Born in Washington, DC in 1864, Ernest Major studied under William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League in New York City. Major joined the burgeoning ranks of American expatriate artists, most of whom were trained at the Académie Julian in Paris, and he was one of the many American students of Boulanger and Lefebvre. Major made his debut in 1886 when he exhibited a landscape at the Paris Salon (his works would appear there through 1889). In the following year, he showed Sainte-Geneviève in the Salon and shipped two works to New York for the NAD exhibition.
In 1888, Major returned to Boston when he resumed his career as a teacher at the Cowles Art School. While teaching at Cowles, as Dennis Miller Bunker’s replacement, his work was seen in exhibitions at the Jordan Marsh Art Gallery and the Boston Art Club. By 1896, he was teaching at the Massachusetts Normal Art School where Robert Vonnoh had studied twenty years earlier. Here in this bastion of art conservatism, Major remained, teaching the basics of art, drawing, and painting.
Major spent most of his non-teaching hours at the famous Fenway Studios in Boston, while during the summers he worked en plein air at Tamworth, New Hampshire. The painter became a regular participant in most large annual exhibitions in Boston, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston also has Marion Pond, 1903, a portrait of a slightly anxious, seated little girl, and the striking Miss F. (ca. 1910), a seated woman who holds an open fan. In 1915 at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, Major was awarded a silver medal for Blonde in Blue and two years later he received the Bok Prize from the PAFA. Major’s charming style offended no one and pleased many and his well planned manner exuded the basics of sound draftsmanship along with a noticeable manipulation of pigment. His subjects were relatively diversified including portraits, genre, still-life, and some landscapes. Major also excelled in the medium of pastel. He died in Boston in 1950.