or perhaps with an already established painter working in Philadelphia.
What is clear is that his father’s death in 1864 would have provided a substantial inheritance that would allow Huston the ability to follow whatever profession he desired, regardless of its success. In 1859 he married his wife, Almira Rodgers (c. 1839 – 1930), in Philadelphia, with whom he had nine children, at least seven of whom lived to adulthood.
By the late 1860s Huston had moved his growing family to the village of Newtown, Queens County, Long Island, New York. There, he worked as an artist while his comfortable position allowed him to employ his own manservant. Though it is not exactly clear when, but certainly by the late 1870s, he had moved his large family to the village of Patchogue, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York. Located along Great South Bay, the coastal scenery made it an ideal location for an artist to work. Many of the paintings Huston completed of Long Island during this period were featured in exhibitions at the National Academy. In 1885 local papers noted that his residence was “being overhauled and painted,” and in 1888 Huston was recorded as occupying one of “the cottages of J. L. B. Norton” along Central Avenue in Patchogue.
In addition, his still life oils were gaining attention as well, including at the exhibition of ‘studies and sketches’ held in 1882 at the American Art Galleries in New York City. One reviewer who attended the exhibition noted that “William Huston sends studies of fine quality of grapes and pears…” He also contributed works to the American Art Association’s “Prize Fund Exhibitions” that began to be held regularly at the American Art Galleries. At the Fund exhibition in 1885 he showed the work “Afternoon on Long Island Sound,” which was illustrated in the catalog and sold early on in the exhibition. This painting was replaced by the work “Preparing for Market” when the exhibition traveled to Boston in 1886. At the time, his New York City studio was located at 2 West 14th Street.
The South Side Signal of Babylon, New York, remarked on Huston’s recent works in 1886: “William Huston, our local artist, has recently completed two striking oil paintings, which are to be displayed at the second exhibition of the American Art Association, to be held in New York city this month. The titles of the pictures are ‘Asking a Favor’ and ‘Aground at the Mouth of the Creek.’ The pictures are highly creditable to the artist, and we trust they will receive at least one of the prizes offered by the Association.”
At the time of the 1900 U. S. census Huston and his family are listed as residents of Cranford, Union County, New Jersey. Why the family relocated to Cranford remains unknown. Though most of his children were in their twenties and thirties by this stage, records show that almost none of them were employed (except for one son, Clinton), again an indication of family wealth, which certainly only increased upon the death of Huston’s mother in 1893.
During this period the majority of Huston’s works began depicting scenes along the New England coast, such as Sakonnet, Rhode Island (located near Newport), and the Nahant coast of Massachusetts. This seems to indicate that he was spending more time in or near those locations, possibly the majority of his summers. In addition he traveled to Maine, as was noted in New York papers in 1897, where it was reported that he and his wife “… have returned to their home in Cranford, after spending their summer near Portland, [Maine].”
In his last years, Huston exhibited at the Salmagundi Cub in New York City, where he was made a member in 1900. He and his wife moved to Dumont, Bergen County, New Jersey by 1910, where they resided with several of their children. By this point in time William Huston was listed as “artist – retired,” while at least two of his sons were finally employed.
William Huston died in Dumont, New Jersey, on Wednesday, the 10th of March 1920 at the age of eighty-seven. His death was reported in Philadelphia newspapers, which noted that the funeral would be at the “convenience of family.” While much of the rest of his family are buried in the Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, the location of Huston’s grave remains a mystery, though he may be buried near where he died in northern New Jersey.
Huston exhibited sporadically during his career, possibly due to his secure financial position, which made being a more active participant unnecessary. Most of the works that have appeared on the market have been coastal scenes either identified with Long Island or New England. In addition, a number of very fine still-lifes and at least one general landscape entitled “Winter,” which was shown at the Salmagundi Club, are known. The majority of his Long Island views appear to date between the late 1860s and the early 1890s.
The identified Long Island oils that he exhibited at the National Academy during the 1880s had very specific titles, including “Fishing Station, Great South Bay,” “Menhaden Oil Works, Great South Bay,” “On Patchogue Creek, L.I.,” “Low Tide, Great South Bay, L.I.” and “The Old Grist Mill, Patchogue, L.I.” In addition, other identified Long Island scenes are known as previously mentioned above, including a view of Jones Creek, located near Massapequa, and a view of Montauk Point. In 2006 a previously unrecorded oil titled “View of Plumb Gut, Long Island Sound, New York” was offered at auction. The title used for the painting was not inscribed in a period hand on the work, and the scene cannot be identified as this location (these types of rock formations at Plum Island are not present along the Gut), though the painting may depict “The Race” (A.K.A. “The Sluiceway”), the body of water between the eastern end of Plum Island and the western end of Great Gull Island.
Huston’s works have remained popular at galleries over the years and have been included in a number of exhibitions regarding Long Island art. In 1981 one of his paintings was chosen for inclusion in the landmark exhibition “The Long Island Landscape 1865-1914,” which was held at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, New York.
Though there are undoubtedly other exhibitions in which Huston participated, those presently known include the following: National Academy of Design, New York, NY, 1875, 1882, 1885, 1886; American Art Galleries, New York, NY, 1882, Manufacturers’ and Mechanics’ Institute Art Exhibition, Boston, MA, 1882; Brooklyn Society of Artists, Brooklyn, NY, 1883-84; American Art Association’s “Prize Fund Exhibition” at American Art Galleries, New York, NY, 1885; Southern Exposition, Louisville, KY, 1885; American Art Association, New York, NY, 1886; American Art Association’s “Prize Fund Exhibition” at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, 1886; Queens County Fair, Mineola, NY, 1890; Salmagundi Club, New York, NY, 1900-1905, 1907.
Huston’s works are known to be in the following public institutions at present: Long Island Museum of Art, History and Carriages, Stony Brook, NY. The majority of his works reside in private collections throughout the United States.