Legacy of Cape Ann

by James M. Keny



In 1881 Frank Duveneck, the virtuoso painter from Cincinnati -- fresh from successful exhibitions in Boston -- first visited Gloucester. By 1890 he had established a thriving summer art school there. A surprising number of artists active in the Gloucester area during the 1890's were originally from Ohio, and had been students under Frank Duveneck in Munich, Florence and Venice during the late 1870's and early 1880's. A few of these painters, including Theodore Wendel and Joseph DeCamp, lived and taught in the Boston area. On Cape Ann they greatly enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with their bohemian mentor, reliving some of their earlier experiences and keeping abreast of more current developments. Others such as John Twachtman -- close friend of Duveneck, and Edward Potthast -- a slightly younger Cincinnati painter and former Duveneck student, had established themselves in the New York area. They too welcomed the respite of a trip from New York City to Gloucester to enjoy the comaraderie of their fellow artists. Potthast spent most of his summers from 1896 until his death in 1927 painting in the Gloucester area.

Twachtman was a well respected teacher at The Art Students League in New York and conducted summer sessions with his students in Gloucester in 1900, 1901 and 1902. The Cincinnati painter was one of the most innovative artists of the period and a member of the prestigious group of impressionist painters known as The Ten. Others from this group -- not to mention another Duveneck boy -- DeCamp, visited and painted Gloucester in the 1890's and early 1900's, including the New Englander's Childe Hassam and Willard Metcalf. Some of the finest and best-known works executed by these impressionist painters were painted in Gloucester.

John Twachtman chose the Rockaway Hotel in East Gloucester as his summer home in 1900. There he hosted a major exhibition of the art of his peers and students, the caliber of which would be hard to imagine in a resort hotel today. The prevailing style of painting at this time in Gloucester was impressionism. And a broad array of its various techniques would have been represented in such an exhibit -- from the buttery gestural brushstrokes of Duveneck, to the painterly tonalism of Meakin, to the hushed scumbled poetry of Twachtman, to the sparkling broken brushwork of Childe Hassam, to the richly-colored Munich impasto of Edward Potthast.

By 1910, impressionism had ebbed in importance as a new tide of more modern, post-impressionist techniques was rising in Gloucester. Many of the important painters active there during the teens such as Maurice Prendergast, Alice Schille, Charles Kaelin, Jane Peterson, and Frederick Mulhaupt, were interested in the expressive potential of arbitrary color explored by the Fauves, the rhythmic arrangement of the paint daubs pioneered by the pointillists, and the decorative character of the flattened picture plane as championed by the Nabis. The windows of ambient light first exhibited by the colonies' impressionists evolved into tapestries of expressive color. The fact that World War I was raging in Europe from 1914-1918 contributed to an influx of innovative American expatriates and regular European visitors to Cape Ann from the continent.


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