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Provincetown Artists and American Modernism — Blue Heron Fine Art Blog

Provincetown Artists and American Modernism

by Jim Puzinas on July 29, 2009

Although artists had been painting in Provincetown as early as the 1870’s,  it was not until Charles Hawthorne established the Cape Cod Summer School in 1899, that Provincetown came to be known as an art colony. George Elmer Browne was also a popular American Impressionist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who taught during the summer months in Provincetown, teaching his students a form of impressionism, letting color and light dictate form.

Disillusionment with World War I and the pivotal New York Armory Show of 1913, paved the way for many artists of the day to question the previous traditional methods and theories of painting. Bjors Nordfeldt along with William and Marguerite Zorach founded the Modern School of Art in Provincetown, in 1916, bringing with them the theories and modern methods that were being explored in New York City. Though it lasted only two years, the Modern School provided the early foundation and established the legitimacy of modern art in Provincetown. This freedom proved fertile ground for many young artists to express themselves, and created an inquisitive and unfettered atmosphere that may have encouraged a number of original traditionalists like teacher George Elmer Browne and Tod Lindenmuth to introduce more modern elements into their paintings later in their careers.

Tod Lindenmuth, Marine Composition, Oil on Board, 20 x 30

Tod Lindenmuth, Marine Composition, Oil on Board, 20 x 30

Tod Lindenmuth (1885 – ) began his career painting in a traditional sense, depicting maritime scenes of ships and docks in a tonalistic manner, a popular style of painting that competed with Impressionism for the first two decades of the 20th century.  Active in Provincetown from 1915 – 1940, his style gradually became more abstract and bold. Lindenmuth focused on the “arrangement of natural objects with contrasting color and form, plus design in a semi-abstract manner”. 1   He along with Ross Moffet became involved in the early politics of promoting modern art in Provincetown.2

Sol Wilson, End of Pier

Sol Wilson, End of Pier, Oil on Canvas, 16 x 20

Sol Wilson (1897 – 1974)  both studied and taught in New York City, spending summers first in Rockport, MA (1927-1946) and then in Provincetown from 1947 on. Wilson considered himself an “expressionist realist” 3 painter and was a popular teacher at the American Artists School, School of Art Studies, and the Art Students League in New York City.  He was a strong believer in the value of socially relevant art, art that “capture(s) the mood and spirit of the time”, as well as the development of a native and national form of art. 4 Recently the subject of a major retrospective on Cape Cod, Sol Wilson painted many harbor scenes of fishermen and other figures on docks against the backdrop of dark and foreboding skies including “End of  Pier” where Wilson’s dark blue sky is intensified by the bright white footings of the pier.

Byron Browne,  Two Boats, 1956, Oil on Canvas, 14" x 18"

Byron Browne, Two Boats, 1956, Oil on Canvas, 14 x 18

Byron Browne (1907 – 1961) also a NYC artist, spent his early years as a traditional representational painter, but became a leading proponent of the modernist movement. He was a  founding member in 1936 of the American Abstract Artists group in New York City as well as a teacher at Art Students League from 1948-1959. He spent the last twelve summers of his life in Provincetown painting harbor scenes, like “Two Boats”, in a bold and colorful mix of figural and abstract elements.


Victor Candell, Sky Flowers, 1962 Oil on Canvas, 10 ¼ x 10 ¾

Victor Candell (1903-1977) was a New York modernist whose initial preoccupation with explosions and violence and the horrors of the period following World War II led him to develop an explosive and dynamic abstract painting style. 5 A number of his works from this period were purchased by the Metropolitan and Whitney museums. Candell showed regularly with the Grand Central Moderns, and spent summers in Provincetown depicting the recurrence of seasons and the natural cycle of plant and animal life in his paintings. 6 In the late 1950’s, Candell found his “explosions in nature” 7 and used them as inspirations for many of his bold canvases, such as “Sky Flowers”, where Candell explores the natural explosion of flowers as they emerge from the ground in the spring and soar towards the sky and again in “Cloudburst”, where Candell portrays the energy released in a downpour as strong alternations of black and white color heightening the contrast between the two, a constant theme throughout his paintings. Candell was active in Provincetown for over twenty years and was co founder of the Provincetown Workshop which was started in 1958-1959 as a replacement for the recently closed Hans Hofmann School.

This post is exerpted from an article I authored about the Provincetown Art Colony chronicling the early advance of modernism through the changing styles of several generations of painters who painted there.  It was first published in the Antiques and Arts Weekly, October, 2008.


1 Artist’s statement from exhibition clipping.

2 Ronald A. Kuchta, Provincetown Painters, p. 47

3 Elizabeth Ives Hunter, Sol Wilson: A Retrospective, p. 6

4 Hunter, p. 8

5 Dorothy Seckler, Smithsonian Archives of American Art, An Interview with Victor Candell, Sept. 1, 1965, p. 13

6 Seckler, p. 20

7 Seckler, p. 21


Kathleen Krucoff July 30, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Fascinating look into the history of artists around Provincetown .

Jim Puzinas July 30, 2009 at 8:34 pm

Although Provincetown embraced many of the modernists principles, it was only through the help of the NYC artists who summered there to fully articulate what modernism meant. The Provincetown art colony today is still vibrant and viable, even for those artists with a more traditional focus. Thanks for reading and posting your comment, Kathleen.

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