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Nelson H. White: Scenic Spirit

July 12 - October 14, 2012

 

The White family is best known for its long legacy as one of Connecticut's most accomplished dynasties of artists. Generation after generation, the Whites have produced breathtaking landscapes in oil, pastel, and watercolor. Nelson Holbrook White (b. 1932), inspired by his time in Florence and the years of traditional schooling, continues to paint vibrant intersections of sky, earth, and water. His survey exhibition, Nelson H. White: Scenic Spirit, will showcase approximately 35 works, including two by his father, Nelson Cooke White (1900-1989) and grandfather Henry Cooke White (1861-1952) at the New Britain Museum of American Art from July 12th through October 14th, 2012. (right: Self Portrait, 2011, oil on canvas, 16 x 12 inches. Courtesy of the artist.)

Nelson H. White's passion for natural settings is closely inspired by the work of Italian artist and teacher Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988), whom he praised as "the greatest realist painter of our time." White began studying under Annigoni after a visit to Florence in 1954 and has since split his time living and painting in Italy and Connecticut.

Nelson H. White: Scenic Spirit exhibits a wide range White's landscapes as well as two portraits, all completed between 1980-2012. Taking viewers from the sandy beaches of Tuscany in Bagno La Salute-Viareggio, Italy (2011) to a picturesque waterfront in The Marsh-Waterford, CT (1980), White believes "the essential objective of art is to render beauty." He focuses on depicting nature in the most truthful and timeless fashion. White paints in alla prima, a technique of layering wet paint upon previous layers of wet paint. His wispy strokes lead viewers' eyes across each canvas and animate his scenes of undulating dunes, marshes, streams and shores. White sometimes employs a palette knife in place of a traditional paintbrush, and thus his mature works exhibit built up levels of paint that add a haptic quality to the canvas. He often paints his scenes outside in a single sitting in order to capture the proper light and feel of a given place, producing smaller, intimate snapshots of nature and leisure.

Nelson H. White: Scenic Spirit includes scenes from Switzerland, France, California, and the Bahamas. Nelson H. White is currently a board member at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy and has been studying there since 2002. Over the years, he has regularly exhibited in the US and abroad, beginning with his first solo exhibition in 1961 at the Lyman Allyn Museum in New London, Connecticut. White has since exhibited at the Grenning Gallery in Sag Harbor, NY, the Hammer Gallery in New York, NY, the Kolomenskoy Museum in Moscow, Russia, the Panorama Museum in Frakenhausen, Germany and the Valadri Gallery in La Spezia, Italy.

 

To view additional images of selected artworks in the exhibition please click here and to view the exhibition catalogue for the exhibition please click here.

 

Introductory wall panel text from the exhibition

Nelson Holbrook White (b. 1932), contemporary realist and Connecticut native, has built his distinguished career on transporting viewers to picturesque vistas of New England, Long Island, and Italy through his vibrant landscape paintings that demonstrate an emotional understanding and profound respect for nature. Nelson H. White: Scenic Spirit charts Nelson's artistic output over the last 35 years.

A third-generation painter, Nelson has followed the footsteps of his grandfather, Henry Cooke White (1861-1952), and his father Nelson Cooke White (1900-1989), whose oils and watercolors are also on display. In addition to painting, both were talented writers and astute art collectors. Thus, Nelson was initiated into the world of art as a boy and received encouragement and early training from his father and grandfather. Furthermore, the views of Long Island Sound from the White house, build by Nelson's grandfather and still owned by the family, in Waterford, CT and their vacation home on Shelter Island, NY provided endless inspiration for young Nelson.

Nelson's formal art study began in 1954, during a visit to the studio of Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988). Annigoni, the Florentine master who was renowned worldwide for his portraits of presidents and royalty, took Nelson as an apprentice, and the two quickly became friends and travel companions. Nelson credits Annigoni, and Annigoni's close colleague, Nerina Simi (1890-1987) with teaching him how to accurately render form and space as well as refine his values.

