Sun, Sand, and Sea

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Spanierman Gallery, LLC is pleased to announce the opening on June 5, 2014 of Sun, Sand, and Sea , an exhibition and sale of fifteen works. The exhibition brings together a wide range of styles and subjects that all evoke the universal appeal of summer’s ease. The paintings are a range of sizes and media, and date from the 1880’s to the present.

 

The sun, the sparkling sea, and endless stretches of sand have been inspiring artists for centuries. William Merritt Chase painted The Back Yard at his home in the Hamptons, while Abraham Bogdanove’s favorite subject was the turbulent surf off Maine’s Monhegan Island. The Hamptons are also represented in paintings by the contemporary Long Island artist Ty Stroudsburg, who depicts the reflection captured in the marshes near her home in the Hamptons in Red Reflect, as well as in earlier works by Percy Moran, Henry Prellwitz and William de Leftwich Dodge. Cape Ann is depicted by Gershon Benjamin’s modernist hand, and Alson Skinner Clark’s 1936 painting Sea and Sky is a bold, spontaneous California sunset. Enjoy the water, feel the sun on your face and the sand between your toes, and view “Sun, Sand and Sea” at Spanierman Gallery.

 

All of the works in the show are available for sale, and can be viewed online at www.spanierman.com, as well as at Spanierman Gallery at 625 West 55th Street. The gallery hours are Mon-Fri, 9:30 – 5 p.m. For additional information, please call Nancy Zander at 212-832-0208.

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Katherine Parker: chants/chance Installation

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Thomas Hart Benton’s “Still Life,” 1962

Thomas Hart Benton, "Still Life," 1962,  oil on canvas board, 22 1/2 x 14 3/4 inches

Thomas Hart Benton, “Still Life,” 1962,
oil on canvas board, 22 1/2 x 14 3/4 inches

 

In the 1930s, Thomas Hart Benton emerged as one of America’s three leading Regionalist painters, along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry. His work in the Regionalist mode encompassed images of American rural and urban life as well as depictions of subjects drawn from the history of the nation.  Among his champions were nativist critics such as Thomas Craven, who felt that a nationalist focus was essential in the light of the grave realities of the Great Depression.  For Craven, Benton was on the right track as a reliance on “foreign” stylistic approaches was unpatriotic, and Crave promoted Benton as an artist who had rejected European influence.

 

However, in actuality, Benton never abandoned the interest in abstraction and European modernism that he had explored earlier in his career.  While studying in Paris in 1908, he avidly pursued a knowledge of the avant-garde methods prevalent in the city, visiting galleries to study the art of Cézanne, Matisse, Braque, Picasso, and Delaunay.  He also joined the circle of Stanton MacDonald Wright, who introduced him to the new Synchromist mode, an approach that focused on the function of color and the association of artistic form and music.

 

In the years leading up to the rise of Regionalism, Benton utilized the still-life subject as means of exploring modernist ideas.  His Constructivist Still Life (1917-18, Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio) is an abstract conception in the Synchromist mode, in which blocky, multifaceted shapes are interlocked across the picture plane, with little of their actual subject in evidence.  Most of Benton’s Synchromist works, created from 1914 to 1917, were destroyed in a fire at Oak Hill, his parent’s home in Neosho, Missouri, in 1917, so the extent of his work is this manner cannot be determined.  However, by the end of the 1910s, he was working primarily in a more representational mode, evident in works such as Still Life—Fruit and Flowers (watercolor, 1919, Lyman Field and United Missouri Bank of Kansas City).

 

During the 1930s, much of Benton’s time was spent traveling through rural America and capturing its characteristic aspects in his art.  However, by the end of the decade, this subject lost its appeal for him.  He stated at the time that “things” were different than they had been, perceiving that the rural world he been portraying had largely vanished at a time when so many people were on government relief.[1]  He focused his attention on painting scenes of Martha’s Vineyard, where he began spending summers in 1920 and purchased property in Chilmark in 1927.  He also became interested in exploring traditional artistic themes, including the reclining nude, which he depicted in works such as his well-known Persephone (1939, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri), an updated version of the mythical subject. This painting, featuring a nude woman in the outdoors, relates the fecundity of nature to the female subject, while also including a still-life vignette, featuring picked flowers in a picnic basket.[2]

 

Indeed, still life would be a subject that would continue to engage Benton’s interest in the decades that followed. Although he created relatively few still lifes over the course of his career, they are among his finest images.  The subject—one that gives an artist ultimate control over compositional and formal features—enabled him to bring together realism and abstraction, tradition and modernity.  In depicting this subject, he drew from Dutch seventeenth-century still lifes, in which artists expressed their love for the natural world while often conveying the vanitas theme.  At the same time, in his still lifes, he expressed his admiration for Cézanne’s work in this genre, evident in his deliberate compositional calibrations which result in an overall sense of harmony.

