Preparing for the Matinee

Edmund Charles Tarbell (American, 1862-1938)

Currently on View in K208
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  • Tarbell used Impressionist brushwork to lend texture to the model’s feathered hat and elegant blouse, but showed off his fine drawing skills in the softer approach to her hands and face. He belonged to the Boston School of painters, artists who combined Impressionistic technique with an approach to figure painting that prized technical skill and traditional notions of beauty.
  • The picture at the upper right of the canvas reveals one of Tarbell’s major influences. It is the corner of a painting by the seventeenth-century Dutch artist Jan Vermeer, who was renowned for quiet interior scenes. Rediscovered by artists in the early twentieth century, Vermeer had a significant influence on the Boston School painters.
Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

This lady, concentrating on adjusting her hat with a pearl-tipped hatpin, is typical of Edmund Tarbell's refined, everyday subjects. Like Frank Benson, Tarbell belonged to the Boston School, which flourished during the early decades of the 20th century. These painters were renowned for their pictures of young women engaged in sedentary and often solitary domestic activities, or posed in sunlit outdoor settings. In his interior compositions, Tarbell concentrated upon the insular world of upper-class women, depicting them in an austere but elegant manner, attired in the latest fashions.

The passages of loose, energetic brushwork in her blouse and hair display the spontaneity that Tarbell brought to his outdoor Impressionist paintings. Artists of the Boston School explored aspects of texture, which can be seen in the handling of the creases in the woman's blouse and the feathers on her hat. Tarbell's expert drawing technique is evident in the rendering of the sitter's arm and the handling of her facial features. Like many painters of the Boston School, Tarbell was influenced by the paintings of the 17th-century Dutch artist Jan Vermeer, whose works were rediscovered in the mid-19th century. In fact, a corner of one of Vermeer's paintings appears at the upper right of Tarbell's elegant interior as a tribute to this Dutch master.

[Boston School artists] are more interested in the rendering of beauty than of fact.
-Artist and critic Guy Pène Du Bois, 1915

Curatorial Summary

Edmund Tarbell was born in West Groton, Massachusetts, in 1862, and studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He traveled to Paris in 1884, where he studied at the Académie Julian with fellow artist Frank Benson. In 1889, Tarbell began teaching painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he taught for 24 years. It was during this time that he started focusing on painting studies of genteel women enjoying leisure activities. Tarbell was the leader of the Boston School, a group of artists who primarily painted women in an Impressionist manner. Other members of the group were Frank Benson, Joseph DeCamp, Phillip Leslie Hale, and William Paxton.

In 1898 Tarbell joined The Ten American Painters, a group including America’s leading Impressionist artists. The group was formed in opposition to the Society of American Artists and their overly chaotic and commercial approach to exhibitions. In 1918 Tarbell became the director of the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC, where he painted numerous portraits, including presidents Hoover and Wilson. His reputation and fame, however, rests on his interior genre scenes, which are reminiscent of the 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer.

The sitter for Preparing for the Matinee was Charlotte Barton, who lived in Boston. In preparation for her sittings, Tarbell requested that a settee and gilded mirror from his Boston studio be moved to his New Castle studio in New Hampshire. Among the letters Tarbell sent to Miss Barton were his recommendations for the trains for her to take to reach Portsmouth station, where he would meet her.


Strickler, Susan, Linda Jones Docherty, Erica E. Hirshler, and Edmund Charles Tarbell. Impressionism Transformed: The Paintings of Edmund C. Tarbell. Manchester, NH: Currier Gallery of Art, 2001.

Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, 1909 (on loan to the City Art Museum); sold by Kende Galleries, New York, New York, 04 May 1945; J. W. Young Art Gallery, Chicago, Illinois; purchased by John G. Rauch Sr., Indianapolis, Indiana; donated to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1982.

Object Information

Edmund Charles Tarbell (American, 1862-1938)
creation date
oil on canvas
45-1/2 x 35-1/2 in. (canvas)
57 x 46-1/2 x 2-1/2 in. (framed)
mark descriptions
Signed and dated lower left: Tarbell-07
accession number
credit line
Gift of Mrs. John G. Rauch, Sr.
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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