top of page

William Verplanck Birney

William Verplanck Birney "A Tennis Player"32"x26"

William Verplanck Birney

Title: "Tennis Player"

Size: 32" x 26" 

Medium: Oil on Canvas

Signature: Signed lower right


William Verplanck Birney (American, 1850–1919)

Cincinnati-born genre painter William Verplanck Birney  studied at both the Massachusetts Normal Art School and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (under Eakins), then he went to the Munich Academy where he may have met colleague Louis Charles Moeller (1855-1930). Both ended up painting detailed genre scenes in a dark Northern manner. Birney was one of two Americans whose works sold at Munich’s 1883 International Exhibition. He established a studio in New York City and exhibited at the National Academy of Design between 1885 and 1909. In addition, he took part in the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition and in Buffalo’s Pan-American Exposition of 1901, as well as the 1904 St. Louis Universal Exposition. Birney was quite active in New York art societies: a member of the Salmagundi, Lotos and New York Water Color Clubs.

Probably Birney’s best known painting is Result of the Search (Private Collection), dated 1889, and shown at the NAD a year later. When the work was exhibited almost a century later, in 1986 at the Hudson River Museum, Lee M. Edwards identified it as a "problem picture," a popular genre during the Victorian era. The viewer had to supply a specific narrative by piecing together clues supplied by the painter, beginning with the title. The man on the right seems to be explaining the document, which he and the others found during a search, to the stern-looking older woman. The kneeling young woman is reacting dramatically to the revelation while she clutches the edge of the strongbox — obviously her future has been affected in a significant way, as indicated by the gesture of her left hand. A thorough look at the scattered papers, folios, and other items would undoubtedly reveal something about the deceased’s character.

bottom of page