Abbott Handerson Thayer

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Abbott Handerson Thayer (American, 1849-1921) was an American artist, teacher and naturalist. He is most recognized by his paintings of heavenly angels, landscapes, flowers, animals, graceful women and children. He was referred to as a “Soul Painter” because he often would incorporate spiritual or religious themes or symbolism into his paintings.

At the age of 18, he moved to Brooklyn, New York to study at the Brooklyn Art School and the National Academy of Design. He married at 26 and decided to move to Paris where he furthered his art at the École des Beaux-Arts. For four years he studied there with two other well known artists; Henri Lehmann and Jean-Léon Gérome. Afterwards, he moved back to New York to open his own portrait studio. While there, he became very active in the Society of American Painters and decided to start taking on apprentices.

Heartbreak struck in the early 1880’s when both of Thayer’s children unexpectedly died, just one year apart from one another. He and his wife were emotionally devestated and eventually left New York to settle in New Hampshire. After his wife’s father died in 1901, she relapsed into a deep depression and had to be confined to an asylum, where her health declined and led to her subsequent death. Thayer did eventually remarry one of their close friends and they lived the rest of their days in New Hampshire with the three remaining Thayer children. Thayer by his own admission suffered from what he called “The Abbott Pendulum” (by todays definitions ‘bi-polar disorder’) and also his frequent “Fright Fits” as he called them (panic attacks). Suffering from nervous exaustion and suicidal thoughts as a result of these mental disorders, as he grew older, he no longer was allowed to go out on his boat alone. He lived the remainder of his years with his second wife at their home in Dublin, New Hampshire. At the age of 72 Thayer became disabled by a series of strokes and quietly died in his home in 1921. Thayer is regarded as one of America’s prominent artists and many of his works are hanging in many important U.S. art collections and museums nationwide.