Editor's note: The following article was published in Resource Library on December 30, 2010 with permission of the author and the Lyman Allyn Art Museum. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the Lyman Allyn Art Museum directly at 625 Williams Street, New London, Connecticut 06320 or through this phone number or web address:
Painters of Matunuck, Rhode Island, 1873-1941
by Lindsay Leard-Coolidge
The name Matunuck originated from the Narragansett Indians, who first settled the region, and refers to a neck of land.[i] In 1657 the Narragansetts sold the area now known as South Kingstown to a group of Englishmen jointly called the Pettaquamscutt Purchasers and for 300 years the village of Matunuck was a thriving agricultural community. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, Americans began to admire the natural beauty of their landscape in a new way. Boundless land distinguished America from Europe and provided the country with a strong sense of national identity. As a consequence, American painters turned to nature as their primary subject matter. Additionally, the country's centennial spawned a revival of interest in colonial life, and many New England villages were celebrated for their charm, history and natural beauty. Matunuck encompassed all of these attributes. Within a few square miles it had a seashore with lovely beaches and an active fishing community, expansive fields and farmland, and a unique glacial topography in the hills. It also boasted a number of eighteenth-century homes, including the birthplace of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, a naval hero in the War of 1812. As a result, vacationers, summer residents and artists discovered the scenery of Matunuck during the last decades of the nineteenth century and lived side-by-side with the descendents of the original farmers.
Two areas of Matunuck were transformed -- the Hill Country and Matunuck Beach. By 1893 a writer for the Providence Journal asserted that Matunuck was the most popular beach destination in Rhode Island, although, "there is nothing, absolutely nothing, [t]here but one hotel, a half dozen bathing houses, and the ocean."[ii] While Matunuck Beach became a vacation destination, Matunuck Hills became a summer enclave of artists and intellectuals. In 1873 William Babcock Weeden built his close friend Edward Everett Hale a summer home on the opposite side of the Old Post Road. In 1885 Charles Matlack purchased Hidden Hearth and became the Hales' neighbor to the east. There were numerous artists among the Hales and the Matlacks, including Susan Hale (1833-1910), Ellen Day Hale (1855-1940), Philip Leslie Hale (1865-1931), William Trost Richards (1833-1905), Anna Richards Brewster (1870-1952) and Eleanor Richards Price (1862-1954), and together they -- along with neighbors Caroline Atkinson (1871-1945) and Frank Convers Mathewson (1861-1941) -- created an artistic colony.
When Edward Everett Hale began to summer in Matunuck he brought with him his seven children as well as extended family members, and they quickly transformed the rural hamlet into a lively intellectual community. Hale was fifty-one at the time, a renowned Unitarian minister at South Congregational Church in Boston, a prolific and influential author and one of the great intellects of his era. He was the descendent of a prestigious Massachusetts family; his uncle Edward Everett was a Harvard professor, United States senator and a founder of the Boston Public Library, and his great uncle Nathan Hale was a Revolutionary War hero. Hale met the Providence manufacturer and fellow Unitarian William Babcock Weeden in 1865. Two years earlier Weeden had bought out the other heirs of his grandfather's Willow Dell property, which consisted of an eighteenth-century farmhouse, expansive fields and land in the hills. Weeden added an extension to the house, made it his summer home in 1870,[iii] and frequently invited Hale to Matunuck.
Hale and his children spent a great deal of time at Willow Dell, both before and after their house was completed. In August of 1871 Hale painted a watercolor of Willow Dell, which he inscribed to Elvira Weeden, William's aunt. The painting is delicate and precise, accurate in detail and competent in technique. It shows Hale's devotion to the place, the importance of art in his life and a romanticized view of the colonial farmhouse.
A regular guest to the Hale household was Susan Hale, Edward's youngest sister, who by 1873 was an established artist in Boston. Susan painted "from nature," traveling to Maine and the North Shore of Massachusetts as well as to Matunuck. In 1879 she painted a watercolor of Willow Dell. Given the bird's-eye view, Susan must have painted it from the front porch of the Hale house. It is a finished sketch that captures the roof of the farmhouse as it emerges from lush green vegetation and the resulting dark shadows on the Old Post Road. Beyond the house the fields of rolled hay bales stretch to the distant ocean that is indicated by a flat blue gray band of paint beneath an expansive sky. In comparison to her brother's painting done eight years earlier, it is looser in execution, more generalized in composition and more inclusive of the setting.
