Marken Island, Holland
An American painter and illustrator, George Hitchcock is best known for establishing a colony of American artists and an art school on the coast of Holland during the 1880s, with his fellow painter, Gari Melchers (1860-1932) . Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1850, Hitchcock was a descendant of the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams (ca. 1603-1683). After graduating from Brown University in 1872 and Harvard Law School in 1874, he practiced law in New York. In 1879 Hitchcock moved to Europe to begin his artistic career, first at Heatherley’s School of Fine Arts in London and then in 1882 in Paris at the Académie Julian, where he studied under Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1836-1912) and Gustave Boulanger (1824-1888). He later took classes as the Düsseldorf Academy and studied under maritime painter Hendrik Willem Mesdag (1831-1915) in The Hague before settling in Egmond aan Zee on Holland’s coast near Alkmaar in 1883 or 1884 with his wife, the former Henrietta Walker, and Melchers. Hitchcock initially focused on marine views, but by 1887 had turned his attention to Holland’s fields of flowers. His La Culture des Tulipes (Tulip Culture, 1887, private collection), using Impressionistic colors to depict a woman cutting flowers in a sunlit field, won honorable mention at the 1887 Paris Salon and awards at other exhibitions. Hitchcock went on to create a number of paintings depicting fields of flowers drenched in sunlight, such as the 1889 version of Tulip Culture on loan to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, to the to the point that he became known as a “painter of the sunlight.” In 1888 Hitchcock traveled to museums in Florence, London and Paris to study works by the Florentine painter Sandro Botticelli (1444/45-1510), leading Hitchcock to paint religious works set in contemporary landscapes, such as his Maternité (Maternity, 1889, Aberdeen [Scotland] Art Gallery & Museums) and Magnificat (Annunciation, 1894, Fredericksburg, Va., Gari Melchers Home and Studio). By the 1890s a number of American art students were coming to work under Hitchcock during summers at Egmond, where he urged them all to paint “en plein air.” In 1891 he moved inland a short distance to the village of Egmond aan den Hoef, where he bought a house which became the center of the Egmond art colony. Hitchcock fell in love with one of his students in 1903, the British painter Cecil Jay (1884-1930), who was some thirty years his junior. He left his wife Henrietta and with Jay left Egmond to take a tour of the United States. In 1905 Hitchcock divorced his wife, sold her the house in Egmond and went with Jay to Paris. They were married later that year. Hitchcock and Jay spent winters in Paris and summers in Holland. He died in 1913 on Marken, an island in Holland’s Zuider Zee north of Amsterdam. During his lifetime Hitchcock won numerous awards, winning medals at exhibitions and international expositions in Berlin, Chicago, Dresden, Munich, New York City, Paris and Vienna. He was the first American member of the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna, the first American to become an officer of the Order of Franz Josef, a knight of the French Legion of Honor, and an associate member of New York’s National Academy of Design. (TNB 3/2015) Selected bibliography: Stott, Annette and Hollis Koons McCullough. Dutch Utopia: American Artists in Holland, 1880-1914. Exhibition catalog. Savannah: Telfair Books, 2009. Stott, Annette. Holland Mania: The Unknown Dutch Period in American Art & Culture. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1998.