Legacy of Cape Ann

by James M. Keny



Two important artists, John Sloan and Edward Hopper, who were also active in Gloucester in the teens and twenties, respectively, focused on a different aesthetic. On the one hand, Sloan, a member of The Eight and an urban realist, delighted in capturing the everyday activities of the summer visitors in a painterly realist style, though he also probed the expressive potential of arbitrary color in a series of coastal scenes. On the other hand, Edward Hopper retreated from the expressive arbitrary color and tapestry-like surfaces of other Cape Ann painters to focus on more mundane scenes rendered in cool tones. In these powerful works he realistically rendered the elemental forms of tower, hoist, house and smoke stack and bathed them in haunting melancholy light. His best works from this period echo those of the late nineteenth century painter, Winslow Homer, who also enjoyed depicting humble objects and figures in a powerful elemental way with a minimum of detail but always with strong underpinning design and metaphoric content.

Many other artists were active in Cape Ann during this period. I have isolated these painters to give the reader a glimpse of some of the more important participants in the art colony of Cape Ann during that time. By the summer of 1921, bound by a common desire to promote art in Rockport, William Lester Stevens, Aldro Hibbard and others founded the Rockport Art Association. The following year, the Gloucester artists formed the North Shore Arts Association.

A number of other significant artists were active in Cape Ann intermittently during the 1920's and 1930's including Gordon Grant, Emile Gruppe, Jonas Lie, George Noyes, Edward Potthast and Anthony Theime, all of whom are represented in this exhibition. In the wake of World War I, many American painters abandoned the avante-garde aesthetic associated with Europe. Anxious to retreat to normalcy from the modern apocalypse of the War, they embraced a form of painterly realism deeply rooted in American art history. The legacy of Winslow' Homer's naturalistic rendering of the myths and traditions of America through quintessentially Yankee subject matter resurfaced in Cape Ann.

The rich and diverse aesthetic foundation that these artists built has provided a solid base for the development of the art colony currently active in Cape Ann. Some of the best known painters working there today are also represented in this survey exhibition.


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