Susan's niece Ellen Day Hale, the eldest child and only daughter of Edward and Emily Hale, often painted with her. Most likely Susan taught the young Ellen in both Brookline and Matunuck. Ellen studied formally with two of the first Bostonians to offer classes for women, in 1873 with William Rimmer and from 1874 to 1877 with the famed William Morris Hunt. Hunt popularized the French Barbizon School of painting to students and collectors, and the style dominated the city until the mid-1880s. By the mid-1870s Hunt's classes were primarily run by Helen M. Knowlton. Susan also studied with Knowlton, and the latter became a frequent visitor to Matunuck. Thus, from an early age, Ellen Hale had strong female role models in her pursuit to become a professional artist.[iv]
Ellen Hale also used Willow Dell as a subject. In an early sketchbook she drew The Weeden's Parlor Window and dated it July 6, 1880.[v] The small drawing depicts a dark, vague profile of a woman against a clear window. It shows extreme contrasts of light and dark, with little detail, following the tradition of Hunt and Knowlton. Ellen's style changed noticeably during her first trip to Europe with Helen Knowlton in September 1881.[vi] They traveled to Italy, Belgium, Holland and France, with Ellen eventually staying in Paris and studying at the Académie Julian, the only art school in Europe where women were accepted.
Ellen was taken ill in the summer of 1883, and her parents traveled to Paris to bring her home.[vii] In their absence, Susan went first to Brookline and then to Matunuck to care for the younger Hale children and assume the running of the households. Susan's nephew Edward suggested that it was during the summer of 1883 that she became "charmed" by Matunuck.[viii] Susan officially began to manage the "Red House" in 1885 and did so for every summer until her death in 1910. Edward Jr. dubbed her "Mistress of Matunuck" in part for the entertainment she provided for the neighbors, her brilliant conversation and her love for the place and its people.[ix] She became the center of social activity in Matunuck, and, to a large extent, Susan created the "community" of Matunuck that included her family, neighbors and constant visitors.
Ellen returned to Matunuck in the fall of 1883, and she sent a number of letters to her family describing her artistic activities. Some even reveal her preferred places to paint: "My ordinary morning work is on a corner of the Goodchild's house and garden."[x] It was during the mid-1880s that Ellen painted her Matlack neighbor's house Hidden Hearth and Susan painted a watercolor Goodchild's Landing, Matunuck (our pond). The location Ellen described is the view that Susan painted, and, as Susan implies, the Hales' house was next to the Goodchilds' on Wash Pond. This watercolor is more quickly executed than Susan's earlier painting of Willow Dell. In contrast, Ellen's painting of Hidden Hearth is far more finished and detailed in execution. Ellen's interest in architecture and the penciled outlines of the building relates directly to her European sketchbooks. The palette is light with a masterful use of shadows, and the painting captures both the specifics of the house and its charming character. In many ways it is closer in style to that of her father's painting Willow Dell, and, like her father's, it was a gift to her neighbors.[xi]
Ellen also worked on her Self-Portrait in 1884 and 1885, painting it both in Matunuck and at her family's home in Brookline.[xii] The portrait, arguably her masterpiece, shows how she transformed not only as an artist but also as a person. It conveys Ellen's mature style, her academic training and her professional confidence. Here she boldly stares at the viewer.Self-Portrait is more than a likeness of Ellen; it announces the turning point in her life from student to serious professional.
Ellen's younger brother, Philip Leslie Hale, the sixth of Edward and Emily's nine children, was eight years old when the family began to summer in Matunuck. Judging from his early sketchbooks his new home and community had a profound impact on him. They reveal Philip's great artistic talent, his love for Matunuck and the importance of his aunt Susan. Philip followed the lead of his aunt in his use of watercolor. One early painting from the mid-1870s shows the steps leading from Wash Pond to the Red House with a canoe docked at the shore. This view is directly across from where Susan painted Goodchild's Landing, Matunuck (our pond) and was reproduced on a postcard, which even includes the canoe Philip painted. Philip, the student, was tentative in his approach as he learned to capture reflections on the water, paint tree branches and create a sense of perspective.