 

Traditional American still lifes usually either depict fruit or flowers, and Benton followed in this manner, more often painting flowers on their own in his still lifes.  However, he combined these subjects in Still Life (1962).  The variety of the forms in this image provided him with a compositional challenge, which he met in this unified yet lively arrangement.

 

He rendered the image in his inimical style, featuring forms that are sculptural yet simplified to clean, crisp shapes with smooth, velvety surfaces.  Omitting atmosphere, he treated each element in the work as an individual entity, defined by clean contours that reveal its shape and vibrant local color.  The composition is distinctly Cézannesque.  The table, covered in a subtly embossed white tablecloth, has been tipped upward.  The glass fruit platter is also on a tilt, but one that is less extreme than the table, while the vase stands almost upright in the space, bringing the flowers and leaves within it close to the picture plane.  Thus, Benton gives emphasis to each element within the work.  Slightly elongating them, he invested each with baroque energy that keeps this inanimate subject from being static.

 

Benton also included structural elements that unify the design, including the stiff diagonal folds in the tablecloth, which are crossed by the knife that rests on a fold as well as on the plate at the edge of the table.  Drawing our eye to the central axis that is thus emphasized, Benton creates a visual pathway by which the viewer can appreciate the different rhythms in the work, in which there are many subtle echoes and counterbalances.  Again, in the manner of Cézanne, Benton gave slight adjustments to the shapes of the fruit, flowers, and leaves to enhance their aesthetic connections with each other, making clear in the process that while the image conveys the intrinsic beauty of these forms, it is also an artistic construction expressive of the artist’s vision and aesthetic ideas.

 

In his still lifes, Benton transcended the time-boundedness of his Regionalist work, joining his art with a venerable tradition.  At the same time, in works such as Still Life, he gave this subject his own stamp.  Although this image at first strikes us as very simple, our gradual awareness of its open and closed shapes, upward and downward curves, rounded and angular elements yields an awareness of the complexity of Benton’s art, no doubt enhanced at this late point in his career by his long years of study and exploration.

 

Lisa N. Peters, Ph.D.

 


[1]  Henry Adams, Thomas Hart Benton: An American Original (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), 318.

[2]   Benton depicted a still life of a picnic basket on its own in Pussy Cat and Roses (1939, Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey).

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Peter Moran’s “Outskirts of Old Santa Fe, New Mexico,” 1881

Peter Moran - Outskirts of Old Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1880

Peter Moran, “Outskirts of Old Santa Fe, New Mexico,” 1880, oil on canvas, 20 x 30 inches

A member of the noted Moran family of artists and an important figure in the Philadelphia art world in the late nineteenth century, Peter Moran is well known for his naturalistic images in oil, etching, and watercolor of farm animals and rural landscapes. He is also acclaimed for his depictions of the Southwest, a region he visited during three consecutive summers, from 1879 to 1881. On his first trip, sponsored by the Union Pacific Railroad, he was accompanied by his brother Thomas, already a nationally prominent painter of Western scenery. The brothers ventured to California, the northeast Nevada territory, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming. On his subsequent trips, Peter spent most of his time in New Mexico, where he concentrated his attention on the pueblos and people of New Mexico as well as the region’s dramatic mountain scenery. In the summer of 1880, Moran had intended to continue beyond New Mexico, but decided against it, as he became increasingly fascinated by the customs of the native people he encountered and their adobe architecture. On his return to New Mexico in 1881, he joined Lieutenant John Gregory Bourke on an ethnological trip to document the Moqui (Hopi) tribe, contributing drawings to Bourke’s book, Snake-Dance of the Moquis, published in 1884 (reprinted in 1984).

