(American, 1856 - 1934)

Canal in Venice

Oil on canvas, 20 7/8 x 15 inches
REFERENCE: Robert Wilson Torchia, The Gilmans (Philadelphia: Schwarz Gallery, 1996)

The architecture and the presence of the gondola pole in the center foreground suggest that this scene represents a canal in an obscure section of Venice. While the majority of American artists painted colorful and idealized views of the city’s tourist attractions, Gilman followed the examples of Whistler and Sargent, who chose their subjects from its dilapidated, working-class neighborhoods. Here the artist was concerned with capturing the effect of the strong afternoon sun on the picturesque old buildings and the surface of the canal. The uppermost sections of the buildings are brilliantly illuminated, creating a contrast with the shadowy areas below. This painting resembles the work of Telemaco Signorini (1835-1901) and Silvestro Lega (1826-1895), who were associated with the group of Italian painters known as the Macchiaioli.

About the Artist

(American, 1856 - 1934)

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 were 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.

The couple returned to Philadelphia by November 1882 and began to exhibit regularly at the  Academy. Although surprisingly little information on the Gilmans survives, evidence suggests 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