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East Gloucester Docks - A Cape Ann Masterpiece — Blue Heron Fine Art Blog

George Ames Aldrich – A Cape Ann Masterpiece

by Jim Puzinas on November 8, 2011

Every once in a while, a painting comes into our gallery that just knocks you off your feet. Painted in luscious colors, this large scale 48″ x 48″ work is a masterpiece of composition and execution. Created around 1919, at the height of the popularity of American Impressionism,  George Ames Aldrich (1872-1941),  pushes the envelope to produce a thoroughly modernist image of a traditional Cape Ann theme, the busy docks of Gloucester harbor.

George Ames Aldrich, East Gloucester Docks, 48"x48"

George Ames Aldrich, East Gloucester Docks, 48"x48"

The influence of the European modernists first seen by many American artists at the famous Armory Show of 1913, ushered in one of the most creative periods in American art as many artists tried to include various elements of modernism into their own works. Employing many of the compositional devices that led many to dub Cezanne the “father of modernism”, Aldrich flattens the picture plane and tilts the horizon up toward the viewer. Abandoning the use of proper perspective, where objects at a distance appear smaller in the picture than those in the foreground, allows for a completely original and dynamic composition to be experienced by the viewer.

The strong diagonals of the dock, masts, boom and roof lines all lead you into the center of the painting. The two boats at the dock are Eastern-rigged draggers, part of the massive North Atlantic fleet that once provided fish to many New Englanders. Gloucester’s old city hall with its clock tower echoes the masts and points to the heavens. Although the calming warm light suggests quietness, it is Aldrich’s use of geometry that gives the scene its energy.  Completing the painting’s tension was the artist’s addition of the dockworker to the right, his body coiled inward, directing the viewer back toward the center of the painting.

East Gloucester Docks as they appeared circa the 1920's

East Gloucester Docks as they appeared circa the 1920's

To better judge the liberties taken by Aldrich in interpreting this scene, look to the black and white image of the Gloucester docks as captured in a photo circa the 1920’s. This is what Aldrich was painting, a pleasing scene but not one with the visual excitement of what he produced.

Aldrich exhibited several Gloucester paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago including one in 1920 entitled “Docks of East Gloucester”, and at the Progress Club of South Bend, IN 1922-23 entitled “East Gloucester Docks”. It is unknown whether these works are one in the same or different paintings of the same subject.

As a historical note, by the 1950’s, the Eastern-rigged draggers were replaced by modern mechanized trawlers and the location of this painting, which provided inspiration for many American artists including Willard Metcalf, Childe Hassam, Hayley Lever et al, was torn down in a commercial revitalization undertaken sometime in the 1960’s.

For more information about the artist, please go to   www.blueheronfa.com/aldrich

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