‘Summertime 1944’

Frederick Boulton's watercolor "Summertime 1944) shows the back yard of a home on Chicago's north shore.

We saw this beautiful watercolor in an antique store and were immediately drawn to its vibrant color and technique.  Bob liked it because it was a ‘happy’ picture.  Its subject, the lush backyard of a suburban home in summer, was familiar.  The back yard turns out to have been on Chicago’s North Shore—perhaps in Lake Forest or Highland Park, where the water-colorist, Frederick William Boulton, lived for several decades.

Boulton (1904-1969) was born in Mishawaka, Indiana, the son of a Lutheran minister.  He came to Chicago to study at the Art Institute and the American Academy of Art, completing his studies in Paris at the esteemed Académie Julian.  Returning to Chicago, he embarked in 1923 on a career as a commercial artist with J Walter Thompson, the ad agency.

Boulton was successful, becoming an art director and vice president at JWT, while continuing to paint in his spare time.  He founded the Art Directors’ Club of Chicago and was honored as art director of the year by the National Society of Art Directors in 1955.  According to the Highland Park Public Library, which owns one of his paintings, he lived in the Braeside area of Highland Park from 1938 until the late 1950s.


‘Summertime 1944′ has a signed inscription—’As George remembers it.  And fondly dedicated to him’— that adds interest and charm to what we see.  The house and garden, if lifeless, are perfect.  The grass is manicured, the landscape and patio glowing with order and beauty.  Whether painted in the summer of 1944 or later, this elegant depiction of a place ‘George’ knew well may well have been intended to make him smile or laugh.

Does ‘Summertime 1944’ faithfully represent a place and a moment, or is it an idealized souvenir of a past that never was, or was no longer, as tranquil and perfect as memory deemed?  Whatever the case, its paean to the joys of home still sings.