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Forsyth, William The Painter Man, 1923


William Forsyth, born in Hamilton County, Ohio, said he could not remember a time when he did not want to paint. Both of his parents were supportive of his talent. After his family moved to Indianapolis, Forsyth’s father took him to Barton S. Hays’s studio, but Forsyth was too young to begin study. Some years later, he visited Hays’s studio again and was fascinated with one of William Merritt Chase’s paintings. In 1877, when John W. Love opened the first Indiana School of Art, Forsyth was the first pupil. Afterward he had a studio in Indianapolis for a short time. In 1883 he decided to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Munich.

After seven years in Europe, Forsyth returned to Indiana and held art classes with J. Ottis Adams in Muncie and Fort Wayne. He then assisted T. C. Steele in establishing a school in Indianapolis. In 1906 he took charge of the life class at the Herron Art Institute and was considered an excellent teacher. He was a member of the Hoosier Group of painters. His 1916 essay Art in Indiana is a valuable source of information on this period in Indiana’s cultural history.

  • The Painter Man, 1923
  • 23 3/4″ x 19 7/8″
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art
  • Keywords: paintings, portraits, oil on board
  • Subjects: people, men, artists, hats, eyeglasses, Hoosier Group

This painting is one of several self-portraits that Forsyth completed, and probably the best known. Notice that the painterly strength of the brush strokes emphasizes form and shape. Forsyth has been described as “short, wiry, and energetic” and had a reputation as “a fiery, sometimes sarcastic teacher.” He smoked heavily, read widely, and loved to act in amateur theater productions. He was generous with his time and often donated his paintings to the community and its institutions. In 1971, Forsyth’s daughters said that this portrait was a good likeness of their father.

Some Points To Consider

  • Review with students Forsyth’s relationship to the Hoosier Group. Remind them also of Barton Hays’s contribution to Indiana art. Ask students to name other artists who were influenced by the Hoosier Group. (Art 4.1.1)
  • Ask students if they think The Painter Man matches the description of Forsyth. Why or why not? Show them a real photograph of Forsyth and have them compare it to his self-portrait, then ask them to decide how well he painted. (Art 4.4.2)