One of Kentucky's most beloved artists, Paul Sawyier lived a life many would consider tragically romantic. Although he was born in Madison County, Ohio in 1865, Sawyier spent his childhood and much of his adult life in Frankfort, Kentucky. Sawyier's father supported and encouraged his son's budding artistic talent, and after realizing that Paul's school offered no art classes, he hired a private tutor from Cincinnati for his son.
After high school, Sawyier enrolled in drawing classes at the Cincinnati Art Academy in 1884 where he studied under Thomas S. Noble. By 1885, he had opened his own studio in Ohio with fellow artist, Avery Sharp. Sawyier was unable to support himself as a portraitist and was persuaded to return to Kentucky in 1886 by his father. That same year Sawyier worked as a hemp salesman, but he was miserable and quit his job. He took up residence on a small houseboat and dedicated his time to painting en plein air, sketching picturesque scenes in the Kentucky River Valley which he finished in his studio on the boat.
In 1889, Sawyier left Kentucky to study under under William Merritt Chase at New York's Art Students League, where he cultivated his Impressionist style. After only one year at the League, Sawyier returned to Cincinnati to take instruction from another Kentucky artist, Frank Duveneck. Throughout his life, Sawyier traveled between Frankfort, Cincinnati, and New York seeking patrons and inspiration. Much of his oeuvre contains landscapes of locations outside of Kentucky, including Brooklyn, New York City, and the Catskills. Sawyier's mature style fused the concepts of Impressionism with the atmospheric effects seen in many Tonalist works of the time. Sawyier also continued with portraiture as a means of income, and one such piece was exhibited at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. Later in his career, Sawyier utilized photography as a more modern take on painting en plein air. Many American artists, including Thomas Eakins, were beginning to focus on photography as a means of enhancing the study of a subject, and the soft focus lens of a camera complimented Sawyier's attention to atmospheric light.