Edmund Tarbelll, acclaimed in the early years of the twentieth century as "the poet of domesticity," established his reputation as a painter of well-bred young women in sunlit gardens and tastefully appointed interiors. Along with Frank Benson, Joseph DeCamp, William Paxton, and other painters of the Boston School, Tarbell synthesized a wide range of cosmopolitan stylistic influences in representing the contemporary world of the elite New England culture he knew best. Josephine and Mercie, which depicts two of the artist's daughters in a sitting room of the family's summer home in New Castle, New Hampshire, was immediately praised for its "perfect rendering of values" and for "discover[ing] in familiar surroundings elements of genuine beauty."
In the years after the Civil War, New England in general and Massachusetts in particular experienced rapid social, economic, and political change that destabilized traditional hierarchies of class, gender, and ethnicity. As the **New York Times** would explain in 1917, "Interiors by Mr. Tarbell should be prized by Americans for their truthful interpretation of a singularly distinct phase of American life that can hardly survive the influences of the present century."
Tarbell was deeply rooted in the New England culture represented in his art. His ancestors had lived in Massachusetts since 1638 and he grew up and received his early artistic training in Boston. He purchased his house at New Castle, a coastal village that had once been the colonial government seat, in 1905, and immediately set about making it into the "ideal home." Enlisting his wife and children as models, Tarbell deployed the interior spaces of the house as a surrogate studio in which his family members are as artfully arranged as the furniture. Absorbed in reading and writing and dressed in white, Tarbell's daughters are perfect embodiments of the American Girl—wholesome, healthy, and literate. Their dresses, which visually rhyme with the ruffled curtains, establish a close relationship between the interior setting and the figures: the Colonial Revival interior and the girls both suggest innocence and continuity with an idealized New England Past.
lower right: Tarbell
Purchased 1909 by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.
- Copley Gallery, Boston, 1908
- Second Exhibition: Oil Paintings by Contemporary American Artists, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 8 December 1908 - 17 January 1909, no. 26.
- 104th Annual Exhibition, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 31 January -14 March 1909, no. 47.
- Ten American Painters: Thirteenth Annual Exhibition, Montross Gallery, New york, 24 March - 16 April 1910, no. 24.
- Eighteenth Annual Exhibition of American Art, Cincinnati Art Museum, 20 May - 22 July 1911, no. 1.
- Paintings by Edmund C. Tarbell, Copley Society of Boston, May 1912, no. 15.
- Ninth Annual Exhibition of Selected Paintings by American Artists, Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Albright Art Gallery, 16 May - 31 August 1914, no. 112.
- Exhibition of Paintings by Edmund C. Tarbell, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 22 January - 13 February 1916, no. 7.
- Catalogue of Paintings and Portraits by E.C. Tarbell, M. Knoedler and Company, New York, 25 February - 9 March 1918, no. 17.
- Exhibition of Paintings by Edward W. Redfield and Edmund C. Tarbell, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 25 April - 21 May 1918, no. 24.
- Exhibition of Works by the Living Artist Members of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, 13 November 1930 - 15 May 1931, no. 167.
- Frank W. Benson - Edmund C. Tarbell: Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Prints, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 16 November - 15 December 1938, no. 151.
- Life in America: A Special Loan Exhibition of Paintings Held During the Period of the New York World's Fair, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 24 April - 29 October 1939, no. 285.
- De Gustibus: An Exhibition of American Paintings Illustrating a Century of Taste and Criticism, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 9 January - 20 February 1949, no. 39.
- The American Muse: Parallel Trends in Literature and Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 4 April - 17 May 1959, no. 106.
- Centennial of Paintings by Edmund C. Tarbell, N.A. (1862-1938), National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, 8 July - 2 September 1962, no. 7.
- A Century and a Half of American Painting, Dulin Gallery of Art, Knoxville, 3 April -13 May 1963, no. 28.
- Turn of the Century America: Paintings, Graphics, Photographs, 1890-1910, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Saint Louis Art Museum; Seattle Art Museum; Oakland Art Museum, 1977-1978, no. 193.
- The United States and the Impressionist Era, San Jose Museum of Art, 17 November 1979 - 9 January 1980, unnumbered catalogue.
- Of Time and Place: American Figurative Art from the Corcoran Gallery, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Cincinnati Art Museum; San Diego Museum of Art; University of Kentucky Art Museum, Lexington; Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga; Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa; Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Des Moines Art Center; Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, 1981-1983, no. 32.
- Woman, Terra Museum of American Art, Evanston, 21 February - 22 April 1984, no checklist.
- Strokes of Genius, Dulin Gallery of Art, Knoxville, 20 MArch - 28 April 1985, no. 36.
- The Forty-fifth Biennial: The Corcoran Collections, 1907-1998, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 17 July - 29 September 1998, unnumbered checklist.
- The American Century: Art and Culture, 1900-2000, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 22 August - 5 September 1999, no checklist.
- Impressionism Transformed: The Paintings of Edmund C. Tarbell, Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester; Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington; Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, 2001-2002, unnumbered checklist.
- The Gilded Cage: Views of American Women, 1873-1921, Corcoran Gallery of Art, 13 July - 27 August 2002, unpublished checklist.
- The Impressionist Tradition in America, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 19 July 2003 - 18 October 2004, unpublished checklist.
- Figuratively Speaking: The Human Form in American Art, 1770-1950, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 20 November 2004 - 7 August 2005, unpublished checklist.
- Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte; John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, 2005-2007, checklist no. 65.
- High Society: American Portraits of the Gilded Age, Bucerius Kunst Forum, Munich, 6 June - 31 August 2008, no. 44.
- American Paintings from the Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 6 June - 18 October 2009, unpublished checklist.
- Angels and Tomboys: Girlhood in 19th Century American Art, Newark Museum; Memphis Brooks Museum of Art; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, 2012-2013, no. 21.
- American Journeys: Visions of Place, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 21 September 2013 - 28 September 2014, unpublished checklist.
- Glazer, Lee. "Edmund Charles Tarbell, Josephine and Mercie." In Corcoran Gallery of Art: American Paintings to 1945. Edited by Sarah Cash. Washington, 2011: 34-35, 196-197, 212, 276-277, repro.