PROSPER LOUIS SENAT (1852–1925), was a significant American painter of the latter part of the 19th and first quarter of the 20th centuries. He was born on March 13, 1852 in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, the son of Louis Duval and Cecelia Wright Senat of Philadelphia. Records from the Germantown Historical Society indicate that the family was of affluent means; Senat’s maternal grandfather was an importer of china and later founded a shipping firm. When Senat was fourteen years of age his father died, leaving behind the future artist, his sister, and their mother.
Though specific information regarding Senat’s earliest formal training in art remains sketchy, he is believed to have taken classes at the National Academy of Design in New York and at the Brooklyn Art Association. Much clearer is his known matriculation at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and the South Kensington School in London. While abroad he came under the tutelage of Jean-Leon Gerome (considered to be one of the most important painters of the nineteenth century’s ‘Academic Period’), and E.L. Hampton. He also established a close relationship with the American artist, George Inness, Senior (viewed by his contemporaries as perhaps the greatest landscape painter of his time).
In 1887 Senat married Clementine Innes Gibbs, and the couple settled in both Germantown and Cape Arundel (Kennebunkport), Maine, where Senat maintained a studio in addition to a summer home. Primarily a watercolorist, he was chiefly interested in painting marine and coastal subjects, as well as landscapes. He also did some etchings. Much of his time (the Senats had no children) was spent traveling and painting in many locales around the world, including: Southern Italy, Egypt, Mexico, Jamaica, Bermuda, Belgium, England, France, Holland, Nova Scotia, and the coastlines of Cornwall and Brittany. During a stay in Jamaica in 1907, he and his wife escaped an earthquake which partially destroyed their hotel. According to one newspaper account, he responded by painting a picture and donating the proceeds of the sale ($150) to a fund for survivors. Senat also spent a good deal of time painting along the coasts of Maine, Massachusetts and New Jersey, and even traversed the country from Florida to California, residing from 1905–1910 in Pasadena, California. He is believed to have visited the Erie, Pennsylvania area at some point between 1900 and 1910, sketching waterfront scenes.
During his lifetime Senat participated in many international and national exhibitions, including the Brussels Exposition of 1880, the Naples National Exposition (1889), the Vienna National Exhibition (1893), the Columbian Exposition, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Exhibition (1877–1880, 1883, 1887, 1895), the National Academy of Design in New York Exhibition (1877–1888) and the Brooklyn Art Association Exhibition (1882–1885). He was awarded medals at exhibitions in Chicago (1893) and Atlanta (1895). He also exhibited at Boston’s Doll and Richards Gallery in the early 1890s. Many prestigious organizations counted Senat among their memberships, including the Art Club of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Society of Artists, the Artist’s Fund Society of New York, and the Salamagundi Club of New York.
Though Senat was a frequent sojourner to many foreign ports of call, the island of Bermuda appears to have been his favorite overseas venue. He is known to have visited the island as early as 1893 (perhaps earlier), becoming a regular winter visitor (and exhibitor) at the Princess Hotel in Pembroke up until his death in 1925. His paintings were most typically set in Paget, in the vicinity of Harbour Road, with its views of Hamilton Harbour and the Great Sound. Many of his Bermuda paintings have been singled out for critical acclaim, including Old Ships, St. George’s; Clearing Weather, South Shore; Sunset on the Harbour Drive; and Along the Road, Bermuda. An 1898 painting of his of a passenger-steamship at dock at Hamilton formed the basis of a poster for the Quebec Steamship Company; and, in 1988, a 1917 Senat painting of Bermuda was reproduced as a poster (also a limited-edition print) by the Masterworks Heritage Committee. He is considered by many to have added considerable luster to the island at a time when it was establishing itself as a leading resort and artist’s colony. As the Royal Gazette noted in its edition of January 9th, 1925, “Mr. Senat is the doyen of the artist colony here and the pioneer of the movement to establish such a colony.” Senat died eight months later, on September 12th, 1925, at a Germantown hospital. Today his work is held by many prominent private and public collections, including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Delaware Art Museum, and the Joslyn Art Museum of Omaha, Nebraska.
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