George Henry Boughton

George Henry Boughton

 George Henry Boughton (1833–1905) was born in Norwich, England as the son of a farmer. The family moved to the United States in 1835, and he grew up in Albany, New York. A self-taught artist, he was influenced at an early age by the artists of the Hudson River School. He became a landscape painter and opened his first studio in 1852. In 1853, the American Art Union purchased one of his early pictures which financed six months of artistic study in England. He finished this training period with a sketching tour of the Lake District, in Scotland and Ireland.

After returning to the United States, Boughton exhibited in Washington, D.C. and New York. In the late 1850s, he moved to Europe. From 1859 to 1861 he studied in France under Pierre Edouard Frère and Edward Harrison May. In 1861, Boughton opened a studio in London, but found his niche in depicting scenes of early American colonial history, notably scenes of Puritan life, and other realist figurative paintings. One of his most noted works is Godspeed! Pilgrims setting out for Canterbury (1874), now in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. This life-size canvas shows an episode from the Canterbury Tales, in which two pilgrims, distinguishable by their traveling bags, hats and staves, are filling their pilgrim’s flasks with water. The painting drew a great deal of attention at the Royal Academy’s annual exhibition held in London in 1874, where Vincent van Gogh saw the work. In various letters to Theo Van Gogh, he expressed his admiration for Boughton. As a young artist, Vincent Van Gogh studied and copied Boughton’s religious motifs. In 1876, while working as an assistant minister in England, Van Gogh even described a similar work by the painter in a sermon in which he described life as a pilgrimage towards God.

Boughton was also an accomplished and prolific book illustrator, illustrating Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poems and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. In 1893, an edition of Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle and Sleepy Hollow was published in London with illustrations by Boughton. Boughton continued traveling, painting, and exhibiting throughout his life, and is most remembered for his rustic figurative scenes, often depicting full-length figures and adopting earthy, neutral color palettes.


George Henry Boughton (1833–1904)
Godspeed! Pilgrims setting out for Canterbury, 1874
Oil on canvas, 48 x 72 7/16 inches
Collection, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands