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Paul Starrett Sample (1896-1974)

Wedding (or Mexican Wedding)


Oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches. Signed lower left: "PAUL SAMPLE"


Biltmore (Hotel) Salon, Los Angeles, CA, summer, 1933; University of Southern California faculty-student show, December, 1933; California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA, February, 1934; Ferargil Galleries, New York, NY (solo exhibition), April 23 - May 6, 1934, No. 10; Carpenter Art Galleries, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH (solo exhibition of 18 oil paintings), May, 1934; The Robert Hull Fleming Museum, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT (solo exhibition of 20 paintings), September 10-24, 1934, No. 13; Albany Museum of Art, Albany, NY, 1934; The Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH (retrospective exhibition), July 15 - September 15, 1948, No. 11 (as "Wedding—New Mexico"; lent by Stanley Reckless); “1930s-1940s Regionalism: Evolution of a Style,” D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc., New York, NY, January - March, 2010; "Tucson Collects: Spirit of the West," Tucson (AZ) Museum of Art, June 15 - September 23, 2012; Enduring America: Selections from the Collection of Art and Peggy Hittner, Northern Arizona University Art Museum, April 7 - May 29, 2015.


“1930s-1940s Regionalism: Evolution of a Style,” D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc., 2010 (exhibition catalogue, p. 13); Enduring America (catalogue); Speer, George V. and Arthur D. Hittner, "Enduring America: The Collection of Art & Peggy Hittner," American Art Review, June, 2015, p. 89.


Paul Sample: Ivy League Regionalist (The Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, 1984); McGrath, Robert L. and Paula F. Glick, Paul Sample: Painter of the American Scene (Hood Museum of Art, 1988). 


Acquired from the artist by fellow artist and teacher Stanley Reckless (1892-1955), Los Angeles, CA, 1934 (in exchange for an abstraction); to his stepdaughter, Audrey Elliott; estate of Audrey Elliott, 2009; Gerold Wunderlich & Co., Ossining, NY, 2009 from whom acquired, June 21, 2010. 


Unlined; mounted on original stretcher. Old paper label on stretcher inscribed in pencil, “Paul Sample/”WEDDING” 1933”. Also inscribed faintly in red pencil on upper right corner of stretcher: “PAUL SAMPLE/ 1933 / 16 X 20”. Reverse bears recent label of Gerold Wunderlich & Co., Ossining, NY. In original 2 3/4-inch wood frame (retouched).

     Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1896, Paul Starrett Sample moved frequently during his youth in response to the demands of his father’s construction business. He matriculated at Dartmouth College in 1916 where he excelled mainly at sports, participating in football and basketball and becoming an intercollegiate heavyweight boxing champion. After his graduation in 1921 (and following a brief interruption serving with the Merchant Marine at the end of World War I), Sample contracted tuberculosis while visiting his brother Donald who was recuperating from the same disease at a facility in Saranac Lake, New York. While convalescing there with his brother and at his doctor’s suggestion, he took lessons in drawing and painting from the artist Jonas Lie (1880-1940) whose wife was undergoing treatment at the same facility. Sample conquered his illness by 1925 but relocated to California where his brother had been taken in a desperate effort to improve his flagging health. Although his brother did not survive, Sample remained in California, settling near Los Angeles and taking art lessons at the Otis Art Institute. In 1926 he began teaching drawing at the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California, where he would eventually advance to become Chairman of the Art Department. By the late Twenties, Sample had begun exhibiting his own work both regionally and nationally. By the early Thirties, Sample was receiving significant exposure and critical acclaim, including his first New York City solo exhibition at Ferargil Galleries in 1933. Sample left California in 1938 to accept an appointment as artist-in-residence at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, a position he retained for nearly a quarter century. During his long tenure at Dartmouth, Sample both traveled and exhibited widely, becoming one of the most highly regarded Regionalist painters in the country. He received considerable national press coverage (including a stint as war correspondent for Life Magazine from 1942-45) and his works were shown at (and acquired by) major museums throughout the United States.

     After Sample’s marriage in 1928 to the former Sylvia Howland, the couple made regular summer trips from their home in Southern California to visit her parents in Vermont. It was perhaps on one of these sojourns that Sample encountered the small church in New Mexico (probably north of Santa Fe) which he portrayed in Wedding

     According to the art historian Paula F. Glick, the work was completed by late summer of 1933 because the artist had sent a photograph of the painting that fall to Fred Price of Ferargil Galleries in New York (where the painting was included in his first solo exhibition in that city the following spring). At this time, Sample was approaching the height of his career: a year earlier he had received the Isador Gold Medal from the National Academy of Design for his painting Unemployment (which was ultimately presented to that institution when Sample was inducted into the N.A.D. in 1941). According to Glick:

     In this painting [Wedding] Sample’s interest in the massing of the architecture in the “Precisionist” style of Sheeler and Spencer is fused with his passion for the rugged western landscape. The strong light and shadows add drama to the composition. Sample integrated these elements with a classical triangular composition, and created the recession of space by the arrangement of the figures in the foreground and the group of small buildings at the left of the church. The background of mountains, lower in the rear middle ground and highlighted peaks in the background extends to the clear sky. Although the subject matter might be regarded as genre, Sample has deliberately simplified the details of the figures to focus on the contrast between the architecture and the landscape. This fact is emphasized by the steeple and cross silhouetted against the mountains and sky. These elements present in this painting would come to dominate the western landscape works that Sample produced in the first half of the 1930s such as Celebration, Tardy, Randsburg and Freight Cars in the Desert.*

     While Sample’s style evolved over the course of his career, he remained anchored to a purely representational vision. “I have no particular theories about painting,” he wrote in a letter to his New York dealer in 1933. “I detest imitative painting while at the same time I am frank to admit that I do not react to a complete abstraction.”** It is particularly curious, then, that in 1934 the artist traded Wedding to fellow Los Angeles artist and art educator Stanley Reckless (1892-1955) in exchange for an abstract painting.***


*Quoted and immediately preceding material (bearing a date of November, 2009) was provided by art historian and Sample scholar Paula F. Glick of Bethesda, Maryland.

**Paul Sample to Fred Price, Ferargil Galleries, New York City, November 19, 1933. Paul Sample archives, Rauner Library, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH.

***Information set forth on Sample’s inventory control index card for “Wedding” – New Mexico 1933 in collection of Paula F. Glick of Bethesda, Maryland.

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