Gonzales, Boyer, Sr. (1864–1934)

By: Edward Simmen

Type: Biography

Published: September 1, 1995

Boyer Gonzales, Sr., marine painter, was born on September 22, 1864, in Houston where his mother had fled to escape a yellow fever epidemic on Galveston Island that had taken the life of one of his two sisters. He was the fourth of five children born to Thomas and Edith (Boyer) Gonzales. Gonzales grew up in a privileged atmosphere, the second son of a socially prominent and wealthy family who lived in a mansion on Avenue O. He was a member of Trinity Episcopal Church, attended tea dances at the Garten Verein, traveled extensively throughout the South, East, and far West, as well as in Mexico, and on occasion spent summers with his family at fashionable spas in Michigan, Georgia, and Maine to take the waters and escape from the oppressive heat of Galveston. He was educated in private schools in Galveston and at Williston Academy in Massachusetts. At the age of twelve, he began working fulltime for his father's successful cotton brokerage firm. However, early on, he revealed natural artistic talents in the sketches and paintings he made during frequent hunting trips on the west end of Galveston Island and on extended trips he made with his family to visit his married sister in Boston. Later, he always found time to draw during business trips he made to Seattle and San Francisco. In 1888, during a trip to visit his sister in Boston, he toured the rocky coast of Maine stopping over in Prout's Neck, where he met Winslow Homer. The introduction came through Homer's brother, Arthur, who owned a rope factory in Galveston and was a close friend of the Gonzales family. The two men took to each other immediately and began what was to be a lifelong and intense friendship. They not only corresponded regularly, the two spent six summers fishing and sketching together in Homer's Prout's Neck studio. Although Homer never formally taught Gonzales, his encouragement and his bold watercolor style had an important impact on the young Texan.

Four years later, in 1892, Boyer Gonzales made the grand tour of Europe, visiting numerous clients of Thomas Gonzales and Son in England, the Netherlands, and Germany before settling down to spend a month at a spa in Schwalbach, Germany, and then continuing on for another month visiting cities in Switzerland, Italy, and France. At all time he made detailed and intimate entries in his diary and wrote lengthy letters to his parents. The following year he journeyed with friends to Colorado and then on to Chicago, where he spent several weeks at the World's Columbian Exposition. All this time he sketched and painted as a hobby. It was not until 1894 that he received any formal training; then he spent three weeks in Annisquan, Massachusetts, studying with the noted York Colorist, William J. Whittemore. In January of the following year, only months after his mother's death, Gonzales traveled alone to Mexico with the singular intention: to paint. He, thus, became the first American artist to journey into the interior of Mexico and capture in a series of watercolors the lush Mexican country side, its remote villages, and its people. Those works, likewise, represent Gonzales's first attempts to become something more than an amateur painter. In December of the following year Gonzales's father died. Now, he was in control of the Gonzales family interests, something he was neither inclined to do nor wanted to do. Year after year he began to devote more and more time to his art. During the summer of 1900 he studied in Boston with Walter Lansil, who, in turn, introduced him to the works of the Dutch master of marine painting, Hendrick Willem Mesdag. The following year Gonzales sold the firm of Thomas Gonzales and Son, but remained in the city as a bookkeeper. In 1904 he was invited to show in the Texas Pavilion at the St. Louis World's Fair.

On September 21, 1907, he married Eleanor Hertford of Galveston in the Little Church around the Corner in New York City. That same day he was informed that he had been accepted to study with Birge Harrison at the Art Students League of New York in Woodstock. Winslow Homer sent the couple two of his watercolors as a wedding gift. The following year the couple traveled to Europe, where Gonzales met for the first time Mesdag, the Dutch painter of marine scenes, who was to have such an influence on his later works. After visiting England, Germany, Switzerland, the Gonzaleses settled in Florence, where he studied with several well-known Italian painters. They returned to Galveston, where their only child, Boyer Gonzales, Jr., was born on February 11, 1909. By 1912 Gonzales had left the cotton business so that he could devote all of his time to painting and exhibiting his work. He built a studio in Woodstock, New York, in 1919 and thereafter spent his summers there and his winters in Galveston and San Antonio. Gonzales also painted at Monhegan Island, Maine, and Taos, New Mexico. Occasionally, he returned to paint in Mexico.

Gonzales painted a variety of landscapes in both oils and watercolors but was best known for his watercolors of coastal scenes in Texas and Maine. He was praised for his knowledge of ship construction and his expertise in representing the appearance and habits of marine animal life. He won medals for work exhibited in Dallas in 1921 and 1924 and a prize at the 1926 Southern States Art League competitive exhibition. His work was exhibited at the Fort Worth Museum of Art, the Galveston Art League, the Houston Fine Arts Museum, and at galleries in San Antonio, Dallas, Waco, and New York City. Solo exhibitions of his work were mounted by the Witte Museum in 1927 and 1936; the later exhibition, a memorial to the artist, circulated to several other Texas museums. Gonzales was a member of the New York Water Color Club, the National Arts Club, the American Water Color Society, the American Federation of Art, the Washington Water color Club, the Mississippi Art Association, and the Salmagundi Club of New York City, where he exhibited with regularity. He was also an active member of the Texas Fine Arts Association, the Southern States Art League, and the Galveston Art League. In addition to painting Gonzales wrote several articles on birds and was just short of completing a biographical sketch on Winslow Homer when he died on February 14, 1934. The Rosenberg Library of Galveston owns over 200 of Gonzales's paintings, including one of his best-known works, The Dawn of Texas, an historical work representing René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle's ship anchored in Matagorda Bay. The San Antonio Museum Association owns several watercolor sketches of local missions by Gonzales. His work is also included in the collections of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Vanderpoel Art Association in Chicago.

Peter Haskins Falk, ed., Who Was Who in American Art (Madison, Connecticut: Sound View, 1985). Gonzales Family Papers, Rosenberg Library, Galveston. National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 24. Cecilia Steinfeldt, The Texas Collection: Regional Art in the San Antonio Museum Association (MS, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Vertical File, Rosenberg Library, Galveston. Who's Who in America, 1974–75.
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Visual Arts
  • Painting

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Edward Simmen, “Gonzales, Boyer, Sr.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/gonzales-boyer-sr.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 1, 1995

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