William Forsyth was born in California, Ohio, not far from Cincinnati. His early use of the family’s walls as a drawing board convinced his parents that their son need a specific space to express his creativity. When he was ten, his family moved to Versaille, Indiana and then to Indianapolis. Forsyth started his art studies with Barton Hays when he was fifteen. He earned his living painting houses with his brother and used his free time to explore his artistic talents. Forsyth became the first student in the newly established Indiana School of Art and later worked as an assistant instructor at the school. His desire for more formal training led Forsyth to follow his friend Theodore Clement Steele to Munich to study at the Royal Academy. During the summer he traveled around Europe and sent the paintings he completed during these trips home to sell at exhibitions. When Forsyth finished his studies, he stayed in Europe for another two years then returned to Indiana and set up a school in Muncie with J. Ottis Adams. After the school closed, Forsyth joined the faculty of the newly opened John Herron Art Institute where he worked from 1906 to 1933. Well into his seventies, but not prepared emotionally or financially for retirement, Forsyth took commissions from the Public Works Administration, which had been established to help artists during the Depression. In 1934 Forsyth had a heart attack and died a year later.
Ohio River Boat is one of Forsyth’s paintings produced for the Public Works of Art Project. The scene may depict the landing at Madison, Indiana. Relying on his extensive outdoor painting experience, Forsyth created the intense, humid light of a landscape painted directly from nature. His animated brushwork belies the fact that he was physically weakened by his heart attack.
Martin Krause. The Passage: Return of Indiana Painters from Germany, 1880-1905, Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1990. ISBN 00-936260-52-1