An Eye for Maine: Paintings from a Private Collection
by Donelson Hoopes
Winslow Homer also briefly studied in Europe and, like Johnson, did not embrace fashionable Continental trends in art, but maintained a strong connection to the American realist painting tradition. Before settling permanently in 1883 on the Maine coast at Prout's Neck, where he created his supremely masterful seascapes, Homer was best known for his rustic country scenes. As his biographer Lloyd Goodrich remarked, Homer led a "double life" in the 1870s, both painting and working as an illustrator in New York. Many of his choice paintings found a second existence as woodblock engravings which appeared in the pages of Harper's Weekly. With some slight modifications, Enchanted enjoyed this kind of reprise in the issue of September 19, 1874.
Soon after its establishment in 1866, Homer became a member of the American Society of Painters in Watercolor; but his use of the medium remained sporadic, and was still linked stylistically to his work as an illustrator. He began seriously to exploit his interest in transparent watercolor in 1873, when he spent the summer at Gloucester, Massachusetts. From this time forward, the purely narrative element in his pictures began to disappear in favor of greater emphasis on formal concerns for composition and technique. Pulling the Dory is a masterly example of the transparent wash method, notable for the extreme economy with which the artist achieved his results, both in terms of assured drawing and subtle, judicious color. In an 1875 review of Homer's watercolors, the critic and novelist Henry James pronounced the work as daring, and averred ". . . to reward his audacity [Homer] has incontestably succeeded." Winslow Homer would go on to become one of the greatest watercolor painters in the history of Western art, ranking with such renowned masters as Joseph M. W. Turner.
In growing numbers, American artists became attracted to impressionism in the 1880s, rejecting as outmoded the realist-Iuminist traditions associated with the Hudson River School. In 1886, only ten years after a group of dissident French painters mounted the first Impressionist exhibition in Paris, a gallery in New York City was host to a much acclaimed showing by many of the same artists. That year, Childe Hassam was working abroad, and was rapidly assimilating the new style. Shortly after his return to the United States in 1889, Hassam made his first visit to the Isles of Shoals. Lying some ten miles off the Maine-New Hampshire coast, the four islands in the group belonging to Maine are dominated by Appledore, where the state's first island resort hotel was built in 1848. The Appledore House became known for its distinguished guests from the New York and Boston art and literary worlds. Already acknowledged as the leading American exponent of the impressionist movement, Hassam was promptly welcomed into this environment. Thereafter for nearly every summer until 1916, Appledore became his open-air studio where Hassam created some of the most radiant paintings of his career. These are also his most conceptual paintings, setting rudimentary rock forms against the shimmering expanse of empty ocean. As with all of Hassam's Appledore views, this is the dynamic operating in Isles of Shoals that invests it with a timeless monumentality.
Farther up along the Maine coast, the tiny fishing village of Ogunquit was becoming an artists' colony. Charles Herbert Woodbury, an impressionist painter and teacher from Boston, arrived there in 1888, and soon opened a summer art school that attracted students from all over New England. As a teacher, he extolled the virtues of robust color and expressive brushwork -- lessons that one star pupil, Gertrude Fiske, put to good use in her arresting landscape, Silver Maple, Ogunquit. Examples of Woodbury's later work, such as Ogunquit Beach House, and especially Winter Sea, both painted in the early 1900s, reveal that he had discarded the dry academic impressionist manner of his younger days. The accomplishments of Woodbury's school inevitably attracted other artist-teachers. Many embraced the more progressive tendencies that eventually would change Ogunquit into a thriving modernist camp by 1920.
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