September 23, 2012

Art Review: PMA's 'Homer' an extraordinary feat

By DANIEL KANY

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

“Early Morning After a Storm at Sea,” 1902

Images courtesy of Portland Museum of Art

click image to enlarge

“The Fisher Girl,” 1894

ART REVIEW

"WEATHERBEATEN: WINSLOW HOMER AND MAINE"

WHERE: Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square

WHEN: Through Dec. 30

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and Saturday and Sunday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday

COST: $12; $10 for seniors and students with ID; $6 for ages 13 to 17; free for ages 12 and under; free for all after 5 p.m. Fridays.

INFO: 775-6148; portlandmuseum.org

We now honor Homer's economic brushwork, but he was admonished for it by contemporary critics who wanted more focus, finish and fuss. While he was capable of seductive brushwork (think Sargent), Homer was allergic to affect, and insisted on visually articulate intelligence.

The key spots in "Weatherbeaten" are perfectly occupied by show stoppers: the dreamily intense "Artist's Studio in an Afternoon Fog" (1894), the masterful title piece (1894), my personal favorite "On a Lee Shore" (1900) and "Fox Hunt."

Also well-placed is "West Wind" (1891). Homer felt strongly about seeing paintings from afar; from a distance, this piece looks like a three-rock cairn by a small bush. But on closer inspection, it becomes a woman in front of a tree -- so from farther, it looks closer. It's brilliant.

One frustrating bit of weirdness, however, involves the iconic "Eight Bells" (1886). In the first room of the exhibition, this painting of two seamen working a sextant (you can feel N.C. Wyeth's love for Homer in this great work) is accompanied by Homer's etching of the same scene. But the same print is included later in the show.

It's disappointing, because it wrongly hints of a limited body of work. Homer was a great and prolific printmaker, and the PMA owns more than 400 of his graphic works.

So while the label copy and (fantastic) catalog talk up Homer's draftsmanship and printmaking proclivity -- and there are enough watercolors to illustrate his reigning greatness in that medium ("Blown Away" stands up to anything in the show) -- "Weatherbeaten" doesn't really give us the fully rounded artist or the populist printmaker. This Homer is the reclusive painter of Maine.

While the opening of Homer's studio is newsworthy, it will be around for a long time to come. "Weatherbeaten," on the other hand, will only be up through Dec. 30, and it's a show that you should see again and again.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:

dankany@gmail.com

 

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