A student of Jean Léon Gérôme and William Merritt Chase, Dennis Miller Bunker was equally adept at academic portraits and open-air landscape paintings. By his death, Bunker had already established a mastery and sensitivity unmatched by most of his peers.
Born in 1861 in New York, Bunker grew up in Long Island as one of four children. At the age of fifteen, he enrolled in the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design where he studied for four years. Like most young, American artists, Bunker longed for European instruction, so in 1882 he left for the École des Beaux-Arts in France with a letter of introduction. Bunker studied at the École for two years under Jean Léon Gérôme.
Upon his return to America, Bunker immediately began exhibiting his works, winning a prize in the National Academy show in 1885. The next year, he moved to Boston and accepted a position as head of the anatomy and figure classes at Cowles Art School.
That same year, Bunker held his first one-man show at the Noyes Gallery. His 22 paintings included landscapes, still life’s, portraits and figure studies. He was introduced to Boston society and received commissions for portraits from influential patrons, including Isabella Stewart Gardner. It was through this mutual acquaintance that Bunker met John Singer Sargent. Sargent painted Bunker’s portrait, befriended him and greatly influenced his painting style. Bunker’s brushwork became more confident and his palette lightened—moving toward an Impressionist style.
Never comfortable in Boston, Bunker moved back to New York in 1889. His illustrious circle of artists and friends included Charles Platt, Abbott Thayer, Thomas Dewing, William Chase and John Singer Sargent. In 1990, Bunker showed his Impressionist paintings to mixed reviews. He won an award for a portrait in the same year at the Art Institute of Chicago and was asked to take over Chase’s classes in Brooklyn. In October, Bunker married Eleanor Hardy. A month later, he won a gold medal for the painting “The Mirror”, in Philadelphia. Bunker and his new wife traveled to the Hardy family home for the holidays. On Christmas day, Bunker complained of feeling chilled. He tragically died three days later at the age of twenty-nine.
Dennis Miller Bunker American ImpressionistErica E. Hirshler
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 1994
American pupils of Jean Léon GérômeH. Barbara Weinberg
Amon Carter Museum 1984
QuoteIt is so easy to be smart in Art, so easy to catch this and that quality of the time or the taste, the frightful smug taste of the public-so easy to do all manner of tricks of sentiment- of lies that people love and hug and live with and praise.
-Dennis Miller Bunker