The Abstractions of Marion Huse

Marion Huse - Sailboats (Abstract Blues)

Marion Huse (1896-1967), "Sailboats (Abstract Blues)," oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in.

Carol Lowrey

In this posting, I thought I’d introduce you to the spirited abstractions of Marion Huse (1896-1967), a talented painter, teacher and graphic artist associated with art life in New England during the mid-twentieth century.  I wasn’t aware of who she was and what she’d accomplished over the course of her nearly fifty year career until several of her paintings arrived at the gallery and our sales staff tapped the research department for biographical information and analytical essays on her work.  The Huse assignment came to me and I subsequently began the hunt for information, consulting the standard artists’ dictionaries and related reference sources before proceeding to library and archival sources.  I ultimately came across a catalogue published by the Brockton Art Museum in 1985––Marion Huse: An Artist’s Evolution––the only publication thus far to provide a comprehensive examination of her life and career.

Marion Huse - Reverie (Abstract Harbor)

Marion Huse (1896-1967), "Reverie (Abstract Harbor)," ca. 1940s-1950, oil on canvas, 25 x 28 1/4 in.

Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, Huse knew she wanted to be an artist while attending Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, where she impressed her teachers with her amazing draftsmanship.  She went on to study at the New School of Design in Boston and at the Carnegie Institute of Art and Technology in Pittsburgh.  During the early 1920s, she attended Charles Hawthorne’s outdoor summer classes at the Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown, evolving a broad technique and a penchant for bright color that became hallmarks of her style.  Three trips abroad during the 1920s brought her into contact with European vanguard painting styles such as fauvism and expressionism.  Huse later lived in Springfield, Massachusetts and Pownal, Vermont, spending her time painting  and teaching (she established the Springfield Art School in 1925).  She married in 1944, at the age of forty-nine, but that certainly didn’t deter her from continuing her career; she resumed her activity as an artist, painting and experimenting with serigraphy (silk screen printing).  On a visit to Europe in 1946, she familiarized herself with the work of the School of Paris and exhibited her graphics in numerous European exhibitions.  Her later years were spent in Albany, New York, and then in Boston and Scituate, Massachusetts; an avid traveler, she made frequent trips throughout New England and likewise visited Quebec, the Caribbean and New Mexico.

Marion Huse - Working on the boat

Marion Huse (1896-1967), "Working on the Boat," 1966, oil on canvas, 23 1/4 x 27 1/2 in.

Huse interests me because she’s one of those artists who embraced a variety of painting styles.  During the early 1920s, she delved into impressionism and then moved on to a more sober Depression-era realism.  In the 1940s, her paintings became increasingly personal and non-representational, taking on a new boldness and energy.  I’m particularly fond of her later work, in which Huse would take an everyday subject, such as a harbor (see top left), and interpret it through the fragmented planes of cubism; it’s like looking at nature through a kaleidoscope.  She goes for a slightly different effect in Reverie (Abstract Harbor): we can easily discern the small fishing vessel in the lower left, but by conceiving the sea and sky in terms of broad masses of luminous color, Huse creates a magical, unworldly conception that I find highly appealing.

Huse is thought to have produced her last canvas in 1965 while recovering from a stroke (see Marion Huse: An Artist’s Evolution, 84), but Working on the Boat is signed and dated 1966, indicating that she continued to paint for some time thereafter.  In contrast to the oils I’ve just mentioned––which were inspired by scenery in port towns along Boston’s South Shore––the multistoried architecture in Working on the Boat suggests a foreign locale, perhaps Italy, which Huse had visited in the past, making improvisatory drawings in her sketchbooks.  I like the uninhibited use of color, the cloisonné-like contours and the gestural squiggles in this oil; it makes me wonder if–in light of her recent illness–she was pondering her past and perhaps intended the piece as a homage to the people and places she encountered on her excursions abroad.  Maybe this was her last painting; if so, it certainly underscores her aesthetic versatility, her emphasis on craftsmanship and her obvious dedication to picture-making.  Indeed, I’m not at all surprised that Marion Huse was such an inspiring figure to so many younger artists of her day.

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