Oil on canvas, 11.75 x 17.5 inches / Signed lower right
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Phelps, the "Painter of Monadnock", was born on the family homestead in Chesham, New Hampshire, which is situated at the foot of Mt. Monadnock. This idyllic setting fundamentally connected Phelps to beauty of America's vast landscapes. Young Phelps was constantly drawing in his spare moments from the labors of farming. His father, who also painted houses for extra income, cognizant of the potential of additional income his son could bring the family, apprenticed his young son to Lowell, Massachusetts sign painter, Jeduthan Kittredge. Not unsurprisingly, instead of returning to Chesham, the enterprising young man, not only married the boss's daughter, but set up his own sign painting business in Lowell. Phelps began formal art training by commuting to Boston in the evenings for art lessons. His first paintings, which were landscapes, were displayed in the window of his shop. As demand for his paintings increased, he devoted more of his time to this pursuit. After an exhibit of his paintings in Lowell, some of the prominent townsmen financed a trip to Europe for him to study painting. In 1875, Phelps left his young family and traveled to Munich, Germany to study at the Munich Royal Academy, where he painted alongside William Merritt Chase and Frank Duveneck. In 1878, while back in Massachusetts, he exhibited his works at National Academy of Design (Boston) where he firmly cemented his reputation as an artist. However, the lure of the rich artistic life of Munich took him back to Germany later in 1878, this time with family in tow. Phelps studied plein air painting with Veltron and made painting excursions along the Dussel and Rhine rivers. While in Munich, he studied alongside other Lowell artists, James McNeill Whistler and David Dalhoff Neal. He was a co-founder of the Munich Art Club, along with Walter Shirlaw, David Dalhoff Neal, Frank Duveneck, and William Merritt Chase. Phelps next moved to Paris, France, where he studied with landscapists Jean-Baptiste Antoine Guillemet, and Leon-Germain Pelouse and made excursions into England, Scotland and Wales. Phelps loved Scotland painted many landscapes with native cattle. While in Europe, Phelps traveled to Italy, Venice, and the Island of Capri with his friend William Merritt Chase. Upon his return to Boston in 1882 he joined the Boston art circle and opened a studio on Tremont Street, a street that was also home to the studios of artists Benjamin Champney, John J. Enneking, and Alfred Ordway. A Later move took him to Lowell, where he was mentor to John Coggeshall. Phelps also painted there with Walter Shirlaw, who was one of the "Duveneck Boys" while in Munich in the 1870s. Phelps's final home was the the family homestead in Chesham after the death of his father in 1890, which remained his home base until his death in 1923. It was in Chesham that he fully developed his plein air technique. Phelps painted outdoors all year round and built a horse-drawn mobile shelter that he used for protection from the elements while he painted. Years earlier, he had used such a shelter while painting his well-known depiction of the Grand Canyon (now lost) during a trip out west in 1886. Phelps was fascinated by the infinite tints of white, brown and blue that he perceived in the winter landscape, believing that they required a keener eye for color than do the tints of spring or summer. One of his favorite subjects was Monadnock Brook, which he captured in many of his paintings. Phelps also painted landscapes of the Merrimack Valley. Phelps exhibited at the National Academy of Design and the Boston Art Club.