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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

John J. Enneking

John J. Enneking
“One of the world’s greatest landscape painters”
                                                             by Anthony M. Sammarco

     I think one of my favorite artists is John Joseph Enneking, a noted impressionist painter and a leader of the "Boston School" of painting. A resident of Hyde Park for many years, he was noted for his paintings depicting the Neponset River from the Baker Chocolate Company, the Eagle Paper Mill and the old Sumner House in Hyde Park and especially of the vivid landscapes of the Blue Hills in Milton.

Seen in the accompanying photograph, cows graze on the banks of the Neponset River as others drink. Though the focal point of the painting is the large shade trees in the center, in the distance can be seen Paul’s Bridge, which spans the Neponset River and after 1868 connected Milton on the left and Hyde Park on the right. This charming landscape, probably painted about 1885, shows an area once known as the Fowl Meadows that still retains much of its natural charm as it is part of the Metropolitan District Commission.

Paul’s Bridge, a stone arched bridge, was built in 1850 and was named for Ebenezer Paul, a large land owner in the area before Hyde Park was incorporated into an independent town in 1868; there had been a bridge here as early as the seventeenth century, called  Hubbard’s Bridge. At one time, Hyde Park was part of Milton, Dorchester and Dedham and in 1868 the town of Milton ceded 400 acres to Hyde Park, most of the area of Fairmount Hill that sloped down to Water Street, or what is now known as Truman Highway.

John Joseph Enneking (1841-1916) was a native of Minster, Auglaize County, Ohio and was raised on a farm. Orphaned at the age of fifteen, he lived with an aunt until he enrolled at Mount St. Mary’s College in Cincinnati, but left to enlist in the Union army during the Civil War, during which he was severely wounded in action and honorably discharged. He moved to Boston where he initially studied industrial drawing and lithography, but later became a tinsmith. He married Mary Eliot of Hyde Park, and they eventually built a large Queen Anne house at 17 Webster Street in Hyde Park where they lived from 1879 until their deaths.. The Eliots descended from the Reverend John Eliot, teacher of the Roxbury Church in the seventeenth century and “Apostle to the Indians,” in that he translated the Bible into the native tongue of the Indians, and his descendants were large landowners in the new town of Hyde Park.

Encouraged by his wife to pursue art as his career, the Ennekings went to Europe where in the 1870’s he studied at the Royal Academy in Munich as well as with artists Charles-Francois Daubigny, Camille Corot and Jean-Francois Millet in Paris, all of whom became close friends. These artists were all accomplished in their “Barbizon” style of painting, but Enneking evolved more as an impressionistic painter following his return to the United States. It was said that in the early sunrise and at twilight, Enneking with sketch book in hand and colors on a palate, wandered through the area, especially the Blue Hills, where he did sketches and studies that were later used in the painting of canvases done in his studio. Among his best known was the “Sentinel Series” of bare trees silhouetted against the sky in the Blue Hills. These small studies were no more than 8 by 10 at the largest and often captured the vividness of the sky with the “sentinels” prominent in the center. I’m fortunate to have been able to acquire two of these studies, of which I am immensely proud, though my closest friend said that they, in regards to their thick impressionistic quality, look like “vomit on artist board.” Oh well, I still enjoy them.

Enneking was a member of the Twentieth Century Club, the Pudding Stone Club, the Boston Art Club, the Paint and Clay Club of Boston, and the Boston Guild of Artists. However, he was also one of “The Ten,” a group of ten artists considered to be the finest of their time in the United States. In 1915 he was honored with a lavish testimonial dinner at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston’s Back Bay where more than five hundred fellow artists, museum directors, art collectors and city officials applauded as he was crowned with a laurel wreath for his artistic achievements.

As park commissioner for the town of Hyde Park, he was a noted conservationist. The woodlands of the old Grew Estate, the vast estate of Henry Sturgis Grew and known as Grew’s Woods, were later to become part of the Stony Brook Reservation, and the serpentine road leading from West Roxbury to Hyde Park was named the Enneking Parkway in his honor. Upon his death in 1916, he was buried at Fairlawn Cemetery in Hyde Park, his memorial a naturalistic boulder of Roxbury pudding stone.