Tunis Ponsen

by Susan S. Weininger



In subsequent years, Ponsen spent spring and/ or summer months in a number of Atlantic coast destinations popular with American plein-air painters. In 1927, Ponsen spent the summer in Gloucester, Massachusetts; in spring, 1929, he painted in Boothbay Harbor, Maine (Shipyard at Boothbay Harbor, cat. #14; Yacht Club Pier, cat. #11; An Old Pier (fig. 8), East Coast Boat Drydock, cat. #15, was probably done at Boothbay Harbor); in 1938, he makes a return trip to Gloucester (Gloucester Harbor, ca t. #17), and in 1939 he travels to the Gaspe Peninsula in Canada. He continues to produce popular and frequently exhibited landscapes in the Impressionist-derived style he develops in these early years. Ponsen exhibited work based on his trips to the Atlantic coast well after he ceased travelling to these sites. A painting inspired by the Gaspe Peninsula trip of 1939 called Low Tide (fig. 9), for example, was exhibited beginning in the early 1940s, at least twice in the 1950s and again in the retrospective exhibition at the Hackley in 1967.[23]

George Oberteuffer helped Ponsen obtain a fellowship and teaching assistant's position in the Graduate Atelier of the School of the Art Institute for the academic year 1927-28. In the Spring, Ponsen's An Overmantel: Decorative Painting (fig. 10), done as part of a competition, won the Bryan Lathrop Travelling Fellowship, providing Ponsen with $800 that had to be immediately applied to foreign travel. The painting, as it appears in newspaper reproductions from the period, suggests the work of Arthur Davies in its representations of weightless, dreamy figures arranged in a pattern in the landscape. Ponsen, like many artists in America, yearned for the opportunity offered by the scholarship. Chicago artists as varied as Francis Chapin, Archibald Motley, Jr. and Anthony Angarola made study trips to Europe in the late 1920s, each of them seeking and learning different things from the experience.

Unlike the others, though, Ponsen's trip was a return to his happy memories of childhood -- family, friends, a familiar language and landscape. Other immigrant artists who settled in Chicago, like Emil Armin or William S. Schwartz, left Europe to escape persecution. Although Ponsen sought the same opportunities as they did in America, his life in the Netherlands was pleasant and he left friends and family behind. Judging from the work he brought back, most of Ponsen's six months abroad were spent in Holland, exploring the area around Delft, (Windmill near Delft, cat. #19) as well as returning to his native Wageningen where he painted numerous scenes including Backyards of My Childhood (cat. #18), a view from the creek that ran behind his childhood home. The Dutch landscapes depict a countryside of peace and fertility, devoid of nostalgia or romance. Ponsen's fascination with the windmill, a potent symbol of the fecundity and prosperity of the Netherlands, is seen in the numerous paintings he made of this subject. A commercially produced series of images of 25 different windmill designs that he brought back from this trip is further evidence of his interest in this subject. Several distinct types appear in paintings that were successfully exhibited well into the 1930s.[24] Windmill near Delft depicts a distinctly different type of windmill than that in Windmill (fig. 11). In the latter, the windmill and a distant church spire appear to tower over the landscape and people below, foreshadowing the compositions of his urban landscapes of the 1930s.


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