Painting Summer in New England

April 22 - September 4, 2006

 



 

Essay labels for the exhibition:

Alphabetical by artist surname

 

Charles Webster Hawthorne, The Fisherman's Daughter, c. 1911

Hawthorne's interest in close observation and expressive brushwork flourished when he studied with William Merritt Chase in New York. In 1899 he founded the Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and ran it successfully for three decades. The Yankee and Portuguese fishing families of Provincetown inspired many of Hawthorne's strongest works. Since the thriving artists of the Boston School painted the wealthy and educated, he risked the social prejudices of the day when he portrayed working-class people and immigrants with such humanity.

 

Charles Webster Hawthorne, Highland Light, c. 1925

This work depicts a familiar landmark in North Truro, near the tip of Cape Cod. Hawthorne's quick, light touch seems to echo the deftness of John Singer Sargent's watercolors from the early 1900s. On the other hand, his devotion to the plain forms of traditional New England architecture anticipates the spare compositions of Edward Hopper's architectural paintings of the late 1920s.

 

Robert Henri, Monhegan Island, 1903

After settling in New York in 1900, Henri inspired a group of realist artists to rebel against genteel, mainstream taste. Now known as the Ashcan School, they painted prosaic street scenes and moody landscapes with quick, lively strokes. Henri made this picture of pounding surf during his first visit to one of Maine's most dramatic islands. In The Art Spirit, an influential anthology of his articles and talks, he wrote: "Do whatever you do intensely. The artist is the man who leaves the crowd and goes pioneering. With him there is an idea which is his life."

 

Hans Hofmann, Summer Bliss, 1960

German-born and Paris-trained, Hofmann settled in New York in 1932. Three years later he opened a summer art school in Provincetown, Massachusetts. This canvas, a major example of his intuitive responses to numerous summers on Cape Cod, exemplifies abstract art at its most exuberant. As the title attests, it is a rapturous evocation of light, atmosphere, and a sense of spaciousness. In an interview around 1960 Hofmann observed: "My aim . . . is to create pulsating, luminous, and open surfaces that emanate a mystic light, [following] my deepest insight into the experience of light and nature."

 

Winslow Homer, The Sand Dune, c. 1871-72

In the early 1870s Homer was based in New York, successfully pursuing his career as an illustrator and watercolorist. He made this painting when visiting his parents, who, during this period, summered in Marshfield, Massachusetts. His mother was the model for the principal figure. The Sand Dune shows Homer's ability to suggest a narrative using casual and intriguing compositional effects. It is also a superb rendering of dazzling coastal light and shadow.

 

Winslow Homer, The Artist's Studio in an Afternoon Fog, 1894

This work depicts the fog that often shrouds Maine's coast in summer and early fall. The ghostly architectural silhouettes are part of the Homer family's oceanfront compound in Prout's Neck. The main house, known as The Ark, stands on the left, and the artist's studio-home occupies the center: a handsome Shingle Style structure with a second-story balcony. When he settled there permanently in 1883, Homer hired a Portland architect to convert a coach house into a work space with living quarters.

 

Edward Hopper, Bluff, 1916-19

In New York, between 1900 and 1906, Hopper took painting classes with William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri, and John Sloan. Their shared interest in quick, outdoor painting can be felt in the high-keyed, impressionistic oil sketches Hopper made the following decade on Monhegan Island, Maine. Hopper eventually curbed the painterly brushwork he favored during this period but not his love of a brusquely dramatic point of view.

 

Edward Hopper, Rocky Projection at the Sea, 1916-19 NO TEXT

 

Edward Hopper, Road and Houses, South Truro, 1930-33

It was not until the late 1920s, when Hopper was well over 40, that he arrived at the type of picture for which he is now famous. His contemporaries declared paintings of this type to be truly American because they were strong, simple, true, solemn, and plain. Hopper often relied on the absence of people to trigger a sense of mystery. The location is Cape Cod, and the artist shows a gentle but spare landscape that accommodates a deserted road, a sawn-off tree trunk, and a few vernacular wooden buildings.

 

William Morris Hunt, Sand Dunes, Newbury, Massachusetts, 1875

Hunt's artistic philosophy pervades this canvas: it is not grand, and yet, through a wealth of tender and suggestive touches, it offers a deeply felt impression. Hunt was a well-to-do Harvard-educated Bostonian with a bohemian streak. The city's most influential modern artist in the 1870s, he inspired local collectors as well as students. Two sojourns in France (in the early 1850s and mid 1860s) shaped his passion for the landscapes of the Barbizon School and the paintings of Jean-François Millet, famous for his compassionate images of peasant life.