Peter Moran - Outskirts of Old Santa Fe, New Mexico - Verso

Inscription on verso: “Out Skirts of Old Santa Fe, N.M. / P.Moran 1881″

Dated 1881, Outskirts of Old Santa Fe, New Mexico is among a limited group of oils to result from Moran’s visits to the Southwest. He inscribed the back of the work with its title and date, demonstrating that the work was a direct product of his Southwestern experience. As was typical for Moran in his oils, he worked from field sketches. In this case, among his studies was a drawing in graphite and Chinese white in the collection of the Roswell Museum and Art Center, New Mexico, in which Moran depicted the same adobe home, the ladder leaning against it, and the fence that frames the foreground and divides the composition. In the painting, he added in a group of pack mules, loaded with goods to be traded that stand still on the road. Their owner may be the man approaching on horseback, or the trader could be bargaining within the dwelling, while the mules await his return patiently. A woman standing in front of the home holding her baby was perhaps sent to be a sentinel or she could be showing the animals to her child. Characteristic for Moran, the scene is well organized, with our interest focused on the foreground, while we are gradually drawn into the distance along the road to the mountains that shimmer in the glow of the sunset.

Peter Moran sketch - Roswell Museum

Peter Moran graphite and Chinese white sketch of an area surrounding Santa Fe, ca. 1880, 10 x 12-1/2 in., preparatory to his oil “A Moqui Trader,” from the collection of the Roswell Museum and Art Center, Roswell, NM 1952.10.6.

Capturing a commonplace moment in everyday life in New Mexico, Peter Moran demonstrated his close observation of pueblo experience. Indeed, his images of the Southwest were recognized for this trait in his day. In 1881, the critic S. G. W. Benjamin, compared one of Moran’s New Mexican scenes included in an exhibition of the American Watercolor Society, to views portraying mythological and ancient subjects by such noted academic painters as Jean-Léon Gérôme and Lawrence Alma Tadema. Benjamin observed that, by depicting a scene of actual American life, Peter Moran had created a “real” history painting rather than one that belonged to the realm of archaeology. He went on to note how the recording of such subjects was important to preserve them for posterity, stating:

The true field of historical painting is to reproduce the spirit of contemporary life and events. Paintings thus inspired at once become historic records to the succeeding ages. . . . Many of the noble scenes which were to be found on this continent have vanished before the march of civilization. A few yet remain, such as Mr. Moran has represented. Now is the time to paint them. Where are the artists who are to immortalize themselves by identifying their genius with these remarkable scenes.

In creating Outskirts of Old Santa Fe, New Mexico and other views of old New Mexico, Peter Moran rivaled the popular scenes of North Africa and Spain by Orientalist artists, conveying the sense that an exotic and unique lifestyle existed within the boundaries of our own nation.

Lisa N. Peters, Ph.D.

*S. G. W. Benjamin, “Fourteenth Annual Exhibition of the American Water Color Society,” American Art Review 2 (March 1881), 200.

William Merritt Chase’s “Child Star Elsie Leslie Lyde as Little Lord Fauntleroy”

William Merritt Chase-Child Star Elsie Leslie Lyde as Little Lord Fauntleroy, ca. 1889

William Merritt Chase, “Child Star Elsie Leslie Lyde as Little Lord Fauntleroy,” ca. 1889, oil on canvas, 69 1/4 x 39 1/2 inches

Few of William Merritt Chase’s full-length portraits are as flamboyant, colorful, and vivacious as his Child Star Elsie Leslie Lyde as Little Lord Fauntleroy.  Executed about midpoint in the artist’s career, the image of this child actress in costume evidences that distinct combination of skill, flair, and charm that Chase often realized in his portraits.  By the time he painted this canvas his standing as a leading American portraitist was firmly established by such works as Portrait of Miss Dora Wheeler (1883; Cleveland Museum of Art), James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1885; Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Portrait of a Lady in Black (1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).  Despite the obligations of other portrait commissions, a busy teaching schedule at the Art Students League, the demands of his growing family, and his ongoing efforts to organize pastel exhibitions, Chase actually elected to undertake this portrait with no thought of remuneration.  On completion of the painting and its public exhibition, he presented it as a gift to the sitter, Elsie Leslie Lyde (1881-1966).[1]

