James F. Fitzgerald’s “At the Graveyard” is on view at the Monhegan Museum this summer. Image courtesy of Monhegan Museum

The Monhegan Museum has opened for the season, beckoning overnighters and day-trippers with an exhibition of paintings created by artists who spent time on the storied art-colony island 10 miles off the Maine coast, as well as in the Cape Ann community of Massachusetts.

The exhibition, “Cape and Island Vistas: Cape Ann and Monhegan Island: Contrasted New England Art Colonies,” explores the relationship between the two painting destinations by displaying pictures that artists created in both locales, which are separated by about 100 miles of ocean.

The exhibition was organized by James F. O’Gorman, a trustee of the Monhegan Museum who lived on Cape Ann and was involved with Cape Ann Museum. He lives in Maine and is married to Susan Danly, a former curator at the Portland Museum of Art, who has been coming to Monhegan for decades. Danly introduced her husband to Monhegan and its deep history in the art of North America.

Because of his familiarity with the two coastal locations, O’Gorman sought to assemble an exhibition that shows the scope of the “peripatetic” artists who worked in both places and the work they created. “The two colonies are different in every way except for the attractiveness of their eye-catching marine vistas; the historic importance of fishing; and to this day the presence of artists, both amateur and professional, behind almost every rock, tree, or building,” O’Gorman writes in his catalog essay.

After Monhegan, “Cape and Island Vistas” will move to the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester in October. This is the second collaboration between Monhegan and another New England museum in recent years. In 2019, Monhegan mounted a show with the Currier Museum in New Hampshire.

“Monhegan Pier” from 1959 by Paul Strisik. unknown

Jennifer Pye, director of the Monhegan Museum of Art and History, said regular visitors will notice paintings by many artists who may be unfamiliar – John Chetcuti, William Farndon and Charles Movalli are all represented on Monhegan for the first time, she noted. Other artists whose work is shown more regularly on Monhegan – James  F. Fitzgerald, Jacqueline Hudson and Leon Kroll among them – are represented with paintings they made in Cape Ann.

While some of the artists in the exhibition were based on Monhegan and traveled to Cape Ann, most were based on Cape Ann. “For most, Monhegan was the excursion,” she said.

As she installed the show last week, Pye could see a clear distinction among the paintings made on the island in Maine and those made on the mainland of Massachusetts. In Kroll’s case, his Monhegan painting, from 1913, is a loose and rough rendering of sunlit seas on the backside of the island, while his Cape Ann painting from 1961 is a sharply focused and carefully executed image of a quiet country lane lined by tall trees and populated by a pair of pedestrians.

Nearly 50 years separate the paintings, and Kroll’s style evolved. But also at play are the challenges and realities of painting on the island versus the relative comfort and convenience of painting in town. “The Monhegan paintings tend to be more intuitive and were painted faster on site, en plein air, as opposed to the Cape Ann paintings, which are generally studio works and much larger, because the artists were not carrying them around to the site,” Pye said.

The contrast is apparent in other ways. Jacqueline Hudson’s Monhegan painting shows a gray, stormy harbor with a fishing vessel tossed by waves and swells. Her Cape Ann painting offers a spectacle of calm and color, as residents gather for an outdoor church fair in Rockport.

“Jackie” Hudson is represented in other ways at the Monhegan Museum. Last year, the museum acquired a portrait of 4-year-old Jackie painted in 1914 by George Bellows, a prominent American artist. The portrait hasn’t been seen on the island since Bellows made it and has not been seen in public in more than 50 years. It is hanging in the entry way of the museum.


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