 

George Inness, Old Homestead, c. 1877

Produced during Inness's early years in New England, Old Homestead encompasses his interest in nature-based mysticism. Having grown up in a religious household, the artist converted to the Swedenborgian religion in the late 1860s. He believed in the worldly presence of an invisible spiritual realm and wrote, "God is always hidden, and beauty depends upon the unseen." This painting of a Massachusetts farm honors it as a place where human activity is in balance with the pastoral environment.

 

Yvonne Jacquette, Madison Paper Co. II, 1989

Jacquette has summered in Maine since 1954, and sketched the views from skyscrapers and airplanes since 1973. Here she maps the different parts of a factory on the Kennebec River, finding beautiful forms and colors as she ponders and portrays industry's imposition on the land. In a recent essay the poet Vincent Katz wrote: "Jacquette's aerial views artificially freeze transient moments. [She] is fixated on the romance of distance, a romance which is distinctly American, but her relation to the ground is never so far as to lose contact with individual scale."

 

Eastman Johnson, The Confab, 1877

The artist's sister and her family summered in a farmhouse in Kennebunkport, Maine, and Johnson visited them there twice in the late 1870s. He painted a series of informal scenes of farm life and of children at play. Several, including The Confab, are set inside a barn. The smaller child, who was probably the artist's niece, appears in a related canvas titled Barn Swallows. Johnson gave several colorful details a lively presence in this wondrous dark interior: the small bouquet, the straw hat, and the girls' striped socks.

 

Lois Mailou Jones, Indian Shops, Gay Head, Massachusetts, 1940

Martha's Vineyard became a summer destination for African Americans early in the 20th century, and Jones, a Boston-trained artist, knew it well. This image of souvenir shops run by local Native Americans triggers a variety of thoughts on the relationships between tourism, regional culture, and racial identity. In 1941 the painting won a prize for landscape at the annual exhibition of the Society of Washington Artists, hosted by the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Ironically, Jones had to conceal her racial identity in order to enter the competition and asked to receive the award in the mail.

 

Wolf Kahn, My Shack on the Dunes, 1947

This work evokes the romantic dream of creating art while living close to nature; but it also reflects the reality of Kahn's impoverished life as a 20-year-old art student. He painted it in 1947, the year Hans Hofmann waived Kahn's tuition at his Provincetown summer school in exchange for chores. The boldly hatched brushstrokes recall the work of Vincent van Gogh, an artist whose legend was a great influence on Kahn in the 1940s.

Kahn is well known for his colorist images and is active today.

 

Alex Katz, Vincent and Ada at Ducktrap, 1961

Katz is a New Yorker whose summers in Maine date back to his studies at the Skowhegan School (1949­1950). This work resourcefully combines two views of his wife and son on a grassy hillside. In 1962 the New York art critic Irving Sandler wrote: "He has the knack of making a freely brushed area function simultaneously as a fluent, alive detail, as a plane which maintains surface tautness, and as a sensitively modeled facial feature. [He] tries to be matter-of-fact and impassive. But he cannot help but convey his romantic impulses."

 

Alex Katz, Harbor # 9, 1999

Working with simplified forms and colors Katz situated the silhouettes of men, women, and children in a panoramic vista. The painting's spatial dynamic is emotionally as well visually intense. It is a magical souvenir of a beach in Maine on a hot summer's day, but more deeply, it conveys the sense that Katz is lovingly portraying a place and a community that he, his family, and their friends have cherished for decades. In 1991 an interviewer asked Katz, "What do you think you are accurate about?" The artist answered: "Light. Clothes. People."

 

Alex Katz, Morning with Rocks, 1994 NO TEXT

 

John Frederick Kensett, Cliffs at Newport, Rhode Island, c. 1858 (MFA, Boston)

When he made this work, Kensett was an admired and prosperous landscape painter based in New York. He favored quiet scenes, often pairing a clear, wide sky with a tranquil body of water. His palette also conveyed aesthetic restraint. In an essay published in 1860 he wrote: "The main masses [in the natural world] are made of cool greens, grays, drabs and brown intermingled, and are always harmonious and agreeable." To find the intimate cove depicted in Cliffs at Newport Kensett had to venture beyond the precincts of a harbor busy with private yachts.

 

Rockwell Kent, Late Afternoon, Monhegan, 1907

Born to a family with means, Kent joined the Socialist party in his twenties and lived on Monhegan Island, Maine, from 1905 to 1910. For his first solo exhibition at a New York gallery in 1907, Kent showed only Monhegan landscapes, including this one. Artist Guy Pène du Bois wrote a review arguing the "absolutely American" character of the canvases: "They have precision, economy, dignity and force. . . .One may see in them the stern frankness and honesty that were in the pioneers . . . ."

 

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