For further information on this painting, please email info@spanierman.com

Elsie was a daughter of Benjamin Tanner Lyde, an affluent merchant in Newark, New Jersey.  When her father lost his business due to poor health, she and her sister, Dora, joined the theatrical company of Joseph Jefferson, a family friend.  Elsie (her stage name was Elsie Leslie) went on to make her professional debut at the age of four, traveling to the Far West with Jefferson’s Rip Van Winkle Company.  In 1887, she achieved her earliest success in New York as the star of Editha’s Burglar at the Lyceum Theatre, which was followed by additional roles, including Little Lord Fauntleroy (1888) and The Prince and the Pauper (1890).  As America’s first child star, Elsie was a favorite of such theatrical types as Edwin Booth and William Gillette.  She also had a number of friends from the literary world, among them Oliver Wendell Holmes and Mark Twain.  In 1890, Elsie left the stage to attend school, but she resumed her theatrical work again eight years later, going on to appear in productions such as The Rivals, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Christian, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Man on the Case.  In 1907 she declared that she sought to exemplify “the child actress who grew up and could act,” but acknowledged that despite her achievements, she remained best known for her role as Little Lord Fauntleroy–to the extent that she would later say: “Sometimes it really seems to me that I don’t know whether I’m Little Lord Fauntleroy or Little Lord Fauntleroy is me–our identities have been so mixed.”[2]

At the time Chase painted her portrait, Elsie was playing the title role in the stage version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s tale of Little Lord Fauntleroy.[3]  The story describes the adventures of young Cedric Errol, a sweet, angelic child living with his poor widowed mother in Brooklyn, who discovers that his grandfather is the Earl of Dorincourt and is summoned to England to claim his patrimony.  The play originally opened in Boston but made its New York debut at the Broadway Theater on December 3rd 1888.  Chase attended the opening night performance, where he was so captivated by the child actress that he vowed to paint her portrait.  He arranged for a sitting in his Tenth Street studio through an acquaintance named W. H. Patten, who was a friend of the Lyde family.[4]

The result is this picturesque portrait of the nine-year-old child, dressed in the white lace and black velvet costume that she wore on stage.[5]  Indeed, Elsie’s garb contributed to the popularity of Little Lord Fauntleroy regalia, a distinctive “look,” described in one contemporary periodical, as “usually made of black velvet or velveteen, with a broad collar and cuffs of Irish point lace, with a sash of silk passed broadly around the waist and knotted on one side.”[6]  Ironically, the props that Chase assembled for this painting reveal more about the artist than about his young celebrity subject.  The renaissance revival chair behind Elsie is one of several variations that appear in many of the artist’s studio views and attest to the prodigious collection of furniture and bric-a-brac that he accumulated during his frequent journeys to Europe.  In this instance, the chair provides a touch of elegance as well as a vivid sense of scale to this diminutive figure.  The heavy green curtain behind Elsie looks identical to one that Chase featured in Meditation (ca. 1885-86; private collection), a pastel drawing of Alice Gerson, his future wife; in both works the curtain provides a sumptuous backdrop to the shallow pictorial space depicted.

The fur rug on the floor appears original and unlike anything seen in Chase’s other portraits, although he did include a different, mottled bear skin rug in an earlier studio view titled A Corner of My Studio (ca. 1885; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco).  The rug supplies an exotic note here and also permits the painter to display his skill at suggesting the look and feel of fur.[7]  The inclusion of the tasseled velvet cushion at Elsie’s feet adds both color and counterpoint to her bright red sash while imbuing the portrait with an air of informality.  To achieve a similar effect the artist would use this cushion again in a small studio scene titled Weary (ca. 1889; location unknown) and, later, a variation on it for A Friendly Call (1895; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.).

Elsie’s pose and attitude equally reinforce this air of informality.  Although this stance may very well reenact one from her theatrical performance, there is no mistaking its clear resemblance to that of Chase’s famous portrait of Whistler, executed just four years earlier.  The child’s right foot points directly forward while her left is placed laterally behind it; Elsie, like Whistler, also rests her left hand on her hip, evoking a similar attitude of insouciance and nonchalance.  Lacking Whistler’s long, elegant cane, she casually rests her right forefinger (and perhaps thumb) in her hip pocket.  That Chase would have deliberately sought to associate this image with his most controversial and well-known portrait reveals both his mischievous sense of humor and his genius for shrewd marketing and self-promotion.  Although he would freely give this portrait to his young sitter, it was only after he had exhibited it in several prominent venues.