Philip Hale began his formal studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, with Edmund Tarbell in 1883.[xiii] Later that year Philip moved to New York, where he studied privately with William Merritt Chase. In 1884 he was instructed at the Art Students League by J. Alden Weir and became close friends with Theodore Butler, William Howard Hart and Henry Prellwitz. His teachers were a generation younger than William Morris Hunt, and although Ellen and Philip were only ten years apart in age, Ellen's early training in the Barbizon style more closely resembled that of her aunt Susan's generation, while Philip's was rooted in the new style of impressionism taking hold in Boston and New York.
In 1887 Philip went to Paris with Theodore Butler and Susan Hale, attesting to the significant role the latter continued to play in his life. He studied figure drawing at the Académie Julian, where Ellen had studied five years earlier. To supplement his academic training he spent part of each summer from 1887 to 1889 at the newly formed artists' colony for American painters in Giverny.[xiv] Claude Monet had moved to the rural village in 1883. Forty-two of his paintings, as well as those by other Impressionists, were shown in New York in 1886. Monet's paintings inspired art students, including Hale, to journey to Giverny, and by 1887 an American colony was founded there. Hale was one of the first Americans to reside there, and judging from his later aspirations to establish a school of painting in Matunuck, the experience was memorable. Hale also spent the summers from 1891 to 1893 in Giverny and the summers of 1894, 1895, 1896, 1898 and 1899 in Matunuck.
It was during the mid-1890s in Matunuck that Hale did the most experimental painting of his career. Girls in Sunlight, signed "Philip Hale/Matunuck, RI 1895" is one of his first oils dominated by yellow that he dubbed the "Golden Rain Pictures." Many years later his wife, Lilian Westcott Hale described Philip's intention of "expressing vibrating sunlight for he felt no pictures had ever really looked sunny." She referred to this and similar paintings as "experiments" that he continued for only a few years.[xv] Lilian described how Philip "drew the design on the canvas with pure color. The composition would be sharp at first,"[xvi] an indication that he never completely abandoned his academic training even when creating his most innovative work. Philip covered the composition with thin overlapping lines of pure yellow paint to create a highly textural surface. The effect is a scene "enveloped in sunlight,"[xvii] giving Girls in Sunlight a soft, hazy, tonal quality. The subject matter of five women in a field also suggests affinities with American Tonalism, particularly the paintings of Thomas Wilmer Dewing, as well as European Symbolism and Neo-Impressionism. Despite all these influences, Hale's Matunuck paintings remain unique among both his American and European counterparts.
A Walk through the Fields, dated "Rhode Island 1895," resembles Girls in Sunlight. Presumably, Hale used his favorite model, Mary Sullivan, for this painting. In an undated letter from the mid-1890s he wrote, "Sully" (as Hale called her) "fills the bill very well. She has some beautiful dresses (material selected by me) and looks very nice."[xviii] On July 29 he wrote to Howard "Peggy" Hart from Matunuck that his work of the moment was "trés impressioniste." He seemed to be searching for an individual blend of academic, Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist qualities by suggesting that in key the colors of these paintings were a "little lower than my Giverny things but higher than my last year's work."[xix] The result is an eloquent painting in which the diverse aspects of his training merge together.
