Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Alice Conklin Bevin - East Hampton - Artist of the World

As I was driving over Barton Hill the other day, I was struck by the wonderful restoration of the Philo Bevin 3 story Second Empire style mansion constructed in 1872 situated at the crest of the hill. I grew up across the street in the 1960s, where my parents owned the Dutch colonial gamble roofed home built circa 1770 owned by William Barton, the founder of East Hampton’s Bell Industry. But what I remember fondly was my neighbor and friend - Alice C. Bevin.

Philo Bevin House at 26 Barton Hill owned by Ms Franciene A. Lehmann

Alice Bevin was an East Hampton Born Parisian Artist who painted throughout the world from the Arctic Circle to the boarder of the Sahara Desert. In her own words from a 1940 Hartford Courant article, she stated “The people I have painted throughout the world .... have not only impressed me by the contrast of their various types but they have shown me many sides of life hitherto unknown. What knowledge of life one gains painting people. From all the portraits and studies I have done how much more I have learned beyond mere composition and the bare technique of painting that each new subject teaches us.”

“Much has been written about the artist’s ability to read the souls of his sitters. He does so undoubtedly, whether consciously or not. Invariably, the sitter becomes confidential while posing in much the same way the patient confides in his doctor. The artist, listening with only half an ear as he mixes the flesh tones, gradually gains a knowledge of the character of his subject. Sometimes it has happened that in painting portraits of friends whom I thought I knew intimately, I have to my great surprise, suddenly discovered that I never really knew them at all.”

From 1940 Hartford Courant Article by Alice C. Bevin

Some of Alice’s noted subjects were Yamina, the Arab-dancing girl in Bou-Saada, a Lapp fisherman guide sketched in Finland, Hada, a drummer from the desert regions of Bou-Saada in Algeria, or the Sardine Fishermen of Concarneau.

Her home was this incredible art gallery which housed a number of her paintings not on display in noted museums such as the Louvre in Paris.

Reprint of the 1940 Hartford Courant article written by Alice C. Bevin

I met Mrs. Bevin, as we addressed her, through her grandsons, Granger and Nathaniel Benson who lived in New York City, but spent numerous weekends and summers here with their grandmother. We had wonderful times exploring the massive garage and barn that housed her studio, and a spectacular room that depicted a stadium. The four walls were painted with the spectators of a bull fight as if watching a matador challenge a bull in the center of the barn. I believe Alice's daughter, Betty Benson, painted this scene.

In my later high school years, I would do gardening and odd jobs around the property, replace burnt out electrical box fuses, and on occasion, house sit. One Valentine's Day, she presented me with a gift of one of her paintings - a winter view of our house painted from the 3rd floor of her home. The painting below was accompanied by a note that I still find amusing.

A note accompanying a gift of her painting of our house on Barton Hill.

Alice Bevin passed away 40 years ago, but the paintings that graced her home, still touch my soul. I remember standing in her living room, which was a gallery of her paintings, surrounded by a dozen or more of her subjects. Two things struck me about these many varied portraits. First the lifelike detail and second the eyes. The eyes of each always seemed to sparkle reflecting a certain contentment of the individual. But second, the subjects eyes always seemed to follow me as I moved around the room - almost as if the captured image brought a little of the subjects spirit along for eternity in the portrait she painted.

From her exhibit August 5, 1967 Celebrating East Hampton's Bicentennial.


  1. thanks for a nice, thoughtful piece on my grandmother! her paintings have been such a huge part of my life, but I was only 6 when she died - I wish I had more time to know her better!
    Cici Bevin Gordon

  2. Hi Dean,
    My mother June Conklin Hilton was a first cousin to Alice and knew her well. I personally miss them all. Douglas was like a big brother to me and I was able to reconnect with Betty the year before she died. My three sisters and I are lucky enough to have 8 of her paintings among us including the self-portrait of Alice in the alps featured in your article.
    Harvey Conklin Hilton

    1. Hi Harvey, my sister was the best friend of your sister Kimberly. (She sat for Alice once).

  3. Hi, Dean. I grew up on Oak Knoll Road nearby. On a recent visit home, I too was struck by the restoration. I'm doing some research on the house and the town's history when I came across your blog. This is excellent information on Alice Bevins.
    Julianne Warren

  4. Looking for a portrait Alice C. Bevin did of my mother delivering newspapers in Provincetown, MA. Can anyone help? If so, please e-mail me at km.burns@hotmail.com. Thank you!

  5. After eight years of continuous renovation, it's time for someone else to write the next chapter in the history of this glorious house. We had a great time and enjoyed our contributions.