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By Aubrey E. MacDonald

Hugh Breckenridge shares a lifetime achievement of painting with influences from Monet, Cezanne, Derrain, Ferrier, Feininger, and Bouguereau. He became the jewel of Philadelphia’s art circle and an influence to thousands of his students.

Table of Contents


Hugh Henry Breckenridge was born in Leesburg, VA on October 6, 1870 to Susan and Alexander Breckenridge. At the age of ten, he enjoyed the Saturday art classes that he attended with the ladies of Leesburg. Even though it was a class dedicated mainly to learning the finer points of decorating fans and china, Breckenridge learned techniques that would catapult him to have a major influence in the art world. In addition to his decorating class, Breckenridge drew regularly. His love of art became so prominent that he forsook his studies and quit school as a teenager. By the age of fifteen, Breckenridge acquired the unseemly reputation of a “boy gone bad.” It was Breckenridge’s clear artistic potential that ultimately convinced his father to send him to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. The following spring, Breckenridge opened a studio in Leesburg in order to earn a portion of his tuition. The next fall, Breckenridge enrolled in the Academy and began a symbiotic relationship with the institution that would last for over fifty years.

In Breckenridge’s second and third years at the Academy he and fellow student William Edmondson (1870-1951) opened a studio where they produced portraits, colored slides, and retouched photographic negatives. Breckenridge assumed the role of the salesman and advertiser for the studio; it was his ability to network with patrons and artists in Philadelphia that would later make a successful artist. At this time, Edmondson and Breckenridge entered their works in the Academy’s annual competition. The pair placed First and Second Place, with Breckenridge taking the Charles Toppan prize and its two hundred dollar prize.

The following summer Breckenridge and Edmondson left on an adventure to Winchester, MA, where they were exposed to the town’s romantic charm and repertoire of visiting artists. The pair parted ways for the remainder of the summer and planned to reunite in the fall; however, Breckenridge became ill and was not able to attend. It was not until he made a full recovery that he could save enough for tuition and re-enter the Academy. He earned income producing portraits in Leesburg. While he did not especially enjoy the work, he later admitted that it was his portraits that supplied steady revenue for his artistic endeavor.

In 1892, Breckenridge was awarded a scholarship, which enabled him to study in Paris with famed artists Adolphe William Bouguereau (1825-1905), Louis Ferrier (1850-1912), and Jacques Doucet (1853-1929). He spent his time in Paris visiting the Louvre, befriending young artists, and absorbing the foreign atmosphere that consequently influenced and inspired future works. Upon his return to Pennsylvania, he was in need of income, and accepted a teaching position at Mrs. Comiges’ school for young ladies. To supplement his earnings, he also took a position at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as instructor of the antique class the following year.

In 1895, Breckenridge married his sweetheart of four years Roxanne Grace Holme. Her exquisite beauty, poise and charm inspired many portraits that Breckenridge painted. Roxanne and Breckenridge had two children: Grace, who died of dysentery at a young age, and Margaret. Shortly thereafter, Breckenridge opened the Darby School of Painting with Thomas Anshutz (1851-1912), which he later moved to Fort Washington, PA. Around this period in his life, a pattern emerged. During the fall, winter and spring, Breckenridge painted around his teaching positions at Mrs. Comiges’ School and The Academy. During the summer, he would instruct classes at the Darby School. When Roxanne later died, Breckenridge married Dorthy Dozier one of his students. She was the executor of his estate until her death.

As quickly as his teaching career took off, his painting career also became extremely successful. He showed at the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, the Panama-American Exhibition, St Botlph’s and several times at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, as well as many other shows. He joined several prominent art clubs including the Philadelphia Sketch Club, the Art Alliance and the Arts Club of Philadelphia. He was never the stereotypical “starving artist.” His accomplishments as a painter helped promote him as a jury member of several exhibits, expand his popularity as a portraitist, and attain teaching position as an advanced painting instructor.

In 1919, he received the Gold Medal of Honor from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art for 25 years of service and exemplary painting. Shortly after, he accepted a position as the Director of the Department of Fine Art at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore. In 1920, Breckenridge opened the Breckenridge School of Art in Gloucester, MA. He thought of Gloucester very fondly. Its landscape and harbor were typical subjects in his paintings. Breckenridge’s life focused on his passion to paint. His enjoyment and skill paid off as he was bestowed with several teaching positions, awards and prizes, memberships, jury nominations, and popularity. The “boy gone bad” was one of the most influential and successful painters in the Pennsylvania area.