Hale's desire to create a summer school of painting in Matunuck followed a popular trend in the 1890s, particularly in New England. Many artist-teachers who had studied abroad and summered in communities such as Barbizon and Giverny founded art colonies in America.[xx] They sought to replicate both the rural setting and the sense of community they had experienced in Europe. Hale was inspired by several summers in Giverny and also by Ellen's and Susan's reminiscences of William Morris Hunt's short-lived colony in Magnolia, Massachusetts. Matunuck, like Giverny, was a picturesque farming village, and Hale, like Monet, lived a closed insular life of family and friends. Hale would also have been aware of his former teacher William Merritt Chase's summer school in Shinnecock, Long Island and the group of artists at Cos Cob in Connecticut.[xxi]Philip's aunt Susan encouraged and promoted the summer school, and it is possible that she can be credited with the idea. There is no question that in 1898 the summer students were her friends and acquaintances and that they were all women.[xxii] In addition, she tried to increase the student population for the following summer. Philip himself was advertising to his students at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and also at the Worcester Art Museum.[xxiii]
He also, probably for personal pleasure, created a twelve-page handwritten, charmingly illustrated and witty brochure describing the school in detail. Of the many wonders of Matunuck mentioned in the brochure, Hale focused on the natural beauty, the spirit of camaraderie in the various activities described and the comfortable living situation.[xxiv] Again, these images conjure up Hale's joyful days in Giverny, and also his youthful summers in Matunuck. His teaching style clearly remained that of the Golden Rain pictures, indicated by his request that students bring chrome yellow no. 1 paint. The drawings interspersed throughout the brochure are strongly reminiscent of his sketchbook drawings from the mid-1870s-geese, horse-drawn carts and outdoor life, and as such indicate that his image of Matunuck remained unchanged since his schoolboy days. The front cover shows two angelic women symmetrically posed with a seated man holding a painting between them. The first full-page drawing shows several women being herded through the landscape. The man is most likely Hale himself with a long line of female students before him.
It is unclear whether the summer school materialized in 1899. One reason for the change may have been a result of Susan Hale's failing health. Philip's elder brother Edward wrote a lengthy letter to him in May of 1899 telling him how worried he was about Susan (age sixty-six at the time).[xxv] Furthermore, in her cabinet diary of 1899 Susan does not make any notations of the art classes.[xxvi]
Of Philip's summer students in Matunuck there is no doubt that he made the most lasting impression on Caroline Atkinson, a close family friend from Brookline who eventually built a home called "Up Yonder" in Matunuck in 1904. They met in 1892, the second summer that Carla, as she was known, spent in Matunuck. Carla wrote how Philip had "always urged her to paint,"[xxvii]yet her painting career didn't began in earnest until the time she built her Matunuck home. When Philip's elder brother Edward and his wife, Rose, bought a house across the Old Post Road from hers, she and Edward began sketching together. According to Carla, Edward "instituted what he christened 'the Blue Rock School' of painting." They sketched the huckleberry-covered hills, the lavender rocks and the distant sea.[xxviii] In an undated oil, c. 1910, Carla painted an expansive view of Matunuck, probably from the front porch of her home in the Hills.[xxix] She included numerous stone walls, bushes and hayfields leading to the ocean beyond. Carla's painting is strongly rooted in realism, yet incorporates vibrant orange fields and heavy painterly brushstrokes.
The Hales were not the only legendary family of painters to work in Matunuck. William Trost Richards also painted there, as did his daughters Anna Richards Brewster and Eleanor Richards Price. Charles Matlack, whose sister Anna married William Richards in 1856, introduced the family to Matunuck. Richards was a highly successful marine painter when Matlack purchased Hidden Hearth, the house next door to the Hales, in 1885.[xxx] He and his family had begun summering in nearby Newport in 1874, and then in Jamestown from 1881 to 1899. In addition he bought a year-round home in Newport in 1890. Although the voyage from Jamestown or Newport to Matunuck would have required one or two ferries and a laborious drive along the Old Post Road, Richards visited on a number of occasions.
Richards met Edward Everett Hale on a trip to Matunuck in July 1893. Hale, who keenly guarded his privacy while in Rhode Island, wrote two letters to Harriet Freeman about the interruption. In the first he discussed his "terror," not so much at meeting Richards, but at having his day interrupted, "Now I have been here one unbroken week this morning, and I am already so used to my own company that the arrival of Richards the famous marine artist, and his Philadelphia friend Mr. Matlack, who have come on a visit, terrifies me. We sent them off in the boat this afternoon, and I took a walk -- alone."[xxxi] Two days later Hale confirmed his dislike of social interaction but reported positively on Richards, "Your two friends, who tired me so, that I walked one way while they walked another, left us after dinner. Really, they are both agreeable men. Richards the marine painter particularly so. There are artists, and artists, and he is of the kind that one likes. All the same, I did not come to Matunuck to see them."[xxxii] Fortunately, Susan, Ellen and Philip Hale each developed a close neighborly relationship with the Matlacks, as did the Weedens and Carla Atkinson.
