December 17, 1884|
Bangor, Maine, U.S.
|Died||March 18, 1970(aged 85)|
Peirce was both a prominent painter and a well-known character. He was sometimes called "the American Renoir". A long-time friend of Ernest Hemingway, of whom he painted the cover picture for Time magazine in 1937, he was once called "the Ernest Hemingway of American painters." To which he replied, "They'll never call Ernest Hemingway the Waldo Peirce of American writers." His reputation as an artist diminished sharply after his death.
The offspring of wealthy Maine lumber barons, Peirce attended Phillips Academy, Andover [Class of 1903] and then Harvard. As he once said, he never worked a day in his life. He did, however, spend many hours every day for 50 years of his life painting thousands of pictures of his beloved families (he was married 4 times and had numerous children), still lifes, and landscapes. In 1938, he painted two murals for the U.S. Post Office (Troy, New York).
In 1915. Peirce joined the American Field Service, an ambulance corps that served on the French battlefields, two years before the entry of the United States into World War I. He was later decorated with the Croix de Guerre by the French government for bravery at Verdun.
Peirce was a large man for his time (he was drafted onto the Harvard football team, he said, solely because of his size) and with a mustache and full beard and a large cigar jammed perpetually into his mouth he looked every inch of a cartoonist's notion of an artist. Peirce himself was adamant about one thing: "I'm a painter," he insisted, "not an artist".
His most famous episode occurred just after his graduation from Harvard around 1910. He and his friend John Reed, the American communist who is buried in the Kremlin walls, booked passage together on a freighter from Boston to England. As the ship was leaving Boston Harbor, Peirce decided that the accommodations were not to his taste. Without a word to anyone, he jumped off the back of the ship and swam several miles back to shore. Reed was then arrested by the ship's captain for the murder of his vanished travelling companion and thrown into the brig. When the freighter eventually arrived in England, Peirce was at the dock waiting to greet his friend Reed—he had dried himself off and taken a faster ship to England. A further embellishment to the story is that Peirce had swum in a multi-mile swimming contest at Harvard a few days before.
Peirce was married four times and had five children. He was devoted to his children and painted them many hundreds of times. In a letter written in the mid-1930s, Ernest Hemingway described a visit by Peirce to his home in Key West, Florida: "Waldo is here with his kids like untrained hyenas and him as domesticated as a cow. Lives only for the children and with the time he puts on them they should have good manners and be well trained but instead they never obey, destroy everything, don't even answer when spoken to, and he is like an old hen with a litter of apehyenas. I doubt if he will go out in the boat while he is here. Can't leave the children. They have a nurse and a housekeeper too, but he is only really happy when trying to paint with one setting fire to his beard and the other rubbing mashed potato into his canvasses. That represents fatherhood."
His older brother, Hayford, was a noted authority on Byzantine art and his third wife, Alzira Peirce (1908–2010), also enjoyed a modest reputation as a painter. His nephew, Hayford Peirce, is a science-fiction and mystery writer. Prominent British solicitor Gareth Peirce married his son, Bill.
- Gallagher, William. "Waldo Peirce - Brief life of a vibrant artist: 1884-1970". Harvard Magazine. Harvard Magazine Inc. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
- The Private Hemingway (excerpt), quoted in the New York Times, 15 February 1981.
- Waldo Peirce at the Schneider Museum of Art, Southern Oregon University, Ashland, Oregon 
- Article about Waldo Peirce in Bangor Metro Magazine, December, 2005