‘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.

7 responses

  1. That is indeed a happy picture! If I had seen it for sale in an antique store I probably would have bought it myself. . . . Interesting tidbits you found on the painter–nice prose.

    • I imagine that if I had looked longer I could have turned up a decent obituary of Boulton–he seems to have been a leading figure in the world of Chicago advertising. I hope that, if anyone knows more about his life or the house in the picture, he or she will contact me.

  2. Love this! Very reminiscent of Steve’s parents’ gardens in Lake Forest. I love wondering about “George.” Was he a WWII soldier? This painting was likely a memorial gift to someone he loved. I hope you learn more!

    • Hi Jody–Interesting what you say about the gardens–Pine Point Drive and its neighboring streets are pretty well documented–maybe more information about the house and garden in the scene will turn up over time. . . . and perhaps one day even more about George, too.
      I am watching ‘Mad Men’ for the first time which perhaps accounts for my finding this watercolor so evocative!
      Cheers and hugs,

  3. A post-script: circa 1945, Fred married Lorna Austin (1921-2014), who worked as a secretary at JWT. According to her obituary from March of this year, they spent a lot of time in Boulder Junction, WI, at Lake Lost Canoe. This is where Lorna lived after she retired; perhaps Fred had, too. After Fred’s death, Lorna married David Lockett.

    Here is her obituary: http://www.bolgerfuneral.com/obituaries/Lorna-Lockett/#!/Obituary

    Both Lorna and Fred are buried in Boulder Junction at the Cemetery of the Pines.

  4. Yes, it really is lovely. I can see why you both like it! It oozes summer and the leisure to enjoy summer!