Breckenridge (or “Brecky” as he was called by his contemporaries) had both an academic and artistic career that spanned for more than forty years. Trained in the academic style of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Breckenridge displayed his academic training in his still lifes and portraits. Since it was his largest source of income, He spent a great deal of time producing portraiture. His portraits are traditionally in an academic style with clean, smooth brushstrokes, attention to fine detail, subtlety of light, and a focus on realism. His still lifes are traditional compositions of flower arrangements, fruits, and kitchen utensils. He transformed his academic training into a useful tool to convert and challenge what was accepted as art during the time period.

In 1909, Walter Schofield (1867-1944) and Breckenridge left for Europe where Breckenridge experimented with Neo-Impressionism. He also became more interested in the avant-garde work of the European artists. Influenced by his recent trip abroad, he began to paint in a Neo-Impressionist style. His idyllic scenes of the Pennsylvania countryside and that of maritime activities are the most recognizable during this time period. These paintings can be characterized by heavy brushstrokes, which are quick and concise. It is obvious that he painted his scenes directly from nature and this is why the brush strokes seem rapid and heavy. There is still an academic focus on how the light plays into the composition, but a clear rejection of the classical Impressionist color palette. The placing of the figures or forms is still easily recognizable even though they are abstracted. He began to exhibit this work regularly which increased his popularity in Pennsylvania and labeled him as a Modernist.

By 1922, Breckenridge had fully immersed himself in Abstraction. His works are distinguished by unusually shaped color fields which are in no particular pattern on the canvas. His obsession with color is most apparent during this stage, as many of his works are brightly painted with contrasting colors. The colors are both complimentary and visually distracting, lending a mesmerizing effect to the compositions. Although Breckenridge focuses mostly on abstraction, he certainly maintains a symbiosis between abstraction and non-representational work. In some of Breckenridge’s paintings, he gives the viewer hints about the intended subject matter by placing a recognizable image surrounded by an energetic combination of color and shapes. In other works, he reduces form so that the subject remains indistinguishable without the help of a title as a descriptor. Still, in other paintings, he focuses only on line, color, and shape, and leaves form completely out, making the work completely non-representational. Currently, Breckenridge is most famously known for his abstract work, since they have a similar quality to Wassily Kandinsky’s (1866-1944). Towards the latter end of his life Breckenridge returned to his youthful days of Neo-Impressionism, still life, and landscapes.


  • 1870 Born in Leesburg, VA
  • 1880 Drawing at Miss Betty Wildman’s
  • 1887 Opened a studio in Leesburg. Registers at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art
  • 1888 Enters PAFA and opens a studio with William J Edmonson
  • 1889 Wins the Toppan Prize for Portrait of Edmonson
  • 1892 Awarded ($800) scholarship to study in Paris with Bouguereau, Ferrier, and Doucet
  • 1893 Accepts position at “Springside” in Chestnut Hills, PA
  • 1894Accepts teaching position at PAFA
  • 1895 Marries Roxanne Grace Home
  • 1896Becomes member of the Philadelphia Sketch club
  • 1897 Daughter, Grace, born. Becomes member of New York Watercolor Club
  • 1899 Daughter, Grace dies. Becomes chairman of the jury of the Academy’s annual exhibition
  • 1900 Opens Darby School of painting with Thomas Anshutz. Awarded bronze medal in Pan-American Exposition. Honorable mention at the Internationale Exposition Universelle in Paris France.
  • 1902 Daughter Margaret born.
  • 1904 Solo exhibit at PAFA. Commemorative medal at Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
  • 1907 Gold Medal, Art Club, Pennsylvania. Appointed Curator at the PAFA for one year.
  • 1908 Exhibited at Boston Watercolor Club
  • 1910 Awarded Silver Medal at International Exposition in Buenos Aires. Wins Bronze Medal in Centenario, Chile
  • 1911 Appointed painter member of the municipal art jury of Philadelphia, for the next eleven years
  • 1912 Solo exhibit at St. Botolph’s in Boston
  • 1913 Anshutz dies; Breckenridge continues the Darby school for five more years.
  • 1915 Awarded Gold Medal at the Pan-Pacific Exposition.
  • 1916 Awarded honorary membership in the Philadelphia chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Wins Bronze medal at the Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Painting at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.
  • 1917 Wins Stotesbury Prize at Pennsylvania Academy Exhibition.
  • 1919 Shows in American Exhibit hosted by French Govt. in the Luxembourg Gallery. Awarded the Gold Medal of Honor at the PAFA.
  • 1920 Awarded Jennie Sesnan Gold Medal and the Fellowship Gold Medal at the PAFA
  • 1926 Wins the Locust Gold medal and the Purchase prize PAFA
  • 1927 Shows at Wildstein Galleries in New York. Awarded Bronze Medal at the Society of Washington Artists Exhibition.
  • 1935 Solo Exhibit at PAFA.
  • 1937 November 4, dies of a heart attack.

