To use an old saying, no artist is an island. Artists are impacted by their immediate environment, of course, but also by much more.
Although the isolation and natural beauty of Monhegan Island have attracted artists since the late 19e century – perhaps the most famous George Bellows, Robert Henri, Rockwell Kent and the Wyeths – many of those who painted here also traveled extensively to Europe, primarily France, where they absorbed the influences of the dynamic art movements that swept through the continent. They studied their craft at various schools under the tutelage of other famous artists, and they often bounced seasonally from one to another of the many art colonies that proliferated after the Civil War.
These colonies offered them a chance to socialize and paint with other artists and participate in workshops with artists they admired, all leading to a rich cross-pollination of ideas and the development of their personal styles. The peculiar art exchange between Monhegan Island and another thriving art colony 100 miles away, Cape Ann, Massachusetts, is the subject of “Cape Ann and Monhegan Island Vistas: Contrasted New England Art Colonies” from the Monhegan Museum of Art and History (until Sept. 30).
Unsurprisingly, the exhibition, curated by James F. O’Gorman, is mainly made up of seascapes and harbor scenes. It could have been monotonous. Fortunately, the wide variety of styles on display in this genre serves to chronicle a multiplicity of approaches that have been informed by the great artistic developments that have occurred during the show’s nearly 100-year span.
It all starts with a kind of homecoming: a lush childhood portrait of Jacqueline “Jackie” Hudson by George Bellows, which a museum administrator bought last year and bequeathed to the museum in honor of the director of the museum. institution from 1984 to 2019, Edward Deci. Jackie Hudson helped found the Monhegan Museum in 1968, and Deci, a lifelong artist collector of Monhegan, has certainly turned it into what it is today. Jackie’s return to the island is therefore of particular importance.
Jackie’s father, Eric Hudson – painter, lithographer and photographer – had metaphorically opened the artistic floodgates of the island in the late 1800s when he accidentally discovered it on a boat trip with two other artists. . Impressed by the visual potential offered by the spectacular cliffs and pine forests of the island, he built a house near the harbor, which he painted during the summer months until his death in 1932. As word of mouth spread, this 4.5 square mile mound of igneous gabbro inundated with other painters and sculptors.
Jackie was one of Eric’s two daughters (the other was Julie). She became an artist herself and, like everyone depicted in the exhibit, also lived or painted in Cape Ann. The latter had grown into a thriving arts colony by the late 1860s. The contrast between the locations is evident in the association of Jackie’s “Storm in Monhegan Harbor” and “Church Fair, Main St., Rockport”.
The first is a tumultuous and dangerous scene that reflects Monhegan’s estrangement and isolation, as well as his sensitivity to the elements. The latter captures the livelier community life of this fishing village on the Cape Ann Peninsula. While it’s also removed from the urban cacophony, it’s clear from the festive gathering here that we are on the mainland, with Boston less than an hour away. Both are painted in an impressionist style.
One of the many revelations of the exhibition is the juxtaposition of two works by Walter Farndon. Born in England, he began painting in the 1890s, when post-impressionism dominated the Parisian art scene. It is clear that he took back the love of the thick and sheer application of post-impressionist pigments and their forerunners, the impressionists, shared. But he also developed an energetic brushstroke characteristic of post-impressionists, especially Cézanne. Farndon’s strokes – short, bold, and heavily battered (some clearly applied with a palette knife and then scraped off) – enliven both 1930s “Road to Fish Beach, Monhegan” and “The Docks, Gloucester, Massachusetts” (no dated).
What is fascinating about the association is how Farndon was able to vary the thickness of the paint, the brush strokes themselves and the palette to achieve different effects. The pastel shades, the brevity of the lines and the crisp impasto of “Monhegan” reflect the rustic character of the structures and places, as well as the exposure of the island, which is in the middle of the ocean, to the sun. The more saturated palette, the more lightly applied areas of paint and the strokes that appear thinner and longer telegraph the hustle and bustle of the port, its stabilizing connection to the mainland, the more refined architecture (a large brick building) and the liquid reflectivity of water.
It is also interesting to see how artists have evolved over time. In “Back Beach Willows, Rockport, Mass. By James E. Fitzgerald, circa 1925, the artist was still attached to pretty impressionist scenes. But 40 years later, in “At the Graveyard” (1960s), this was supplanted by a highly expressionist drama. The composition is triangular in the Baroque manner, to better arouse the emotion of a strong upward movement similar to Théodore Géricault’s monumental masterpiece “Raft of the Medusa”. Fitzergald’s brush is bold, its saturated color and the way he raked the paint diagonally across the canvas makes us feel the throwing power of the downpour.
Maurice Freedman’s style, too, has changed in leaps and bounds. “Rockport Quarry Dock” from 1933 is a realistic but loose portrayal of its subject matter and features the dark color palette of the era. But by 1968, the date of the “Cathedral of the Sea,” Freedman had reverted to the analytical cubist style to which he had been exposed by his professor in Paris, André Lhote, in the 1920s, and later by the fractured style of Max Beckmann. . black planes and outlines in the 1930s. The disassembled forms and multiple perspectives of analytical cubism are as far removed from “Carrière” as possible, and the sky is reduced to mere bands of purple, blue, and green.
Other painters have remained more consistent over time. Paul Strisik’s two paintings, “Evening Tide, Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester” (1974) and “Monhegan Pier” (1959) – two of the finest works in the exhibition – show the same dexterity in transmitting warm light. evening. The later painting may at first appear more refined due to the realistically rendered rocks in the foreground. But as the eye moves to the beach and the horizon, her loose hand and washes of color are part of the impressionism of the previous image.
There’s more than enough here to justify the 55-minute ferry ride from Port Clyde. Margaret Jordan Patterson’s colorful woodcuts have an almost Japanese sensibility. Leon Kroll displays the same ease with seascape (“Sunlit Sea”, 1913) and landscape (“Eden Road, Rockport”, 1961). Naturally, of course, “Island Vistas” also provides a great excuse to visit beautiful Monhegan Island – as if an excuse were needed.
Jorge S. Arango has been writing about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be contacted at: [email protected]