The critical response to the portrait was not disappointing.  When it was exhibited at the Society of American Artists in 1889 the New York Times judged it was painted “with more than his usual finish, yet without loss of breadth.  She stands near an armchair which gives, to some extent, a measure of her size, and looks out from the canvas with much the same artful artlessness that she exhibits on the stage.”[8]  Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer, one of the era’s most discerning and thoughtful art critics, described the portrait in these words:

Mr. Chase is at his very best in the portrait of Elsie Leslie as Lord Fauntleroy, a big canvas filled with rich furniture and stuffs painted with a sympathetic completeness, an illusive truth, yet a breadth, freedom and vivacity which no one could surpass.  Not Alfred Stevens at his best, I heard a brother artist say, could paint better than this; and, as everyone knows, Alfred Stevens, in the eyes of his fellows, is the king of technique.  Yet with all this decorative splendor and technical brilliancy the portrait preserves its character as such-the tiny, sensitive face first attracts and longest holds the eye.[9]

Van Rensselaer had long admired Chase’s painting, and her remarks about technique cut to the heart of the work.  Eschewing the rich impasto and painterly brushwork that had often characterized his art since his return from Munich in 1878, Chase carefully depicted his subject in a restrained and naturalistic style.  The end rather than the means was paramount here as his broad technique was subsumed in a conscious verisimilitude, probably intended to please his young sitter.  Lyde holds her own in this portrait, despite the rich array of material objects that surround her, and her disarmingly direct gaze becomes the painting’s delightful focal point.

Before giving the portrait to Lyde, Chase would also exhibit it in the Chicago Exposition in 1889, the Indianapolis Art Association, and the St. Louis Exposition in 1904.[10]  Lyde would subsequently loan the picture to the Broadway Theater, where it hung in the lobby for many years.  She later gave the portrait to Frances Hodgson Burnett in gratitude for the author and playwright’s support and encouragement.

In addition to this portrait of Lyde, Chase’s oeuvre also includes such portraits of actresses and female performers as Linda Dietz Carlton (ca. 1890; Newark Museum, New Jersey), Carmencita (1890; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Hilda Spong (1904; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond) and Minnie Maddern Fiske (1910; Museum of the City of New York).  Chase’s portrait of Elsie Leslie Lyde is clearly the most colorful and elaborate of these various works, demonstrating both the extensive efforts he expended in its execution and his singular attraction and devotion to his young subject.

Carol Lowrey and Robert Bardin


[1] For biographical details on the sitter, see Gerald Bordman and Thomas S. Hischak, The Oxford Companion to American Theatre, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 384, and Trustable and Preshus Friends, foreword by Julie Harris; edited by Jane Douglass (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1977).  See also: Elsie Leslie Lyde, “My Stage Life,” Cosmopolitan 6 (February 1889): 372-77, and “The Restless Ghost of Little Fauntleroy,” New York Times ( September 15, 1907), p. X5.  Elsie married the actor Jefferson Winter on August 27, 1901, but they later divorced; in 1918, she married the Canadian-American banker Edwin J. Milliken.  After fulfilling Elsie’s desire to travel, the couple settled in New York, where they remained until Elsie’s death in 1966.  Her papers can be found at New York Public Library.

[2] “The Restless Ghost of Little Fauntleroy.”

[3]  Lyde was actually required to alternate performing the lead role with another child actor named Tommy Russell, in response to pressure from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, whose members were concerned about her health and safety.  See Vivian Burnett, The Romantick Lady (New York:  Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1927), 179-80.

[4]  W. H. Patten is almost certainly William H. Patten, an illustrator and art editor at Harper and Brothers.  Some details of the circumstances surrounding the portrait are recited in Trustable and Preshus Friends, 34-36.

