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Art Colonies of New England at the Florence Griswold Museum — Blue Heron Fine Art Blog

Art Colonies of New England at the Florence Griswold Museum

by Jim Puzinas on December 16, 2009

Competition, it seems, is everywhere, especially in the museum business.  This year included ever increasing blockbuster single artist shows featuring the titans of the art world. Cezanne at the Philadelphia Museum this past spring, the Kandinsky show currently going on at the Guggenheim. All designed to entertain, educate and increase the ranks of museum membership as well as sales of catalogs and admission tickets. The noble cause of providing cultural education has become big business, the beginnings of which can be traced to the early self promoting efforts of Thomas Hoving, who championed such efforts at the Metropolitan Museum back in the late 1960’s. Mr. Hoving, who passed away, last week, can rest peacefully knowing that he indeed paid a major role in altering how people view and use their museums today.

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Rockwell Kent, "Wreck of the D.T. Sheridan", O/C 27"x44", Portland Museum of Art

Art education and appreciation some argue have always been a major underpinning of any modern society. So it is a very good sign that many of us are interested enough to take notice and want to learn more, not only about specific artists, but of the many regional art colonies that provided the camaraderie that inspired them.  

Eric Hudson, "Manana", Oil on Canvas 28"x34", Portland Museum of Art

Eric Hudson, "Manana", Oil on Canvas 28"x34", Portland Museum of Art

Such an ambitious show was recently assembled as a joint effort of the Portland Museum of Art (ME) and the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, CT. Focused on the art colonies of Cos Cob and Old Lyme in Connecticut and on Monhegan Island and Ogunquit in Maine, Call of the Coast, Art Colonies of New England is currently on exhibit at the Florence Griswold through January 31, 2010. 

Highly recommended for art lovers, art collectors, and artists, this show is manageable enough to navigate within an hour, and is very approachable in subject matter. A more than reasonable $8 admission fee gains access to three exhibition halls, each devoted to a different art colony.  Presenting works from some of the oldest art colonies in this country, the show traces the development of impressionism in Connecticut and modernism in Maine. Many highly decorated artists like Hassam, Twachtman, Henri, Hopper, Metcalf and Rockwell Kent are presented alongside many equally compelling works by other fine artists of the day.

Edward Hopper's oil on panel "Monhegan Houses, Maine," circa 1916-1919,  is part of "Call of the Coast: Art Colonies of New England," at the Portland Museum of Art.

Edward Hopper's oil on panel "Monhegan Houses, Maine," circa 1916-1919, is part of "Call of the Coast: Art Colonies of New England," at the Portland Museum of Art.

I always judge a show by how many favorites I take notice of, and by that standard, this show is a resounding success. Greeted by Rockwell Kent’s large iconic Wreck of the D.T. Sheridan, the first room houses one of the best Eric Hudson paintings I have ever viewed. Manana is a bold and imposing Monhegan harbor composition that just dominates the room with its interplay of the darkest darks against the lightest lights. Wonderful examples of completely unified paintings are presented in the small works by Edward Hopper Monhegan Houses, Maine and Robert Henri Barnacle on Rocks. Though there are several large scenes by Charles Ebert on display, it was his small Foot of the Cliffs that caught my attention with its vibrant colors and confident brushwork. 

 

Robert Henri, "Barnacle on Rock", Oil on panel 8"x10", Portland Museum of Art

Robert Henri, "Barnacle on Rock", Oil on panel 8"x10", Portland Museum of Art

Wonderful modernist pieces by James Fitzgerald and Reuben Tam were pleasant additions, but it was Clarence Chatterton’s mysterious Boating with Oliver, Ogunquit  that made its way to the top of my list. Against a loosely painted and cheerful ocean backdrop, Chatterton captures an almost Hopper-like air of mystery, in this tense boating scene. One can almost feel the awkwardness of the situation. 

Charles Chatterton, "Boating with Oliver, Ogunquit", O/C 20"x24", Portland Museum of Art

Charles Chatterton, "Boating with Oliver, Ogunquit", O/C 20"x24", Portland Museum of Art

Another bonus, for art collectors, is that works by many artists in this show, like Charles Ebert or Jay Hall Connaway, can still be purchased for reasonable prices at various galleries throughout the country.  The only negative was that as broad as the exhibition’s title suggests, the equally important and deserving art colonies of Provincetown and Rockport/Gloucester (Cape Ann) Massachusetts, are not represented in the show, leaving perhaps, something for us to look forward to in the future.

All images are courtesy of the Portland Museum of Art (ME) (PMA)

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