â€śThe Pool, Medfield,â€ť by Dennis Miller Bunker, 1889, oil. Collection the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Dennis Miller Bunker studied in New York with William Merritt Chase
and in Paris with Jean Louis GĂ©rĂ´me
. By most accounts, he was an innately talented artist who, nevertheless, lacked the wealth, confidence and social graces he needed to succeed as an artist during the Gilded Age
. He gained all of those professional assets through the efforts of friends like John Singer Sargent and Isabella Stewart Gardner
, and later from his father-in-law, the prominent merchant Alpheus H. Hardy
â€śMeadow Lands,â€ť by Dennis Miller Bunker, 1890, oil, 25 x 30. Collection the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Bunker hit his stride as a plein air landscape painter in 1889 when he began spending summers painting in Medfield, Massachusetts where he was inspired by the undramatic, peaceful aspects of the scenery. â€śYou should see the Charles river here,â€ť he wrote to a friend when describing Medfield. â€śAll very much the reverse of striking or wonderful or marvelous but very quietly winning and all wearing so very well, that I wonder what more one needs in any country.â€ť Bunker would return to Medfield in the summer and then return to Boston or New York to work on portraits of wealthy clients or to teach at the Cowles Art School
. Among his most promising students was William McGregor Paxton
(1869-1941) who, in turn, taught R.H. Ives Gammell (1893-1981).
A photograph of Bunker at work in his studio
Because he died at age 29, most likely from cerebro-spinal meningitis, Bunker was largely forgotten by the art world until Gammell began promoting his work in the 1940s and 1950s. Gammell organized two successive exhibition of Bunkerâ€™s paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
in 1943 and 1945; and then in 1953 he published an adulatory biography that served for many years as the basic source on the artist.
â€śMarsh Lands,â€ť by Dennis Miller Bunker, 1890, oil, 18 1/8 x 23 7/8. Private collection
Friends of Bunker remembered him as an earnest painter and teacher, and they often quoted a statement he reportedly made to Mrs. Gardner: â€śIt is a mistake to have only one life. As for me, I am only rehearsing in this one â€” I might be a painter if I could live again and begin afresh. We ought to be given three tries, like the baseball me.â€ť