Following the death of his wife in 1900 and the loss of his summer home, Richards visited Matunuck more frequently.[xxxiii] 1903 was the first summer that his daughter Eleanor spent "camping" in Matunuck. Soon thereafter Richards began purchasing land adjoining the Matlacks for his children. Eleanor and her husband William Price built a "camp" overlooking Lily Pond in 1904.[xxxiv]
Richards also painted in Matunuck in the last years of his life. By 1900 he was almost exclusively painting coastal scenes and recording the effects of the changing weather conditions on the sea and sky before him.[xxxv] Many of his paintings were small, and Galilee, c.1904, is typical of those late plein-air studies.It shows a tidal pool winding to the sea with dunes on the left and the sandy beach to the right. (Galilee adjoined Matunuck before the 1938 hurricane created a breachway between the two.) Small whitecaps break at the shore, two sailboats dot the horizon, and a solitary figure walks on the beach. There are wispy clouds overhead, yet the blue of the sky, the ocean and the tidal pool are so close in tonality they join together in a unified shape. Richards simplified the other landscape forms and masterfully balanced the exactitude of the scene before him with brilliantly summarized compositional elements. These works are personal responses to the specific qualities of nature. They also reflect Richards' life-long belief in the relationship between art and nature, beliefs he passed on to his daughter Anna, as described by her husband William Brewster: "She instinctively followed the principles, few in number, on which he insisted truth to fact, pursuit of object, recording its quality rather than one's own moods.... To them nature was inexhaustible and infinitely varied."[xxxvi]
Anna was William and Anna Richards' sixth child.[xxxvii] She was five years younger than her neighbor Philip Leslie Hale, and her early training very much resembled his. For both, their first teachers were family members who encouraged them to pursue an artistic career. Anna's father taught her to paint, and her mother home-schooled her. Like Philip, her talent was recognized early on. In 1890 she moved to New York and studied with John LaFarge and William Merritt Chase; Hale had studied with the latter in the mid-1880s. Anna made several trips to Europe with her family in the early 1890s and studied at the Académie Julian in Paris, as had both Philip and Ellen Hale.[xxxviii] What distinguished Anna's early career from those of the Hales was her belief in the divinity of nature, following the philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson that was introduced to her by her father. As late as 1893, when impressionism dominated American art, Anna was grappling to balance the beauty of God-created nature with the desire to paint it. She wrote, "Surely the works of God are very beautiful. Yet it is terrible to have this Nature for one's business -- It is so beautiful, that I want, not to try to paint it, but to cover my unworthy eyes and sink to the ground. The more one thinks about and watches Nature, the more terribly, piercingly beautiful she looks; the more baffling and inscrutable she is."[xxxix] That this mid-century dilemma could so profoundly affect a twenty-three-year-old art student shows the profound influence her father had on her.
Anna moved to London in 1899 and during the decade that she lived abroad she returned only occasionally to America, visiting Matunuck in 1901 and 1904, both times with her father. In 1901 they stayed with the Matlacks. In 1904 she traveled to the Adirondacks and to Matunuck to paint with her father. The Richardses left Lake Placid on September 1 with the intent of staying in Matunuck until September 15.[xl] Anna must have traveled to New York before returning to London, for she met William Tenney Brewster, her brother Herbert's roommate and fellow professor at Barnard College. The two were married the following July in London.
On August 25, 1905, William Trost Richards purchased approximately sixty-five acres of land in the Matunuck Hills close to the Matlacks and bordering that of his son-in-law William Price.[xli] According to William Brewster, the parcel of land was a wedding gift to Anna,[xlii] and the Brewsters spent their first summer in Matunuck in 1906. Owing to the varied terrain of the Matunuck Hills, Anna did most of her painting in the area immediately around her home. She painted her own home Interior of Camp at Cedar Swamp Pond, Matunuck, R.I. during her third summer there in 1909. The painterly oil depicts the main room of the camp with its large stone fireplace, bookcase and open window. The last reveals the light and greenery of the wooded setting. A table and a red rocking chair complete the homey setting. The dark tonality of the interior is unusual in Brewster's paintings yet serves to emphasize the brightness of the outdoors.
