What was Portland like in Maine’s very first 100 many years of statehood? Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.’s vivid new publication, “A Century of Portland Artists, 1820-1920: Landscape Paintings from the Maine Historical Culture Collection” gives us a intriguing image. As Shettleworth himself said in a 2021 lecture of the exact identify, “The paintings in the Society’s collection trace the evolution of a terrific New England metropolis through its artwork.”
From 1820 to 1866, Portland was the cultural rival of Boston, even supporting more qualified painters for the duration of a single 10 years of that period – the 1830s – than Beantown did. The artwork scene was created up of indigenous artists who sought careers elsewhere, recognized national artists who located Portland a congenial put to operate and a multitude of gifted amateurs, who – in additional favorable economic situations – would have been regarded as qualified. Is effective by all three courses of artists at some point discovered their way into area establishments. Irrespective of the Good Hearth of 1866 that burned down a lot of the town, as nicely as the decline of nearby patronage, a sustained community landscape painting custom managed to endure through 1920.
“A Century of Portland Artists” correctly captures this period of time, as one particular could anticipate from Shettleworth, a Portland native who serves as the Condition Historian and is former Director of the Maine Historic Preservation Fee. Between the several books, catalogues and posts courting back to the 1960s that he has manufactured, “A Century of Portland Artists, 1820-1920” stands as one particular of his most attractive and complete.
Shettleworth opt for 53 operates from between the 100 in the Maine Historical Society’s selection for his e book, encompassing operates from 23 painters. All but 6 of the artists are also are pictured in the e-book, along with a scattering of similar visuals that even more illuminate the painters and their time.
Very similar collections at the Colby Higher education Museum and the Portland Museum of Art may have served as the target for these a project. In actuality, some 50 several years back, when Shettleworth was a scholar at Colby, he did the bulk of the analysis for the Portland Museum’s exhibition catalogue on the identical issue, “A Century of Portland Painters, 1820-1920.” That 1970 publication involved lots of performs, but was merely a compact black and white catalogue.
This new generously sized volume includes some of the greatest will work of the era in comprehensive webpage colour. The paintings are largely flanked by likenesses of the artists as properly as biographies that place them in the context of record. In the fifty percent century involving these two publications, scholars have acquired considerably extra and created sharper insights into the interval and have also rediscovered painters from that time. For everyone intrigued in the progress of 19th century artwork or in Maine record, “A Century of Portland Artists” is critical looking through.
As those who know about the century in Portland painting might expect, Shettleworth’s quantity consists of performs (mostly oils) by the aged masters such as Charles Codman (1800-1842), Harrison B. Brown (1831-1915), Charles F. Kimball (1831-1903), J. B. Hudson (1832-1903) and Walter Griffin (1861-1935). It also can make room for artists and will work that were unidentified when Shettleworth (or for that make any difference I) initially labored with these collections. Complete disclosure: I have labored on a very similar monitor for each the Portland Museum of Artwork and the Maine Historic Culture.
Between the lesser-identified artists is Anna L.P. Skillings (1825-1905), whose See of “Simintons Cove” (1852), bears comparison with J.B. Hudson’s very well-known canvas of the same place in 1878. Another revelation is Harriet C. Shaw (1853-1955), whose “Stream with Fence” (1885) reveals her to be as adept as most of her regional contemporaries. Portlander Thomas F. O’Neil (1851-1922)’s grisaille (a painting in shades of gray) of “Market Square” (1884) is completed, nevertheless it ought to be reported that most of his other get the job done is sub-par, for occasion, “Nor’easter” (1920), an oil he painted by plotting out on a grid a Winslow Homer portray (Nor’easter, 1895) that he arrived throughout in a periodical. O’Neil’s inept work demonstrates the folly of an unskilled artist trying to copy a master – it’s an motivated inclusion in this publication.
In the appendix, Shettleworth consists of a tale he wrote for the Maine Sunday Telegram in 1972 primarily based on an job interview with Portland framemaker Frank Laing: “The Guy Who Understood Harrison Brown, Fred Kimball and Walter Griffin and (George M.) Hathaway.” It’s the great anchor for Shettleworth’s comprehending of Portland’s Golden Age of Art. But judging by the product in this volume – images, text and bibliography – in the intervening time, Shettleworth and a handful of many others have taken us so a great deal further on this delightful, ongoing quest to understand the city’s early arts scene.
William David Barry is a community historian who has authored/co-authored seven publications, including “Maine: The Wilder Facet of New England” and “Deering: A Social and Architectural Background,” and is now at get the job done on a background of the Maine Historical Culture. He lives in Portland with his spouse, Debra, and their cat, Nadine.
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