September 16, 2012

Winslow Homer: Making waves in the art world

The Portland Museum of Art has gathered 38 of Homer's works – all made at his studio on Prouts Neck – for a once-in-a-lifetime show.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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“Weatherbeaten,” oil on canvas, 1894.

Portland Museum of Art, bequest of Charles Shipman Payson

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“Fox Hunt,” oil on canvas, 1893, is Homer’s largest painting – nearly 6 feet wide – and is given a wall of its own in the PMA exhibition.

Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Joseph E. Temple Fund. Photo: Barbara Katus

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IF YOU GO

"WEATHERBEATEN: WINSLOW HOMER AND MAINE"

WHEN: Opens Saturday. On view through Dec. 30.

WHERE: Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with extended hours to 9 p.m. Fridays through Columbus Day. After Columbus Day, the museum is closed Mondays.

HOW MUCH: $12; $10 for seniors and students with ID; $6 for ages 13 to 17; free for ages 12 and younger; free for all after 5 p.m. Friday

INFO: 775-6148; portlandmuseum.org

The museum cast a wide net assembling this show. There are several major paintings on view, including "Fox Hunt," on loan from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Homer painted it in 1893 on a canvas that's almost 6 feet wide. It's his largest painting, and considered by many to be one of the most important paintings in American history.

"Fox Hunt" depicts a flock of crows descending on a fox mired in deep snow. The Pennsylvania Academy bought it from Homer soon after he completed it. It's a masterpiece because of its layered complexity, Sherry said. It's beautifully designed, with sophisticated composition and precise technical execution.

It's also thematically complicated. Homer thinks about nature in evolutionary terms, conjuring the Darwinian idea of survival of the fittest. We don't know if the fox survives the hungry crows; Homer leaves to our imagination the cacophony of the attack that is moments away.

But the painting goes deeper than that. Pay attention to Homer's signature. He makes his identification with the fox clear by altering his signature in the lower left corner to resemble the shape of the fox.

So important is this painting that the museum gives it an entire wall. It is the last painting in "Weatherbeaten," cast against a gray wall. It is visible from throughout the gallery and will serve as a magnet, beckoning people slowly toward the exit for a long period of contemplation.

Securing "Fox Hunt" was no easy task, said Mark Bessire, the museum's director. If fact, he added, none of the work came easily. Loans came from throughout the country, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and many others.

Several works reside in Maine. Some are from the PMA's own collection, as well as at the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville.

"Museums like their Homers, because people like to visit them. Museums do not like to take them off their walls. It is not good for business," Bessire said. 

A MILESTONE FOR THE MUSEUM

Thomas Denenberg, the PMA's former chief curator, spent several years working on this exhibition before moving to Vermont for another job. He considers "Weatherbeaten" a crowning jewel in the museum's history. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see those paintings all together," he said.

John Wilmerding, a retired Princeton University art professor and Homer scholar, said "Weatherbeaten" will give people a better understanding of the importance of place in an artist's creative process.

Homer had only to look out his window on Prout's Neck to find his subject, or walk upstairs to his open-air piazza. The immediate physicality of his subject allowed him to pursue every detail.

Yes, there are a lot of paintings of waves crashing on rocks, Wilmerding said. But Homer's pieces are so much more than that. There is tension and conflict, and that only becomes obvious with seeing the paintings up close as a cohesive body.

"These late-career paintings take you so far beyond picturesque descriptions," he said. "You are left with the sheer sense of plastic paint, the physicality of the paint and the way he makes water. It's not just liquid. It's almost as if he understood the new physics. It was the molecular structure, that water could stand up to rocks.

"With this work, Homer began a new kind of realism. It was maybe based on observation, but he takes it well beyond, and makes it personal and cosmic."

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be reached at 791-6457 or:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes

 

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Additional Photos

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"On a Lee Shore," oil on canvas, 1900.

Jesse Metcalf Fund, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

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“Eight Bells,” oil on canvas, 1886.

Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass., gift of anonymous donor

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“Breaking Storm, Coast of Maine,” watercolor on wove paper, 1894.

Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago

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“Watching the Breakers – A High Sea,” oil on canvas, 1896.

Arkell Museum at Canajoharie, Gift of Bartlett Arkell, 1935

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Saco Bay,” oil on canvas, 1896.

Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass.

 


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