For a volume on art education, The Open Eye in Learning (MIT Press, 1969), Richard Horace Bassett stated in his foreword: “Vision is instantaneous. A thing seen is more vivid than a thing read of.” His loosely brushed paintings and plein air studies attest to his abiding belief in this theory.

A dedicated teacher, Bassett had an academic background. He was the son of a prominent history professor at Trinity College (now Duke University) and was born in 1900 on the campus in Durham, North Carolina. Revealing an early aptitude for art, in 1911 he attended a private school in Vevey, Switzerland, where he studied with Henri Edouard Bercher, a landscape artist who painted scenes of mountains reflected in water. The following year Bassett continued his art education in Paris with an English landscapist, Percyval Tudor-Hart who was described by his protégé as “difficult but brilliant.” Bassett returned to the United States and attended the Phillips Academy Andover, graduating in 1916, and proceeded to Harvard College, where Denman Ross, a color theorist and noted collector and benefactor of Boston museums, was one of his instructors. At age eighteen Bassett enlisted in the United States Army and was stationed in Harvard Yard. After the war he resumed studies at Harvard but took time off to study once again with Tudor-Hart, this time in London. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree cum laude from Harvard in 1920.

Following graduation Bassett spent four years abroad, studying again with Tudor-Hart, and during breaks studied at the Académie Colarossi and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. In 1924 he moved to Florence, a period which he later described as “two years of extreme frustration where I produced nothing of consequence in spite of hard work.” On occasion he dined with noted art historian Bernard Berenson at I Tatti, the home of the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. In 1926 Bassett established a studio in New York where he became a specialist in painting murals. He was also sought-after for decorating mansions in New York, Massachusetts, and at the Mountain Lake Club in Lake Wales, Florida. In the late 1930s Bassett exhibited regularly with distinguished galleries in New York and Boston. At the time his paintings were somewhat austere depictions of urban scenery, which did not sell particularly well. In later years he gravitated toward landscape painting with a lighter palette.

In 1937, Bassett married Henrietta Warburton Durant from Charleston, South Carolina. Subsequently, they moved to Boston, and at times visited the city of her birth until their divorce in 1958. During World War II he served as an intelligence officer in the Army Specialist Corps as he spoke both French and Italian.

In 1945 he established the art department at Milton Academy in Milton, Massachusetts, and served as the head of the department for twenty years. He taught classes in painting, drawing, and art history. As the chairman of the art committee for the National Association of Independent Schools, Bassett edited and wrote four of the chapters in The Open Eye in Learning: The Role of Art in General Education which deals with the theory of art education as well as practical approaches to instruction. Continuing his own education in 1992, he returned to Paris where despite his age, he once again took a seat in the life class at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière.