Philip Leslie Hale (1865-1931) was the son of prominent Unitarian minister and well-known author, Edward Everett Hale. Members of this distinguished old Boston family included such ancestors as Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale, influential preacher Lyman Beecher, educator Catherine Beecher, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. From a young age Philip's talent and interest in drawing was encouraged by his parents, especially his mother. An older artist sister, Ellen Day Hale (1855-1940) and an aunt, Susan Hale (1834-1910), a trained painter, provided Philip with his first art lessons.
Family tradition and expectations decreed that after completing studies at the Boston Latin School and Roxbury Latin School, Hale would attend Harvard. After passing Harvard's entrance examination, as required by his father, Philip was free to pursue art. He enrolled in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in the fall of 1883, where he was an early pupil of Edmund C. Tarbell. The following year he continued his studies in New York at the Art Students League under J. Alden Weir and Kenyon Cox.
In early 1887, Hale went to Paris, adopted a bohemian lifestyle, and studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian. He became friends with fellow students Theodore Butler and William Howard ("Peggy") Hart. In the summer of 1888, the three made their first trip to Giverny, where they were among the first Americans to experiment with Impressionism. They met other American artists, including Theodore Robinson, John Leslie Breck, and Theodore Wendel, who also had been drawn to Giverny by the presence of Claude Monet. Hale returned to Boston in the summer of 1890, but was soon drawn back to Paris to be with his sweetheart Katharine Kinsella. He spent the summers of 1891-1893 continuing his experiment with Impressionism in Giverny, and during that period traveled to London, Paris, and Spain, periodically returning home and to the family's Rhode Island summer place.
In 1893 Hale began teaching cast drawing at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he remained on the faculty until his death in 1931. Eventually he became the chief instructor of drawing, and also offered courses in life drawing, artistic anatomy, and art history. Hale also taught at the Worcester Art Museum (1898-1910), the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1913-1928), and Boston University (1926-1928).
Hale's first solo exhibition, held in 1899 at Durand-Ruel Galleries in New York City, consisted of Impressionist paintings and pastels that received mixed reviews. In subsequent years his work became increasingly academic and focused on figure paintings and portraits. He exhibited frequently in national and international shows, won numerous medals and prizes, and was elected an Associate National Academician of the National Academy of Design in 1917.
In 1902, Hale married former student, Lilian Westcott, a painter and portraitist whose success during some periods eclipsed that of her husband.
Philip Leslie Hale, like many of his relatives, was a noted writer and speaker. His column "Art in Paris" appeared regularly in the Canadian-based periodical Arcadia: A Journal Devoted to Music, Art and Literature between 1892 and 1893 and discussed Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Symbolism. Hale regularly contributed art columns, reviews, and miscellaneous articles to the Boston Daily Advertiser, Boston Commonwealth, Boston Herald, and Boston Evening Transcript during the first decade of the twentieth century.
Hale's teaching stressed the importance of learning Old Master's techniques. He had a life-long interest in Vermeer, and as a writer and critic he generated quite a bit of enthusiasm for that artist among the figurative painters of the Boston School, his own students, and others. Jan Vermeer of Delft, a highly regarded monograph by Philip Leslie Hale - the first on the subject published in the United States - appeared in 1913. He wrote several other books on art subjects, and his services as a lecturer on art topics were sought after by a variety of organizations both locally and nationally.
Philip Leslie Hale died following emergency surgery in Dedham, Massachusetts, on February 2, 1931.