Brewster also painted the house of her aunt and uncle. She painted a view of Hidden Hearth as a wedding present for her cousin Barbara, who was married there in 1916.[xliii] The charming house is shown hidden among the lush green foliage at the end of a wide grassy sunlit path. It has a romanticized feeling appropriate for the occasion. When Anna Brewster painted Weeden House (also known as Willow Dell), c.1915, she focused on the subject of two women painting on the lawn. The landscape, stone foundation of the garden and foliage create a pleasing mood for the plein-air painters. The artists working on a warm summer day bring to mind Philip Leslie Hale's summer school of painting. Again, Brewster's painting of Weeden House differs significantly from those by Edward Everett Hale and Susan Hale.
Houses and figures were rare in Anna's Matunuck work. Most of her paintings feature woodlands, ponds and fields, and all of these subjects were repeated in spring, summer and fall. Her woodland scenes, such as Through Thick Foliage, focus on the overgrown vegetation of a path, the likes of which were found throughout the Hill Country, while eliminating open sky to create a sense of intimacy with the landscape. The glacial ponds dotting the Hill Country were among Anna's favorite subjects. Not only does she include them in almost all of her landscapes, she makes them the primary subject of many paintings. The seasonal and atmospheric qualities of the views interested her most. In Lily Pond, Matunuck, Rhode Island, 1915, Anna painted the view from her sister's cabin. The blooming spring laurel frames the pond, which is defined by strong reflections on a clear spring day.
In addition to ponds and woodlands, Anna painted what her husband referred to as "the wider landscape," or "panoramic" views from the "Hill Country outward."[xliv]The Salt Pond and Perch Cove c. 1915 is an expansive vista of rocky fields leading down to the pond, punctuated with narrow peninsulas. While not the identical vantage point of The Salt Marsh, Matunuck c. 1904 painted by her father, the two works offer a comparison of their varied styles. Both compositions emphasize the horizontal, although Richards' horizon line is more taut while Brewster's is higher. Both focus on the sky, water and land, and both seemingly record the scene before them. Anna's is more painterly while her father's picture reduces the elements of the landscape. The atmospheric conditions of the sky are significant in each, although again Anna's handling is freer, with more visible strokes of thick paint.
During the years she summered in Matunuck, Anna Brewster exhibited at the South County Art Association. Also included in one of these shows was the work of her sister Eleanor Richards Price, an amateur artist. Eleanor's subjects as in South County Landscape, c. 1930s, were the scenery surrounding her home and reveal a fidelity to nature and sketchiness similar to her sister's paintings. This painting shares the expansive view and fall colors of Anna's work although it is more deliberate in composition and less spontaneous in execution. When the two sisters were reviewed by W. R. Card in The Narragansett Times of August 10, 1934, they were described as, "Artists who have great love for our hillside scenery. They have very nicely caught these beauties in pictures.... We happen to have some quite good scenes down here in the south end of Rhode Island, which may at least suggest something to an artist's mind, which very often possesses quicker observation than most of us can muster perfectly."[xlv] Sadly, it was only four years later that the 1938 hurricane destroyed large areas of Matunuck and drove Anna away.
Frank Convers Mathewson, one of the founders of the South County Art Association, began to paint in Matunuck in 1911 at a cottage studio later deeded to him by Everitte and Carolyn Chaffee. The Chaffee property ran along the Old Post Road and bordered that of the Matlacks to the southwest and the Brewsters to the north. Although the social structure of Matunuck was changing with the death of Edward Everett Hale in 1909, Susan Hale in 1910 and William Weeden in 1912, painting was still a vital part of the community. Anna Brewster remained a strong artistic presence. In fact, the Brewsters would pass through the Chaffee property and by Mathewson's studio on the Old Post Road to get to their cabin at Cedar Swamp Pond. Eleanor Price and Carla Atkinson were also painting, and Edward Everett Hale Jr. lived almost directly across the road from Mathewson.
