Artists of Cape Ann: A 150 Year Tradition

by Kristian Davies

Selected Biographies


Frederick J. Waugh

1861 - 1940


"Freddy, you will never make a businessman. You will do much better as an artist."[20] Such was the advice of Frederick Waugh's father, an accomplished painter himself, to the young man who would do more to popularize pure marine painting than any other American artist of his day. Such encouragement led Frederick, aged nineteen, to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts under the guidance of Thomas Eakins. In 1883 Waugh went to study at the Académie Julian in Paris, but it was during a trip to England that Waugh began to study the sea, observing it for hours, determined to develop new techniques to capture the movement and drama of crashing surf. He remained in England until 1907, and while working as an illustrator and painting along the coast he began building a reputation, selling many pictures. His gift for capturing the ocean was remarkable; no longer did he need to place a token ship on the horizon or hints of man's presence on the shoreline to aesthetically round out the painting. His ability to render what his own son later called "the true push and heave of the ancient thundering ocean"[21] was enough to fill a picture. Absent of man, the images suggest the viewer is witnessing the grand spectacle of mother nature at her very source, in all her beauty and turbulence.

Having moved back to New Jersey, Waugh abandoned commercial work and began traveling the New England coast, looking for any shoreline that might reveal another side of the ocean in all its passion and majesty. This quest led him from Provincetown to Monhegan Island and Bailey's Island. It was during this extended stay in Maine that Waugh and his wife, having exhausted the area's potential for a time, decided to go to Cape Ann, an area of which they had heard so much. Arriving in the summer of 1910, Waugh set about hunting for the drama of the shoreline and found something which changed the nature of his palette and technique. As George R. Havens describes in his biography on Waugh,

"Whether it was a belated influence of impressionism, coming to the surface suddenly after lying dormant through all these years, or only an instinctive mood of experimentation on his part, quite unconnected, consciously at least, with any artistic tendencies that had gone before, he now began to work with a thick impasto and a full use of undiluted color which reflected the vivid impact of these new scenes. In consequence, these Gloucester paintings have a shimmer, a vibration, a brilliance, which are in peculiar harmony with the subject." [22]

While in Gloucester, Waugh returned to his early years in St. Ives, painting pictures of the docks and boats. He spent days venturing into Gloucester harbor in a dory, with his son Coulton on the oars, paint and canvas all around him, and he would spend the day painting different views of the harbor. Because of Waugh's unique, singular search for the drama of the ocean, once he had exhausted the possibilities of the region, he moved on, in search of more surf.

Consequently, Waugh spent only one summer on Cape Ann. However the influence that the light and color of the region had on his style is significant. His brief return to painting harbor pictures has left a small but unique body of work from the period. Most significantly, his skill popularized pure marine painting amidst a large audience, and together with his many instructional books, inspired a new, legitimate genre unto itself, the influence of which can still be seen in galleries throughout Cape Ann today.


Note: None of the pictures accompanying the above selected biography from the book is included here.


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