Spring Selection; March 2006

Benjamin Ferris Gilman
(American, 18561934)
Roses, 1889

Oil on canvas, 22 1/8 × 13 inches
Signed and dated at lower right: B. F. Gilman 89

Benjamin Ferris Gilman was a native of New York whose mother, Julia Ferris Gilman (died 1923), had taught elementary drawing classes at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now the Moore College of Art). In 1877 he enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where he met his future wife, Claudine Scott (1853-1901) of Steubenville, Ohio. Shortly after the couple was married in 1878, they went to Paris to study. Benjamin entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he worked under Henri Lehmann (1819-1882), Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), and Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889), and exhibited at the Paris Salon between 1880 and 1882. Barred from the Ecole because she was a woman, Claudine attended the private atelier Académie Julian and eventually became a pupil of Carolus-Duran (1838-1917), one of the few private instructors in Paris who accepted women, and of his colleague Jean-Jacques Henner (1829-1905). During the summers the Gilmans went on painting trips to the Barbizon area, Brittany, and Normandy, all picturesque regions that were popular among artists.1

The couple returned to Philadelphia by November 1882 and began to exhibit regularly at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Although surprisingly little information on the Gilmans survives, they were significant figures in the history of late nineteenth-century Philadelphia still life painting. Benjamin became a portraitist and floral still-life painter, exhibiting at the Academy until 1900. Little is known of his later life other than that he painted landscapes in northern Italy in 1920. Claudine (who signed her paintings "Claude") became a specialist in floral still lifes.2 Perhaps occupied with raising her two daughters, she no longer contributed to the Academy's exhibitions after 1891. The Gilmans may have chosen to concentrate on floral still lifes because Philadelphia was an active horticultural center during the Victorian era when flowers were popular subjects that were thought to communicate various moral, religious, and sentimental messages.3

—Robert Wilson Torchia


1. See David Sellin, Americans in Brittany and Normandy, 1860 1910 [exh. cat. Phoenix Art Museum] (Phoenix, 1982).

2. She was described as a “flower painter” in Cyclopedia of Painters and Paintings, ed. John Denison Champlin, Jr. (New York and London, 1888), vol. 2, p. 138.

3. For a discussion of flower typology see Beverly Seaton, “Considering the Lillies: Ruskin’s ‘Proserpina’ and Other Victorian Flower Books,” Victorian Studies vol. 28 (Winter 1985), pp. 255 82.

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