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Charles Frederick Kimball, 1831-1903: Painting Portland's Legacy


The year 2003 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Charles Frederick Kimball, one of the most gifted and complex landscape painters to live in 19th-century Portland, Maine. During his lifetime, Kimball was a champion of the arts in Portland and one of the founders of the Portland Society of Art (now the Portland Museum of Art). An exhibition of his work, Charles Frederick Kimball, 1831-1903: Painting Portland's Legacy, will be on view at the Portland Museum of Art from August 31, 2003 through December 7, 2003.

This special memorial exhibition of 45 works (24 paintings, 10 prints, seven drawings, and four sketchbooks), is drawn largely from the Museum's collection, enhanced with loans of a few significant paintings, including a monumental view of Portland Harbor upon which Kimball was working at the time of his death. Taken together, Kimball's paintings, drawings, prints, and sketchbooks provide a beautiful record of this significant life in art in the context of the community that both nurtured and inspired it.

The inheritor of a local landscape tradition that began in the 1820s with artists like Charles Codman and Alvan Fisher, Kimball drew upon both regional and international models in his paintings of Maine. Although early on he studied painting with local artists Charles Octavius Cole and John Greenleaf Cloudman (who eventually became his father-in-law), Kimball was largely self-taught, quickly developing skills in rendering the effects of light and atmosphere that eclipsed those of his teachers. Early works like Marine Hospital (1859), which shows a local landmark bathed in the golden light of late day, demonstrate a keen understanding of the effects and techniques employed by nationally revered artists now celebrated as Luminists or as members of the Hudson River School. Later Kimball became inspired by European masters, and works like his Poplars (1878) show the influence of the French Barbizon school in their freehanded brushwork and crisp color palette. Like the Barbizon artists, Kimball also experimented with printmaking, producing a small group of masterful etchings between 1880 and 1889 and thus participating in a revival of etching in late 19th-century America.

Despite his wide sphere of aesthetic influence, Kimball remained dedicated exclusively to the landscapes in and around Portland for his subject matter. His sketching trips with the "Brush'uns," a weekend painting group of amateur and professional Portland artists of which Kimball was an original member, no doubt provided him with inspiration for many of his paintings. Kimball's dedication to his local arts scene led him to play a major role in founding the Portland Society of Art in 1882, and to serve as President of the Society from 1899 until his death in 1903. Along with his friend and fellow Brush'un John Calvin Stevens, he also helped to influence Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat to leave the McLellan House to the Society, thus furnishing the Portland Society of Art with its first permanent home.

This exhibition will be accompanied by a full-color gallery guide featuring an essay by Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., Director of the Maine Preservation Commission and a longtime scholar of Kimball's work. The gallery guide will be available for sale at the Museum during the exhibition.

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