George William Whitaker (1840-1916), a Fall River native, was one of the four founders of the Providence Art Club in 1880, along with Edward M. Bannister, Charles Walter Stetson, and Sydney Burleigh. Having studied in Paris with Laszlo De Paal, his work was influenced by the Barbizon School of landscape painters, where natural scenes became the subjects of paintings rather than being mere backdrops. He is best known for his Tonalist landscapes, which he developed in his years at Barbizon and Fontainebleau.
Often called the “dean of Providence painters,” Whitaker promoted collegiality among artists and was comfortable working with other painters. In 1895 he joined fellow artist, Sydney Burleigh in Burleigh’s Fleur de Lys building, a few doors down the hill from the Providence Art Club. He was the first instructor in oil painting at the Rhode Island School of Design. He was also a founder of the Providence Water Color Club. He exhibited at the National Academy in 1867 and 1869 and the Boston Art Club throughout the 1880s. Whitaker’s achievements in art were equal to his efforts to create, via the Providence Art Club, an organization which nurtured and supported talented Rhode Island artists.