An Eye for Maine: Paintings from a Private Collection

by Donelson Hoopes



Impressionism is a flexible term, capable of encompassing a wide range of applications. Consequently, it has persisted in one form or another perhaps longer than any other branch of art in the recent past. It is also an international phenomenon and, as such, tends to blur stylistic mannerisms that may be associated with any particular national school. Max Kuehne's Rockport Harbor, Maine, with its formal references to French Impressionism and even to post-impressionism, exemplifies this tendency especially well, and may be ascribed to the artist's ethnic heritage as a transplanted European as much as to his subsequent study abroad. Frederick Judd Waugh's art represents the other end of the impressionist spectrum. Born in New Jersey, Waugh lived for many years abroad. While in England, he began to specialize in seascapes around 1907. This orientation probably contributed to his more representational mode, based on the conservative values of traditional English painting, such as can be seen in the marine views of Waugh's older contemporary, Sir Francis Powell. A frequent visitor to Maine before settling in Provincetown, Massachusetts in 1927, Waugh earned a prominent place in the American art establishment for marine subjects like White Surf, which were often compared with those of Winslow Homer.

The middle ground of American impressionism was held by advocates of a more academic approach. Edward Willis Redfield's four-year student sojourn in Paris cemented his early allegiance to impressionism. In 1898 he returned to Pennsylvania's Delaware River valley, where he became the presiding genius of the New Hope art colony, and rarely strayed .from home. Throughout his long and productive career, Redfield created paintings that are direct and brilliant in execution. Succinct renderings of the mood and character of the places he fixed on canvas, his pictures were both accessible to his lay public and admired by his professional colleagues. His visits to Maine were infrequent, and The Toymaker's Home must be accounted as an agreeable change of pace for an artist who had secured his reputation by making winter landscapes his forte. The west coast counterpart of Redfield's New Hope coterie, though on a larger scale, was a loosely associated group familiarly known as the "Eucalyptus School." Jan Marinus Domela studied both in Europe and California, finally settling in the Los Angeles area where he assumed his place among this set. Remarkably consistent in their methods, these artists practiced a pleasant, broadly-brushed plein-air impressionism. When Domela visited the east coast in 1938 he brought this style to bear upon his Monhegan Island, conferring a semblance of California light upon this diminutive jewel of the Gulf of Maine.

Robert Henri was the first artist of national stature to recognize Monhegan's potential to stir a painter's imagination. His belief that nature was a living force which impinged on the lives of men was nowhere more substantiated for him than on this small, uprearing granite sentinel of an island. Some twelve miles from the mainland, Monhegan offers the most elemental themes of rock and water, and does it with compelling power. On his first visit in 1903, Henri focused his attention exclusively on these ideas. In the few extant examples, such as Rocks and Sea, Henri narrowed his field of concentration to fragments of nature which he rendered with an explosive energy. These paintings are among his most intensely personal works, and it is likely he understood that even the rare adventurous collector of his day would find them too radical. But, as Henri wrote in 1909, "A man should not care whether the thing he wishes to express is a work of art or not. . . he should only care is . . . worthy to put into permanent expression." That statement accurately reflects the ethical underpinnings of Henri's career. Both as a teacher and as a reformer, he fought against the reactionary attitudes of the entrenched art establishment of his day. This was a major concern for Henri and led to his organizing other disaffected artists into a group known as "The Eight." Their exhibition of sometimes daring realism, held in 1908, was viewed as shocking by the critics who dubbed them with the unofficial name, "The Ashcan School."

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