Benjamin Foster’s (1852-1926) painting specialty was bucolic scenes of the New England countryside. His style was predominantly Tonalist with subdued colors and limited tones—almost exclusively autumn colors, muted browns, grays and rusts. In Tonalist tradition, he completed most of his paintings, both oil and watercolor, in his studio and not on location, en plein air.
Foster was born in North Anson, Maine, where he spent his childhood, along with his artist brother, Charles Foster. For financial reasons, he did not begin an art career until he was almost age thirty. In 1870, he settled in New York City, and took a mercantile job to support art training. He attended the Art Students League in New York City, and studied privately with Abbott Thayer, whose influence on Foster was the painting of floral still life.
In 1886, like many American artists, he went to Paris. He traveled with Leonard Ochtman and Charles Warren Eaton, with whom he had been sharing a New York studio at 9 East 17th Street. In Paris, he studied with Aime Morot, Luc Oliver Merson, and Harry Thompson and exhibited paintings at the Paris Salon. He also went to the French countryside including Barbizon where he did pastoral paintings.
Foster returned to America in 1887, and lived both in Manhattan and Cornwall Hollow, Connecticut, where he had a country home. Most of his landscape painting was of that area. He sought out “intimate corners of his environment—usually tree-lined ponds, fields, and woodlands—that he liked to depict at contemplative times of day, such as dawn or dusk, and during intermediary times of year.” (Lowrey, “Ben Foster, The Poetic Vision: American Tonalism, p. 134)
In addition to painting, he wrote art reviews for the New York Evening Post and the Nation. He was a member of the National Arts Club, National Academy of Design, New York Water Color Society, National Water Color Society, Lotos Club, California Art Club and Society of Men Who Paint the Far West.
He died in New York City. Upon his death, the National Arts Club released a memorial notice that described Benjamin Foster as “the ideal type of artist . . . ardent in seeking deeper meanings, but indifferent to the casual and popular.” (Lowrey, 134).