Birge Harrison, born in Philadelphia, was induced by John Singer Sargent to abandon his father's business and travel to Paris where for six years he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts.
Harrison admired the work of the French impressionists but expressed reservations about their use of intense colors. He became more responsive to the quieter, evocative style of the Barbizon school, with its more romantic concept of nature, and became known for his poetic depictions of winter landscape. When the Art Students League established a landscape school at Woodstock, New York, he was installed as its first director. In 1909 he published a book on landscape painting that became the standard text on the subject. But by the time of his death, in 1929, his technique and ideals, now passé, were derided by fellow artists and critics as sentimental "moonlight and mist."
Emery Battis Artist Biographies for the exhibition American Impressionism: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2000)
Birge Harrison studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, then spent several years abroad, traveling through Europe and even into Australia and the Middle East. On his return, he founded the Woodstock School in New York, where he taught landscape painting during the summer to members of the Art Students League. He preferred to paint winter scenes that showed the landscapes of the northern states and Canada, using subdued colors to express the effects of light on landscapes of snow and ice.