Friday, December 13, 2013
From staff reports
As part of its Homer summer, the Portland Museum of Art presents "The Portland Society of Art: Winslow Homer's Legacy in Maine" through Jan. 13.
"Winter Sunshine" by John Calvin Stevens, 1907, oil on canvas
This exhibition examines the artistic relationship between Homer, his friend John Calvin Stevens and the early years of the Portland Society of Art, the precursor to the Portland Museum of Art. With architectural drawings and a range of paintings and watercolors by Homer and his Maine contemporaries, this installation of 50 rotating works will provide a deeper understanding of Portland's art world at the turn of the 20th century.
The exhibition includes southern Maine scenes by Charles Kimball and George Morse, Casco Bay seascapes by Harrison Bird Brown, and watercolors by Mary King Longfellow. These paintings will be installed next to photographs by William B. Post, Frank Laing and other members of the Portland Camera Club.
Together, they place Homer's art in a regional context and demonstrate how important his legacy was for the burgeoning community of artists in Portland during the early decades of the 20th century.
Founded in 1882 just as the Homer family began to explore Prouts Neck for its potential development as a summer community, the Portland Society of Art sought to define a higher profile for fine arts in the city. The society organized small exhibitions of works by local artists, encouraged residents to display artworks they had acquired in their travels abroad, and promoted the new idea that photography was a fine art.
A century ago, just after Homer's death in 1910, the Portland Society of Art opened its new galleries designed by the city's leading architect, John Calvin Stevens. The stylish Renaissance Revival building, known as the Lorenzo de Medici Museum of Art, was intended to house the society's growing collection of art by contemporary Maine painters.
Significantly, during the first three years of their existence, the galleries also featured a small but significant collection of works by Homer. Loaned by Homer's brother, Arthur, the collection included 16 paintings and watercolors. During those same years, 1911 to 1913, Stevens placed his Homer painting, "The Artist's Studio in an Afternoon Fog," on public view for the first time. This romantic scene of the shrouded rocks at Prouts Neck silhouettes the Homer family compound that Stevens had designed for them in 1883.
Alongside Homer's work, the Portland Society of Art's early exhibitions also featured paintings by an important group of local plein-air painters known as the Brush 'uns, whose Sunday excursions were frequently led by Stevens. During the subsequent decades, the society acquired a representative group of their landscapes and portraits, in addition to a number of art photographs taken by members of the Portland Camera Club, housed in the society's building. These works came to form the core collection of the Portland Museum of Art when it was established in 1911.