  • Los Angeles County Museum
  • San Francisco Museum of Art
  • Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans
  • Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art

    Group Exhibitions:

  • 1896, 1906, 1907, 1911, 1924-28, 1932, 1935, 1936 Art Club of Philadelphia
  • 1897,1898,1904,1905,1907,1909-13,1916,1918,1919,1920,1923,1927 Art Institute of Chicago
  • 1897, 1898, 1905 Society of American Artists
  • 1897, 1904, 1909,1915,1917,1919,1926,1927,1931 City Art Museum of St. Louis
  • 1891-1937 The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts:
  • 1898, 1910,1911,1919,1926 Cincinnati Museum
  • 1899, 1905,1912,1915,1916 Boston Art Club
  • 1899,1900,1907,1910,1925 Carnegie Institute
  • 1901, 1909,1911,1921,1923,1924,1931 Buffalo Fine Arts Academy
  • 1901 Nebraska Art Association
  • 1903, 1906, 1927-29 Society of Washington Artists
  • 1903, 1909-11, 1913, 1914 Baltimore Watercolor Club
  • 1903, 1906, 1927 Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts
  • 1904,1907,1910,1911 Philadelphia Watercolor Club
  • 1905-07, 1915 New York Watercolor Club
  • 1906,1911,1916,1927 Rochester Memorial Gallery
  • 1906, 1916, 1921-26, 1928-32 Cleveland Museum
  • 1906, 1911, 1914-23, 1926-31, 1936 National Academy of Design
  • 1908 Washington Watercolor Club
  • 1909 Boston Watercolor Club
  • 1909,1917,1918,1927: 1909,1917,1918,1927 Herron Art Institute
  • 1903,1911,1912,1915-17,1920,1922,1926,1928,1931,1933,1936 Corcoran Gallery of Art
  • 1911, 1920, 1924,1929,1930,1937 American Federation of Art Touring Exhibitions
  • 1912 Gimbels
  • 1908, 1909, 1911,1912,1915,1917 Westchester Art Club
  • 1913 New Orleans Art Association
  • 1913 Philadelphia Sketch Club
  • 1915 Brooklyn Museum
  • 1915, 1917, 1927, 1928 Albright Museum
  • 1915 Charcoal Club
  • 1915, 1917-19, 1921-23, 1925, 1926, 1928-30 Detroit institute of Arts
  • 1916, 1917 Peabody Institute
  • 1916 Dallas Fair
  • 1917, 1931 Rhode Island School of Design
  • 1917-19, 1921,1923,1928,1929 Toledo Museum of Art
  • 1918 Canadian National Exhibit
  • 1919-22, 1926, 1927 The Art Alliance
  • 1919 Luxembourg Exhibition
  • 1920 Fine Arts Institute
  • 1920 University of Nebraska
  • 1921 Milch Galleries
  • 1921 Springfield Art League
  • 1921 Toronto Art Gallery
  • 1921-24, 1926, 1927 Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts
  • 1922 Brooks Memorial gallery
  • 1922 Southeastern fair association
  • 1922, 1923,1927, 1931,1932 Providence Art Club
  • 1922, 1923 Concord Massachusetts Art Association
  • 1923 Grand Central Galleries
  • 1923 Fellowship Exhibition
  • 1912, 1924 St Botolph’s
  • 1924 Wilmington Society of Fine Arts
  • 1926 Hanna Galleries
  • 1926 Stratton Galleries
  • 1926 Print Club
  • 1926 Macon Art Association
  • 1926 Chattanooga Art Association
  • 1926North Shore Artist’s Association
  • 1926 Philadelphia Sesqui-Centennial Exhibition
  • 1927 Wildenstein Galleries
  • 1927 Gallery of Fine Arts
  • 1927 Ann Arbor Art Association
  • 1927, 1928, 1932 Southern States Art League
  • 1927 National Arts Club
  • 1927 Louisville Art Association
  • 1928, 1930 New Student’s League
  • 1929, 1932 San Diego Fine Arts Gallery
  • 1929 Los Angeles County Museum
  • 1929 Macbeth Galleries
  • 1906, 1930 Worchester Museum
  • 1931 City Museum
  • 1931 Dayton Art Institute
  • 1932, 1933, 1935 Richmond Academy of the Arts
  • 1933 Mellon Museum
  • 1934 Whitney Museum
  • Solo Exhibitions:

