Sol Wilson has been critically referred to as an “expressive realist with a tendency toward romanticizing - on the somewhat somber side - man’s contest with nature.” He is best known for his seascapes, cityscapes, and paintings of construction sites where gangs of workers are building bridges and laying pipeline, or fisherman are struggling in the midst of a storm - man wrestling with the often harsh natural world. The dramatic event and the expression of strong feeling combine to create a palpable mood in Wilson’s painting.
A highly respected and sought after teacher at the Y.M.H.A., the School of Art Studies, American Artists School and the Art Students League in New York, Wilson instructed his students: “You cannot escape your own feelings, or your lack of feeling about life in your painting.” The artist, he believed, must put his whole self into his work. Wilson himself was deeply influenced by his teacher at the Ferrer School, George Bellows. In referring to Bellows, Wilson might be describing his own style of teaching. He says that Bellows was very important to his work because “of his directness in painting methods and because he was a real human being. Never pedantic - never the professor. He was one of us and frequently became one of his own class, by actually drawing along with his students.
Sol Wilson was born in Poland in 1893. His father was a lithographer and it was in his shop that Sol got his first exposure to making art as he observed the workmen create designs for bottle labels and other things. His first experience at painting was to copy from old books and to duplicate the designs of the workmen. By the age of 15, he sold the contents of his studio and sailed to America. He worked in New York as an apprentice polisher in a jewelry factory, a doll-face painter, a photograph developer and retoucher, and a monitor at the National Academy of Design. He studied at night at Cooper Union and later at the National Academy and the Ferrer School with Bellows and Robert Henri.
In the late 20s, Wilson began to spend his summers in Maine and became associated with a group of artists who gathered to work there in summer, becoming known as the Rockport School. By the mid-40s, however, Wilson resettled in Provincetown and his art was developing into its own. During the 40s and 50s, Wilson won many prizes and medals in national art exhibitions. Over nearly 30 years of summer seasons, Wilson traveled the lower Cape making quick pen and ink and charcoal sketches from which he worked up his paintings in his studio in New York during the winter.
Sol Wilson’s paintings are included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum and the Library of Congress. In the summer of 1974, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum paid tribute to Wilson’s career as artist and teacher and service to the institution with a one person exhibition of his work.
Sol Wilson died in New York in 1974, at 81.