Since the mid-1950s, Nelson has divided his time between Florence nine months of each year and Waterford and Shelter Island during the summer. Exercising his passion for landscape, he paints primarily outdoors and all prima (Italian for "first attempt"), working swiftly to apply paint to previous layers of paint while they are still wet. Over the years, Nelson's approach to outdoor painting has evolved tremendously from a more precise, academic style to a looser, highly dynamic application of paint, greater economy of detail, and bolder colors. As he explains, "Now I am more intent on the atmosphere, to render a feel for the moisture, the humidity of the air." "With discipline comes freedom," he continues.

A tireless worker and lifelong student, Nelson has been studying at the Florence Academy of Art since 2002. Founded by fellow American Daniel Graves (b.1949) in 1991, the Academy is a center for traditional training and a community of artists who share the belief that "the essential objective of art is to render beauty" and that "painting is supposed to say something" by conveying an emotion or mood that can be lost in a photograph. Nelson has also mentored a number of students of his own, proving to be a significant link between the heritage of traditional art and the present.

The Museum is most grateful to Peter Trippi for his catalogue essay, the Florence Academy of Art for its longstanding support of the Museum, members of the White family who kindly loaned paintings to the exhibition, and of course to Nelson, who provided key examples from his oeuvre and whose talent, guidance and generosity made Nelson H. White: Scenic Spirit possible.

Anna Rogulina
Assistant Curator

 

Wall labels for objects in the exhibition


Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
Bagno La Salute-Viareggio, Italy, 2011
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
During weekends of the academic year, Nelson Holbrook White breaks from studying portraiture and figure painting at the Florence Academy of Art to capture some of Europe's most scenic destinations. Nelson first began painting beach scenes with parasols in the 1980s, "after a trip to Saint Tropez on the French Mediterranean coast," where he found the views "particularly inspiring."
 
Bagno La Salute-Viareggio, Italy exudes a sense of ultimate leisure. A vast expanse of soft sand holds vibrant orange parasols and sea-blue lounge chairs in a scene of sheer contentment. Touches of white from the distant sailboats, breaking waves and umbrella poles stand boldly against the cerulean waters and sky of the tranquil coast. The monumental scale of Bagno La Salute-Viareggio, Italy is the result of Nelson's conscious effort to challenge himself by concentrating on larger paintings that require multiple sittings.
 
 
 
 
Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
Dering Harbor-Shelter Island, NY, 1998
Oil on canvas
Private collection
 
"It interested me greatly to be with him [grandfather] and my father while visiting in Peconic, Long Island, as a boy. From them, I learned the importance of tone and values in painting, and above all, taste."
-Nelson Holbrook White, A Small Biography in Three Parts
 
Shelter Island, New York served as both a vacation getaway and artistic harbor for the White family. It was there that Nelson Cooke White (1900-1989) became acquainted with the artists' colony of Peconic and befriended Impressionist Irving Wiles (1861-1948). His son, Nelson Holbrook, was also inspired by the artistic atmosphere and scenic nature of Shelter Island, and Dering Harbor-Shelter Island, NY demonstrates his connection to the place. Lush green brush surrounds the outer edges of the painting, framing the open harbor. Colorful boats in the distance sit still on the unperturbed water as the sky slowly fades to perpetuate the pictorial beauty of the scene.
 
 
 
 
Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
Evening on the Dune, 2002
Pastel
Private collection
 
Nelson Holbrook White began painting the shores of Viareggio, a northern Tuscan city, in 1956 while studying under Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988), and he continues to transport viewers to its vistas today.
 
The dreamy, almost mystical Evening on the Dune is an indirect homage to Henry Cooke White (1861-1952) and Dwight Tryon (1849-1925), both of whom were known for their exquisite marine pastels. Using a box of pastels that originally belonged to his grandfather, Nelson masterfully conveys the atmosphere of dusk by maintaining color in shadows in this highly nuanced work.
 
 
 
 
Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
Haven, 2010
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
Self-Portrait and Haven represent Nelson Holbrook White's interests beyond landscape: portrait and figure painting. Both form the focus of his study at the Florence Academy. Believing that "the essential objective of art is to render beauty," White uses the images of the young sitter to epitomize the elegance and vitality of youth.
 
 
 
 
Henry Cooke White (1861-1952)
Clearing After Storm-New London, 1903
Oil on wood
Private collection
 
Clearing After Storm-New London is an excellent example of a Connecticut seascape, which was one of Henry Cooke White's favorite subjects. Distant sailboats occupy the serene waters, reflecting Henry's passion for sailing. Entranced by the tranquility of Long Island Sound, he commissioned architect Wilson Eyre (1958-1944) to build his family home in Waterford, CT overlooking the ocean.
 
