John Whorf was one of the most accomplished and esteemed watercolorists of the first half of the twentieth century. Creating realist depictions of urban and rural imagery, he worked in a luminous painterly style often compared to that of John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer. Born in Winthrop, Massachusetts, John Whorf received his initial exposure to art from his father, Harry C. Whorf, a commercial artist and graphic designer. His first formal instruction began, however, at age fourteen when he enrolled simultaneously at the St. Botolph Studio in Boston, where he was taught by Sherman Kidd, and at the Boston Museum School, where his teachers were Philip L. Hale and William James.
Spending the summer of 1917 or 1918 in Provincetown, Whorf attended a class with Charles W. Hawthorne, a popular teacher who rendered portraits and landscapes in a bold and painterly style. The Cape Cod landscape had a deep effect on Whorf and he would return to render it continuously throughout his life. He was also attracted to Provincetown's growing art colony, and during his first stay he met such leading contemporary painters as Max Bohn and E. Ambrose Webster.
About 1919, John Whorf visited France, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. In Paris, he enrolled briefly at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the Grande Chaumière, and the Académie Colarossi. During his time abroad, Whorf turned increasingly away from oil painting and began to focus on watercolor, which he found suited his transient lifestyle and his expressive and aesthetic interests. John Whorf returned to Boston during the early 1920s.
In 1924, his first solo exhibition was held at the Grace Horne Gallery. The show was extremely well received; fifty works were sold, and Whorf was commended as Boston's leading watercolorist by the press. His paintings also captured the attention of John Singer Sargent, who purchased a watercolor from the artist. Whorf claimed that following his successful debut, he received informal instruction from Sargent.
Throughout the rest of his career, John Whorf remained a popular and prolific artist. He exhibited his work annually at Grace Horne in Boston and at the Milch Gallery in New York; during the summers, he showed at the Shore Galleries in Provincetown. He depicted landscapes and figural works, however, he is best known for his city views which have been compared to those of Edward Hopper and Reginald Marsh for their realistic approach. Yet Whorf's fluid technique reflects the more painterly styles of Sargent and American Impressionist Frank Benson. He developed a confident and spontaneous method of applying his paint, creating works in which he interspersed sparkling transparent washes with areas of deep opaque color.
Although he often traveled in America and abroad in search of painting subjects, John Whorf and his wife Vivienne settled in Provincetown in 1937. There the artist painted landscapes and figural subjects, and continued to enjoy a successful career. He was one of two contemporary Massachusetts artists represented in the Museum of Modern Art's 1938 exhibition of American art created in Paris. In 1947, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Design. John Whorf is represented in many important private and public collections including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Pitti Palace, Florence; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.