Recognized today for his portrait paintings, Joseph Rodefer DeCamp was also a well known painter of interiors and nudes as well as landscapes. Sadly, two catastrophic fires during his lifetime destroyed a huge portion of his work, and today only ninety four known canvases survive.
He was born in Boston and began his formal studies in Munich at the age of seventeen. His teacher was Frank Duveneck, and he along with the old Dutch Masters, served as the strongest influences on DeCamp's works. He followed Duveneck when he left the Academy and headed to Florence and then Venice, where DeCamp refined his portrait and landscape skills.
He returned to Boston in 1880 and began taking students and painting portrait commissions. He became known as a member of the "Boston School" under Edmund Charles Tarbell, with a strong focus on figural subjects depicted in a realistic and elegant manner. He soon established a reputation as a leading portrait painter, as well as a respected teacher at the Wellesley Female Academy.
In 1897 however he helped to found "The Ten", which was a group of ten painters including Tarbell who sought to rebel against the established exhibition venues and allow less academic painters to show their work. The group exhibited from 1898 to 1919.
A fire in 1904 destroyed hundreds of his paintings, leaving mostly commissioned portraits to serve as examples of the evolution of his style, as he began to experiment with Impressionist brush work.
He did exhibit widely throughout his career, and some of his works remain in public collections, though many of his works have been acquired in private collections. Currently the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Cincinnati Art Museum and several others own examples of his work.