Clearing After Storm-New London was painted at the turn of the century, when Henry became one of the first members of the art colony in Old Lyme (just 12 miles from Waterford), alongside Childe Hassam (1859-1925), Willard L. Metcalf (1858-1925), Edward F. Rook (1870-1960) and other noteworthy artists.
 
According to his son, Nelson Cooke White, "it was the fleeting, evanescent effects that really moved and inspired him." Despite Henry's connections to the artistic motivations of Impressionism, however, he never considered himself a follower of the movement. While he worked on hundreds of beautiful pastels outdoors, many of his oil paintings were ultimately finished in his studio. His preference for using wood panels rather than canvases was a practical choice, because wood not only offered added durability, but also the benefit of a warm undertone from the natural color of the wood-ideal for Henry's tonalist sensibilities.
 
 
 
 
Henry Cooke White (1861-1952)
The Old Man, 1878
Oil on wood
Private collection
 
Nelson H. White's grandfather, Henry Cooke White, was an established artist and art collector. As a teenager, Henry learned to draw and paint from the renowned tonalist Dwight W. Tryon (1849-1925), whose definitive biography he later published. In the mid-1880s, Henry enrolled at the Brooklyn Academy and the Art Students League. He eventually turned to teaching himself, helping establish the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts in Hartford in 1910.
 
Thanks to the influence of his grandfather and his painter friends, Nelson developed a strong appreciation for the arts and learned the basics of painting at a young age. He recalls his grandfather's advice: "if you can see it well, you can draw it. Drawing is not a trick of the hand, it is observation."
 
Henry's keen sense of observation is evident in The Old Man. Henry completed the clear and stoic portrait in Tryon's studio when he was only eighteen years old. Then a first year student at Art Students League, he often retreated to the studio "to be more productive." The luminescent gold frames of the old man's glasses add the slightest hint of color to the painting's otherwise subdued palette.
 
 
 
 
Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
Kitching's Point, 2009
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
Kitching's Point offers a view from the White family home in Waterford, CTwhere Nelson Holbrook grew up. The painting is among the finest examples of his command of the palette knife, which he uses almost exclusively here. The technique of applying paint on a canvas with a palette knife is ideal for acquiring brilliance of color and was first suggested to Nelson by his father and grandfather. As Nelson explains, "In a paint brush, the paint is slightly diluted. A palette knife is more direct."
 
Particularly dynamic in Kitching's Point are Nelson's delivery of whites and creams for sand and his playful rendering of rosehip blossoms as specks of blues, pinks, oranges, and yellows. The luscious textures and layers of paint coalesce from a distance and delight the eye when studied up close.
 
 
 
 
Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
Mashomack Point, 2010
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
Shelter Island's Mashomack Point, near the White family's vacation home, offers panoramic views of Long Island. Enchanted by the unperturbed nature of Shelter Island, Nelson Holbrook White continues to travel there every August to paint.
 
A product of one such sojourn, Mashomack Point displays the delicate blending of land and sea. Nelson captures the spirit of his natural surroundings in low-key shades of browns, greens, and grays. The horizontality of the landscape is accentuated by the repetition of painterly striations that render the marsh, land, sea and sky.
 
 
 
 
Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
 
1. Massarella, Italy, 2010
2. Sag Harbor, NY, 2011
3. Nantucket Harbor, 2005
4. Sea and Sky, Nassau, 2011
5. Venice, 2011
6. Viareggio, 2010
7. Yellow Umbrella, 2010
8. The Royal Palm, 2011
9. The Riviera of Versilia, 2011
10. Sunset, 2010
11. Healdsburg, California, 2009
 
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
Nelson Holbrook White vies to capture the ever-changing colors and beauty of Mother Nature in all of her settings. Like his Italian mentor Pietro Annigoni's (1910-1988) early works, Nelson's small oils are painted in a single sitting. His lively brushstrokes appear fleeting, echoing his view of nature as a continuously evolving body.
 