[5]  Several commentators have said that the sitter was seven years old when Chase painted her portrait, but in a contemporary magazine article about Lyde, she indicates that she is nine years old.  See Lyde, “My Stage Life,” 372, and Lucy C. Lillie’s supplemental comments, 376.  Also see “Elsie Leslie-Yesterday and To-day,” The Theatre – An Illustrated Magazine Devoted to the Drama and Music 2 (January 1902): 25.

[6] See Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine (September 1889): 244, as cited in Ronald G. Pisano, William Merritt Chase: Portraits in Oil, Volume 2 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006), 80.

[7]  Given Chase’s longstanding rivalry with John Singer Sargent and his occasional painted references to his competitor’s portraits, the addition of this rug may have been a response to Sargent’s Robert Louis Stevenson (1887; Taft Museum, Cincinnati), a portrait of a well-known celebrity that also features a fur rug.  See Robert G. Bardin, “Posing as a Fine Art”:  William Merritt Chase’s Portrait Strategies, Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University, 1997, Chapter 5.

[8]  “The Society of Artists,” The New York Times (May 12, 1889), p. 5.

[9]  Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer, “The Society of American Artists II,” The Independent (June 6, 1889), p. 8.

[10]  In Trustable and Preshus Friends, editor Jane Douglass states that Lyde’s portrait was shown at the “Paris exhibition” of 1900, where it won a silver medal.  Later writers have repeated this assertion, assuming this was the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle.  An extensive review of both Exposition literature and catalogues as well as contemporary newspaper accounts provides no support for this assertion.

Arthur Bowen Davies exhibition reviewed by Piri Halasz

Arthur Bowen Davies: Painter, Poet, Romancer & Mystic

Arthur Bowen Davies (1862-1928), "Children Playing," ca. 1896, oil on canvas, 18 x 22 inches

View the Davies exhibition   |   View the online catalogue PDF   |   Read the A.B. Davies biography

We are pleased to share the following excerpt from Piri Halasz’s review of Arthur Bowen Davies: Painter, Poet, Romancer & Mystic, posted on her blog, (An Appropriate Distance) From the Mayor’s Doorstep, on April 13, 2012.

RE-UNITING HUMPTY DUMPTY

Arthur B. Davies has long puzzled me. In grad school, I learned that he’d been one of “The Eight” painters whose “radical” 1908 group show at the Macbeth Gallery ushered in 20th century American art. I also learned that he’d played a major role in organizing the original (and more genuinely radical) Armory Show of 1913, but the paintings by him that I saw in the histories of American art, of pretty-pretty nudes in fantasy landscapes, sometimes accompanied by unicorns, made him look like a cross between the later & more academic Pre-Raphaelites and French Salon painters like Puvis de Chavannes. In other words, he seemed like Humpty Dumpty, who had somewhere along the line fallen off a wall and broken into two halves, one dedicated to modernist theory and the other to retardataire practice. Hence, my surprise and delight at the group of 16 small to very small paintings by Davies assembled in one of Spanierman’s similarly small but ornately furnished viewing rooms at the back of the gallery. The works on display are all moderately to very informal paintings, most more like studies for larger paintings or sketches sur le motif, but in all the oils, the brushwork reveals itself to be looser and more impressionistic than any of the reproductions I’ve seen indicate, more modern in other words (given that in the early years of the 20th century, impressionism was still a moderately recent style).

“The Horn Players” (ca. 1893), a vignette of orchestra musicians, is reminiscent of Manet or Degas its subject & rich, dark tonalities — and closer to the more Old Masterly realists among The Eight, John Sloan and Robert Henri. The decorative, pattern-like “Children Playing” (ca. 1896) reminds me of another and equally modern member of The Eight, Maurice Prendergast. Some of the watercolor Davies studies of the Italian Apennines from the 1920s are yet more faithful to their subjects, offering a breath of fresh mountain air to this otherwise somewhat claustrophobic little gallery, but what I found even more revealing was the “Figures in a Landscape” (ca. 1912). This modest oil, only 23¾ x 28¼ inches, somewhat crudely portrays an orgy-like group of three nude couples in a woodland setting; it reminded me vividly of the small studies of groups of bathers by Cézanne that were so much in vogue among avant-garde artists and collectors in the early years of the 20th century (and which accordingly figure prominently in the current show of “The Steins Collect” at the Met). Even more daring — in concept if not execution – is the “Life Study (Interior)” (ca. 1910), an oil which depicts a standing female nude with faint tints of green in the shadowed parts of her flesh. These suggest to me that Davies had been admiring Matisse, even if he didn’t dare emulate him to the fullest. True, this exhibition also includes paintings that don’t go much beyond 19th century Symbolism, but leaving those aside, its main thrust is to bring together Davies’ avant-garde theory with his actual painting practice, re-uniting the two halves of Humpty Dumpty after nearly a century apart.

