POLLY THAYER STARR1904-2006
Boston portrait and landscape artist Polly Thayer Starr was born Ethel Randolph Thayer. At the age of ten Starr began a charcoal drawing class with Beatrice Van Ness at the Museum of Fine Arts. She started acting in her teens and considered a career in theater, remaining very active in amateur theatrical circles throughout her life. At eighteen, she decided to study painting. After graduating from Westover School, Starr traveled to China, Korea, and Japan with her brother and mother. She studied drawing and painting for two years at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School, then continued private lessons with Philip Hale. She studied lithography at the Art Students League in New York City with Harry Wickey. In the early 1920’s, she studied with Charles Hawthorne, and later with Hans Hoffman, in Provincetown, Massachusetts. She also studied anatomy by making sketches in an operating room into which she had been invited by a surgeon friend. In 1929 she traveled to Spain and Morocco; as a result, Starr became fascinated by Goya, and his work would exert a major influence over her the rest of her career. She spent a summer, about 1932 or ’33, at the School at Fontainebleau, studying the composition of the Old Masters under Despujols, and attended the Academie Colarossi in Paris for one winter. Starr began painting portraits early in her career, and her work received critical acclaim. She maintained a studio on the Fenway in Boston. Starr received the Hallgarten Prize from the National Academy of Design in New York in 1929 for a nude entitled “Circles”. The following year, a self-portrait, Interval, won a Gold Medal at the Boston Tercentenary Exhibition. Starr was the only living painter included in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ landmark exhibition, ”A Studio of Her Own: Women Artists in Boston 1870-1940.” Those early successes resulted in many commissions for portraits. She continued to take portrait commissions well into her eighties, and only stopped painting in the last several years of her life when she lost her eyesight due to glaucoma and macular degeneration. The artist’s later portraits and landscapes–many of which involve glimpses of buildings overwhelmed by foliage—were well received by art critics. Starr’s main interest in her painting, she said, was to reach “through the visible to the invisible reality.” She died at the age of one hundred and one.