The Chaffees were socially prominent in Providence when they made Matunuck their summer home. Following a distinguished career as a colonel in World War I, Everitte St. John Chaffee was appointed the first superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police. Thus, the Chaffees and by extension their tenant, Mathewson, became well known in Matunuck, and as a result, Mathewson received numerous commissions from his benefactor's friends and neighbors. The fact that Mathewson made a postcard of the house confirms how significant it was to him, both personally and as an advertisement of his professional presence there. He painted at least one view of the studio, emphasizing its charm and his romantic attachment to the property. Mathewson also exhibited numerous paintings of his gardens.[xlvi]
Mathewson's paintings of Matunuck are characterized by plein air realism. His commissioned subjects included the houses, gardens and views of Matunuck's summer residents. Mathewson painted the home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Everett Hale Jr., who purchased their colonial farmhouse in 1902.[xlvii] Edward Jr. was the middle child of Edward and Emily Hale and two years older than Philip. He was a professor of English at Union College, and the only one of the Hale children to purchase a summer home in Matunuck. In The Hale House, Matunuck,1931, he focused on the picturesque quality of the country house. Significantly, Anna Brewster painted the exact view of the Hale home in a painting entitled A House on the Post Road. The stone walls, posts, entrance fence, trees, flowers and placement of the house are almost identical. Brewster's strokes are slightly looser, but overall the two are very close in conception. It was during the 1930s that Mathewson and Brewster both exhibited at the South County Art Association, and in 1930 Mathewson showed two paintings of the "Brewster House" at the Providence Art Club.[xlviii] He exhibited The Hale House, Matunuck at the Providence Art Club in 1932.[xlix]
Distinctive homes of the colonial period were another subject favored by Mathewson. He painted the Commodore Perry House and emphasizes the pastoral country setting of the historic house in the summer with fields of wild flowers. The Perry House was built in 1785 and was a popular postcard image when Mathewson painted it. In fact his view and that on one of the postcards are almost identical. He exhibited Commodore Perry House in 1927 at the Providence Art Club for a price of $60.[l]
Among Mathewson's favorite subjects were autumn views of Matunuck. The fall colors and misty lighting in such paintings as October, Matunuck, Rhode Island, dated 1924, and October Haze, about 1926[li], characterize his work. Both are painted in watercolor and gouache with soft, sometimes blurred strokes. His other characteristic paintings are of mountain laurel, which blooms throughout Matunuck in the spring, a subject he and Brewster shared. Typically, the latter always included a pond in her views, while Mathewson most often included a house, as in Laurel and Oak, Matunuck, Rhode Island.
Matunuck changed significantly following the hurricane of 1938. Most of the hotels and homes along the waterfront were destroyed, and the coastline was re-formed; even the ponds changed, with breachways entering the sea. The damage extended to the Hill Country and drove Anna Richards Brewster from Matunuck. Mathewson died in 1941, and the end of World War II brought even greater changes. Matunuck was no longer the isolated, charming, rural hamlet it had once been. The paintings done from the 1870s to the 1930s document the landscape of the tightly knit community founded by William Babcock Weeden and Edward Everett Hale. While they varied in approach, Susan and Ellen and Philip Hale, Carla Atkinson, William Trost Richards, Anna Richards Brewster, Eleanor Richards Price and Frank Mathewson created a continuum of expression over a seventy-year period that was based on the sense of place they found in Matunuck, Rhode Island.
About the author
Lindsay Leard-Coolidge is guest curator A Sense of Place: Painters of Matunuck, Rhode Island 1873-1941. Lyman Allyn Art Museum says of her on its Web site:
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Resource Library editor's note
The above article is adopted from the catalogue for the exhibition A Sense of Place: Painters of Matunuck, Rhode Island 1873-1941, held from September 18, 2010 to February 20, 2011 at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum. It was published in Resource Library on December 30, 2010, with permission of the author and the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, which permissions were granted to TFAO on December 27, 2010, and November 12, 2010, respectively.
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Nancy Stula and Susan Hendricks of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum for their help concerning permissions for publishing the above text.
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