  • 1904 Cincinnati Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
  • 1905 Detroit Art institute
  • 1907 New York Special, Worchester Museum
  • 1908 Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, City Art Museum, Herron Art Institute, Toledo Museum of Art
  • 1909 Art Club of Philadelphia
  • 1912 St. Botolph’s, Boston
  • 1919 Maryland Institute of Art, Isaac Delgado Museum of Art
  • 1921 St Botolph’s, Rochester Memorial Gallery
  • 1922 Toledo Museum of Art, Fine Arts Institute
  • 1923 Hanna Galleries, Carson-Pri-Scott, Syracuse Museum
  • 1924 Breckenridge Studio
  • 1925 Washington Arts Club
  • 1926 Newhouse Galleries
  • 1928 The Art Alliance, Grand Rapids Art Gallery
  • 1934 Retrospective Exhibition
  • 1936 University of Virginia museum of Art
  • 1938 Memorial Retrospective
  • 1939 Doyle Galleries
  • 1943 Joseph Sarter Galleries

  • New York Water Color Club
  • Philadelphia Water Color Club
  • Art Club of Philadelphia
  • Member of Municipal Art Jury of Philadelphia
  • Associate Member of the National Academy of Design
  • Connecticut Academy of Fine art
  • Society of Washington Artists
  • Southern States Art League
  • North Shore Artists Association Gloucester
  • American Federation of Arts

  • 1890 Charles Toppan Prize
  • 1892 European Traveling Scholarship
  • 1895 Bronze Medal, Cotton States and International Exposition Atlanta
  • 1900 Honorable Mention, International Exposition Universelle de 1900, Honorable Mention Carnegie institute
  • 1901 Bronze Medal, Pan American Exposition, Buffalo
  • 1903 Corcoran Prize, Society of Washington Artists Exhibition at Corcoran Gallery
  • 1904 Commemorative Medal, Louisiana Purchase International Exhibit
  • 1907 Gold Medal, Art Club of Philadelphia
  • 1908 First Prize, Washington Watercolor Club
  • 1910 Silver Medal, International Exposition of Art, Bronze Medal; Centenario de Chile, Exposition Internationale de Bellas Artes
  • 1915 Gold Medal, International Panama-Pacific Exposition
  • 1916 William A. Clark and Bronze Medal, Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Paintings
  • 1917 Edward T. Stotesbury Prize, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
  • 1919 Academy Gold Medal of Honor, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
  • 1920 Gold Medal (Jennie Susan prize for landscape), Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts
  • 1926 Locust Club Gold Medal and Purchase Prize, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
  • 1927 Bronze Medal, 36th annual Exhibition, Society of Washington Artists
  • 1931 Special Premium, Greater Tennessee State Fair and Exposition
  • VIII. Bibliography

    1. 1., Hugh Hennery Breckenridge, Accessed October, 22, 2006.
    2. 2. Wiener, Kurt, In this Academy: the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts 1805-1976, Washington: Museums Press, Inc, 1976.
    3. 3. Vogel, Margaret and Donald, The Paintings of Hugh Henry Breckenridge, Dallas, TX: Valley House Gallery, November 1967.
    4. 4. Mantle Fielding, Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptures, and Engravers.
    5. 5. Grund, Dictionary of Artists.
    6. 6. Pennsylvania Academy Moderns, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1975.
    7. 7. Severens, Martha, Greenville County Museum Art; the Southern Collection, Manchester, VT: Hudson Hill Press, 1995.
    8. 8. Schwarz, Robert, 150 years of Philadelphia Still life Paintings, Schwarz Gallery, 1997.
    9. 9. Fresella-lee, Nancy, The American Paintings in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, The Academy of Fine Arts Washington Press, 1989.
    10. 10. Morrin, P, Zilczer et al., The Advent of modernism: Post Impressionism and the North American Art 1900-1918, Atlanta, GA: High Museum of Art, 1986.
    11. 11. Gerdts, William. Art across America: Two centuries of Regional Painting, New York: Cross River Press, 1990.
    12. 12. Gerdts, William, American Impressionism, New York, Abbeville Press, 2001.

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