Reflective of his worldly travels, Nelson's small oil paintings include scenes from Italy, New England, California, and the Bahamas. Through his unique application of paint which often involves the use of a small palette knife, White achieves radiating light, vivid color and subdued shadows. From the naturalism and precision of Masarella, Italy to the near-abstraction of Sunset, White presents snapshots of scenic perfection.
 
 
 
 
Nelson Cooke White (1900-1989)
The Basin, Sterling Creek -Greenport, Long Island, NY, 1927
Watercolor on tonal paper
Private collection
 
Nelson Cooke White's upbringing exposed him to the most scenic spots of New England. Following the artistic pursuits of his father, Henry Cooke White, he developed a particular enthusiasm for boats and sailing. The Basin, Sterling Creek-Long Island, NY portrays the waters of a familiar view for Nelson Cooke, as the White family often vacationed on Long Island. The gray sky, full harbor and reflective water divide the watercolor into three horizontal planes that blend harmoniously to create a picture of serenity. He shared his holistic approach to painting with his son, Nelson Holbrook White, teaching that painting "is just like juggling; don't work in one area, work all over the picture."
 
 
 
 
Nelson Cooke White (1900-1989)
The Fishing Fleet, Viareggio, 1958
Oil on panel
New Britain Museum of American Art Gift of the Artist, 1979.078
The calm coast of Viareggio, Italy has enchanted the White family for decades. Both Nelson Cooke and his son, Nelson Holbrook, have traveled to the Northern Italian shore and painted its arresting scenes of land and water. Nelson Cooke's wife, Aida, was daughter of an Italian stone carver, and trips to Florence were, as young Nelson Holbrook put, "obligatory" during any visit to Europe. Nelson Cooke's The Fishing Fleet, Viareggio, was painted only four years after his son's first trip to Florence where he befriended longtime mentor Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988).
 
In The Fishing Fleet, Viareggio Nelson Holbrook combines subtle tonalism and fleeting impression to render a soothing white sky and subdued, reflecting waters.
 
 
 
 
Nelson Cooke White (1900-1989)
The Peonies, ca.1930
Oil on wood
Private collection
 
Nelson Cooke White was born in Waterford, CT to father and artist Henry Cooke White (1861-1952). Growing up, he was surrounded by beautiful objects and paintings and encouraged to pursue art. Having studied at the National Academy of Design and Yale University, he established his own career as a landscape painter. Additionally, he followed literary pursuits, publishing biographies of American artists Abbott H. Thayer (1849-1921) and J. Frank Currier (1843-1909).
 
Like his father, Nelson Cooke collected art, focusing on contemporary realism during a time when modernism and abstraction dominated the art world. He was inspired by friends and artists Thomas W. Dewing (1951-1938) and Maria Oakey Dewing (1845-1927), admiring their naturalistic portrayals of floral still life and traditional portraiture.
 
Painted twenty years after Henri Matisse's (1869-1954) fauvist Les Pivoines (The Peonies), Nelson Cooke's eponymous painting demonstrates his commitment to truthful rendering of idyllic nature. The Peonies captures simple beauty with brushstrokes that flow from one petal to another, to embody the traditional picturesque essence of still-life.
 
 
 
 
Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
Nice, France, ca. 1982
Watercolor
Private collection
 
Nelson Holbrook White credits the training received under Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988) and Nerina Simi (1890-1987) as the foundation of his watercolors, because both teachers stressed the importance of drawing and values before mastering color. In Nice, France Nelson's use of vibrant color indicates the skill of a confident hand and foreshadows the even more brilliantly colored landscapes produced over the past decade. The nautical subject matter hints at Nelson's inherited fondness for boats, which he developed as a young boy, learning "how to row at age three and how to sail at age four."
 
 
 
 
Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
Port of Nice, France, 1977
Oil on board
New Britain Museum of American Art
Friends Purchase Fund, 1979.083
 
Having lived in Florence nine months of each year since the mid-1950s, Nelson Holbrook White has also spent ample time painting on the proximal coast of southern France, particularly in the beautiful beachside city of Nice.
 
 
 
 
Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
Samedan, Switzerland, ca. 1999
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
Nelson Holbrook White has always enjoyed painting snow and regularly travels to Switzerland to paint the snowy Alps. Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988) admired his winter scenes with the encouraging words: "When the winter comes, you should just paint snow."
 