Also see the view at www.pirihalasz.com.

View the exhibition   |   View the online catalogue PDF   |   Read the A.B. Davies biography


Hayley Lever’s “Storm, St. Ives” Painting

Hayley Lever - Storm, St. Ives, 1910s

Hayley Lever (1875-1958), "Storm, St. Ives," 1910s, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches

Before immigrating to America, Hayley Lever lived and worked in St. Ives, on England’s Cornish seacoast.  His decision to make St. Ives his home is not surprising, for it was a quaint fishing village and holiday resort situated on a sloping hill leading to the sea. St. Ives was also one of England’s most popular artists’ colonies. To be sure, established during the early 1880s, the town attracted a coterie of British Impressionist and pleinairists that included such well known figures as Julius Olsson and Algernon Talmage, who were drawn to the clean beaches, busy harbor, and rugged moorland scenery, as well as to the simple way of life they encountered there. By the mid-1880s, Americans such as Edward Simmons and Howard Russell Butler were working in St. Ives, and a decade later, the colony was attracting the likes of Ernest Lawson, Gardner Symons, Walter Elmer Schofield, and Paul Dougherty, among other celebrated landscape and marine painters from the United States.

During his years in St. Ives-he was there from the late 1890s until 1912-Lever painted the town and its harbor throughout the seasons and under varying climatic conditions, working “when the tide was out and when it was in, at all hours; sunrise, midday, sunset and moonlight.”[1] He subsequently established a notable reputation in international art circles for his Cornish marines which, according to one critic, “stand out with heroic force and arrest the attention for their splendid colour, simple treatment and deft arrangement of masses.” [2]

These words would surely apply to Storm, St.Ives, in which Lever presents us with a view looking over the top of Smeaton’s Pier toward the town. The aerial perspective and sharp foreshortening truncates the view, emphasizing the zigzag shape of the pier’s Victoria extension. As the title of the work indicates, a storm is underway. Usually rising high from the water, the jetty is under siege, with the water rushing over the pier at its far end, so that the lighthouse at its extremity almost appears to be in the water. Figures on the pier stand in lines as if in amazement at the impact of the raised level of the water. The waves are full, pounding the far shore. By contrast, the houses, painted with angularized contours have a sturdy, solid, and staid appearance, as if to suggest that such storms had been present before, and the townsfolk are ready and used to them. Boats in the harbor are also docked quietly. Viewed from above, they seem to look up at us, as if to say that they, too, are waiting eagerly for the storm to subside so as to be back on the water.

Just as Lever’s Cornish pictures had been vital in establishing his reputation abroad, they performed a similar role in America; the artist exhibited them in many of his solo exhibitions and in the national annuals, winning over critics as well as prominent collectors, such as Duncan Phillips. Certainly Storm, St. Ives has the “vigor and sincerity” that, as perceived by one contemporary commentator, “make an irresistible appeal to the modern spirit.”[3] Striking in the directness and simplicity of its treatment, its exquisite coloration, and its fine sense of compositional design, this work captures the distinctive spirit of St. Ives and its harbor, and attests to Lever’s reputation as a keen observer of his surroundings.

 

[1] Helen Wright, “A Visit to Hayley Lever’s Studio,” International Studio 70 (May 1920): lxx.

[2] W[illiam] H. [de B.] N[elson], “A Painter of Harbours: Hayley Lever,” International Studio 52 (May 1914).

[3] Exhibition of Paintings by Mr. Hayley Lever, exh. cat. (Rochester, N.Y.: Memorial Art Gallery, 1914), p. [3].

©The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery, LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery, LLC. It may not be reproduced without written permission from Spanierman Gallery, LLC nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery, LLC.


See Spanierman Gallery’s Artists in Inventory for more paintings by Hayley Lever

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