Fairfield Porter was born in Winnetka, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, in 1907. In 1924, at age 17, he entered Harvard University, where he studied art and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1928. Porter continued his studies for the next two years at the Arts Students League in New York, where he studied with Thomas Hart Benton. Porter himself was a mainly figurative painter, influenced by French post-impressionist painters, Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard. Porter’s works of art shared many of the qualities of their works, primarily their emphasis on intimate subject matter and on color relationships and subtle effects of light. Porter’s style is abstract yet recognizable, keeping with the realist tradition of representation, yet simplifying images so that the viewer is aware of the abstract design of the surface. He forged a distinct vision out of two disparate styles: one, intimate and representational; and the other, colorful and abstract. Porter’s subjects are often personal: appealing and intimate images of family and home, familiar roads and landscapes, such as those in The Phillips Collection. Though he favored the watercolor medium early and late in his career, throughout his life he made pencil and ink drawings and painted in oils.
Besides his vocation as a painter, Porter was also a prolific poet and art critic until his death in 1975. An artist of wide intellectual interests, Porter was a friend of many younger contemporary artists, such as Alex Katz and Larry Rivers, and modern poets Frank O’Hara and James Schuyler. Porter participated in numerous exhibitions, including the 1968 Venice Biennale, and major exhibitions held at the Whitney Museum and the Smithsonian Institution.