Portland Museum of Art
Modern Color: Maine Watercolors by Carl Gordon Cutler
At Water's Edge, c. 1920-1930, watercolor on paper, 17 1/4 x 25 1/16 inches, Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine,
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James E. Haas, Photo by Melville McLean
Last fall the Portland Museum of Art received a phenomenal gift of 59 Maine watercolors by the important Modernist painter Carl Gordon Cutler(1873-1945). Cutler, a Massachusetts native whose work was exhibited from Paris to Chicago, spent the last 30 years of his career focusing exclusively on watercolors of the Penobscot Bay region. This collection, a gift of Mr. and Mrs. James E. Haas, includes some of Cutler's finest paintings. Sixteen of these works will be featured in "Modern Color": Maine Watercolors by Carl Gordon Cutler on view July 3 through October 4, 1998.
The exhibition showcases some of Cutler's most vivid and exuberant images of the Maine coast. Recognizable in his work is the pictorial language of Cutler's better known contemporaries including John Marin and William and Marguerite Zorach, as well as the fauvist colors of Matisse and the angular landscape forms of Cezanne.
Cutler attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts,
Boston in the late 1890s; at that time, the
institution's faculty favored the Bostonian tradition of portraiture in oils which derived much from the work ofEuropean Old Masters. Later he was a student at the Acadimie Julien, Paris, where he met with some success and periodically exhibited work in oils. However, it was not until he had been back in the States for several years that Cutler's mature style began to develop.
In 1913 Cutler formed "The Four Boston Painters" with Academie Julien alumni Maurice Prendergast, E. Ambrose Webster, and Charles Hovey Pepper. Later in 1913, Cutler exhibited two oils in the Armory Show. This groundbreaking exhibition featured the work of American artists alongside masterworks of the major European Modernist movements such as Cubism and Fauvism. Many American painters, including Cutler and his fellow "Four Boston Painters," were inspired by what they saw in the Armory Show to break free from what they perceived as the bourgeois traditions of American painting. From the work of John Marin, the Zorachs, and Marsden Hartley, Cutler gained valuable insight into what would become his two greatest artistic passions: the medium of watercolor and the landscape of Maine.
It was not long after the Armory Show that Cutler made his first painting trip along the coast of Maine, and by the mid-1920s he had dedicated himself solely to picturing the Maine landscape in his plein-air watercolor style. His Maine watercolors met with considerable critical acclaim; soon he had established himself as not only a popular and successful artist, but also a well-respected theorist on the subject of color in painting. His 1923 book Modern Color describes a detailed system involving a scale of 168 pigments; he explains how to mix pigments so that they imitate the appearance of natural light.
Until his death in 1945, Cutler used this technique to produce hundreds of sensitive and immediate views of well-loved spots such as Mount Desert, the Camden Hills, Deer Isle, and Eggemoggin Reach. He continued to exhibit in the urban centers of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, yet his inspiration was to be found almost exclusively the dramatic landscape and the rich artistic tradition of Maine.
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