The Legacy of Cape Ann: Generations of Artists Drawn to its Shores

by Judith McCulloch


The turn of the century brought new faces to Cape Ann, artists whose work signaled a real sea change. Realism was tinged increasingly with imagination and subjectivity. These artists saw Cape Ann in ways that no-one had seen it before. In 1973, the Cape Ann Historical Museum presented an exhibition which took artists of the early twentieth century as its focus. Although Portrait of a Place: Some American Landscape Painters in Gloucester included work by Winslow Homer and William Morris Hunt, the show was dominated by artists who came later: Frank Duveneck, John Henry Twachtman, Childe Hassam, Maurice Prendergast, John Sloan, Edward Hopper, Stuart Davis, and Marsden Hartley.

One of the most influential artists in this impressive group was Frank Duveneck, the subject of a separate exhibition at the museum in 1987. He was born in Kentucky, but had made his way to Munich to study painting by the time he was twenty-one. Duveneck was charismatic, a gifted teacher who attracted loyal followers known in Europe and the United States as the "Duveneck boys."

Duveneck started visiting Cape Ann shortly after the death of his wife in 1888. He often took groups of students with him, and a contingent of "Duveneck boys" was usually in evidence as well. He exhibited at the Gallery-on-the-Moors in East Gloucester with Hassam, Prendergast, Sloan, and Davis. He stayed nearby, frequenting the inns and hotels popular with artists -- the Rockaway, Harbor View, Beachcroft, and Hawthorne. The museum's Study of Braces Rock (c. 1893) was Duveneck's gift to a couple who presented a musical program at the Rockaway.

One of the first "Duveneck boys" on the scene was Theodore Wendel (1859-1932). He had met Duveneck in the mid-1870s at the University of Cincinnati School of Design. He followed him to Munich and then to Venice where they joined forces for a while with James Abbott McNeill Whistler. By the end of the century, Wendel had made his home in Ipswich, Massachusetts, just down the road from Gloucester where he frequently painted with Duveneck. The museum's Return of the Fleet (1896) is an example of his work from this period.

John Twachtman (1853-1902) was another of the "Duveneck boys." He went to Cape Ann for the first time in 1898, then returned two years later and remained until his death. Working in a studio on Rocky Neck, he produced fresh, bold images of Gloucester. The interior of his studio, with its wood burning stove, is the subject of a painting in the museum's collection, Camp Stove (c. 1954) by Herman Wessel, who was often called "the last of the Duveneck boys." Twachtman was staying at the Harbor View in East Gloucester when he died, and is buried in Gloucester's Oak Grove Cemetery.

The force of Duveneck's personality is evident in a portrait bust created by the influential sculptor Charles Grafly in 1915 which is now included in the museum's collection. Grafly was head of the sculpture department at the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the preeminent portrait sculptor of his day. He maintained a studio in the Folly Cove area of Gloucester, across town from the artists' community where Duveneck spent his time.

Of all the artists in Cape Ann during this period, Childe Hassam (1859-1935) was most clearly in the mainstream of American Impressionism. He returned frequently to Gloucester over a period of more than twenty-five years, creating oils and watercolors of harbors, docks, and boats that are well-known. But in 1918 he also produced an extraordinary series of lithographs in Gloucester, which some critics believe to be his most original body of work.

Like Hassam, Maurice Prendergast visited Cape Ann repeatedly over an extended period of time. The Portrait of a Place exhibition included watercolors from 1912-14 and 1920, and the museum now owns two other watercolors -- Annisquam, Massachusetts and The Purple Rock (East Gloucester, undated). Color, which has been applied loosely over pencil outlines, dominates in all of these paintings. As in much of Prendergast's work, the emphasis is on pleasure and enjoyment, in this case with Cape Ann's seashore as the setting.

Charles Prendergast, Maurice's younger brother, also worked briefly in Cape Ann. It is believed that he had early contact with at least one other Cape Ann artist, Max Kuehne of Rockport. Prendergast is said to have taught Kuehne woodcarving and, interestingly, the museum's Kuehne painting, Gloucester Harbor is in a frame created by Kuehne himself. The museum also owns a small Charles Prendergast watercolor and collage.

John Sloan (1871-1951) visited Gloucester for the first time in the summer of 1914 and returned every summer for the next four years. He rented the same red cottage each year in East Gloucester, which he shared with other artists, including Stuart Davis (1894-1964). The Cape Ann Historical Museum's 1992 exhibition The Red Cottage brought together the work that Sloan and Davis produced in Gloucester, along with the work of other artists who visited the red cottage over the years.

Sloan's Cape Ann summers came at an important time in his development as an artist. "My first summer in Gloucester afforded the first real opportunity for continuous work in landscape," he wrote later, "and I really made the most of it. Working from nature gives, I believe, the best means of advance in color and design." His success is demonstrated in Sunflowers, Rocky Neck, a painting included in the 1973 Portrait of Place exhibition which is still on display in the museum. Dogtown, Gloucester, 1916, also in the Cape Anne collection, further illustrates the artist's growing mastery of color and composition in landscape. Sloan did not, however, limit himself to landscapes during his Gloucester summer in 1914. Old Cone ("Uncle Sam") is an evocative portrait of an old man, bearded and splendidly, if somewhat unconventionally, attired.

The artist apparently enjoyed the stimulation of having artist friends around him. In commenting on Davis' first visit in 1915, Sloan revealed much about himself and Davis:

One summer Stuart Davis and family shared the cottage. We went out painting together. All of us interested in developing different orchestrations of color on the palette. Stuart was just beginning to assimilate ideas from the Nabis and Fauves. It was fascinating to see him re-assemble things he saw in nature, sometimes finding a useful house or tree behind him to include in the picture . . . I did this myself some times, but in a less original way. Stuart had the finest sense of proportion of any American modern artist.


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