 
 
 
Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
Sea and Sky, 2011
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
Music played an important role in the life of the White family. Nelson Holbrook White is an accomplished violinist, and his emotional interconnectedness with music has informed his approach to painting. Art historian Peter Trippi has commented on the musicality of Nelson's landscapes, remarking "Quiet as they seem at first glance, White's scenes of shore and marsh can also be imagined with soundtracks-the crash of waves, the squawking of gulls, the ebbing of tidal waters-not so remote from music itself."
 
Inspired by the luminous scenes of surf by William Trost Richards (1833-1905), the simplified composition of Sea and Sky elicits not only the impression of waves crashing along the coast but also the rhythmic sound emitting from their forceful encounter with land.
 
 
 
 
Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
Self-Portrait, 2011
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
Nelson H. White's portraiture reflects time spent with the famous portrait painter Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988), whose sitters included Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the royal family. As Nelson's mentor, Annigoni taught him the importance of reflection and shading. Demonstrating the impressionistic execution of his mature works, his Self-Portrait conveys emotionality and essence rather than sole likeness.
 
 
 
 
Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
Sils, Switzerland, 2012
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
Black Mirror
 
Sketch Box
 
It is values, Nelson believes, that give life to one's drawing and painting, much more than color. To assess the accuracy of his values, Nelson relies on his grandfather's "black mirror," a simple device that eliminates color so that the artist can focus on the darks and the lights of the scene.
 
The sketch box is another important tool, as it keeps Nelson's workspace portable, allowing him paint in miniature virtually anywhere -- from his hotel window, the front seat of his car, or in the Swiss Alps.
 
 
 
 
Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
The Fish, 2004
Oil on canvas
Private collection
 
While Nelson Holbrook White is best known for his panoramic scenes, in The Fish he captures a close-up view of nature. Rather than an exact documentation of the fish's form, the painting is an impression of their glistening movement against the dark waters of the pond. Slightly abstracted, the bodies of the fish resemble a conglomeration of leaves and bring to mind not only Nelson's own paintings of pond lilies, but also those of Claude Monet (1840-1926).
 
 
 
 
Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
The Marsh-Waterford, CT, ca. 1980
Oil on canvas
Private Collection
 
"Every stroke of the brush, which is never commonly virtuosic, but rather humble, obeys the sharp observation of values, construction, and tones. This does not mean that his emotions are silent and nullified in front of the subject (which after all has been selected for spontaneous kinship). The deeply acquired conviction that always in the light, in the atmosphere, and the equilibrium of volumes, there is a universal and by itself superior beauty, permeating any subject, prevails on him, enwrapping his feeling and driving him to reach heights more subtly poetic."
 
-Pietro Annigoni, 1984
 
Overlooking the serene Long Island Sound, Waterford, CT has been home to the White family for over a century. One of Nelson Holbrook White's earliest works in the exhibition, The Marsh-Waterford, CT is painted in a controlled, precise stroke using natural, organic tones. Nelson's attention to rendering a multidimensional sky recalls his father's warnings against creating "flat" backdrops. The subtle fading of greys and blues gives the sky a sense of depth, and the marsh grasses seem to move with the wind in one of Nelson's most illusionistic paintings.
 
 
 
 
Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
The Poppy Field, 2011
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist
 
The Poppy Field epitomizes Nelson H. White's en plein air approach to landscape painting and interest in capturing natural light. His active build up of paint creates an undefined, idyllic field of poppies in which the lines between mountain, sky and field are blurred. The color of the mountain range and their undulating movement along the horizon are reminiscent of White's rendering of cerulean waters in his signature paintings of beaches and shores.
 
 
 
 
Nelson Holbrook White
(b. 1932)
The North Shore-Greenport, NY, 2001
Oil on canvas
Collection of the artist

 


(above: Bagno La Salute - Viareggio, Italy, 2011, oil on canvas, 40.5 x 70.75 inches. Courtesy of the artist.)

 

(above: The Poppy Field, 2011, oil on canvas, 9 x 16 inches. Courtesy of the artist.)

 

 

Resource Library editor's note:

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Anna Rogulina, Assistant Curator, New Britain Museum of American Art, for her help concerning permission for publishing online the exhibition catalogue.

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