Archive for the ‘Art’ Category
June 29th, 2011 by billfarrell
SeaFair, a forty million dollar mega yacht has docked in Newport for what is planned to be a two month floating art show/sale. Florida base art dealers, David & Le Ann Lester have based their art show on what have become hugely popular land based art fairs and have taken it to the high seas, docking in ports up and down the east coast. A recent showing in Sarasota, Florida attracted 18,000 visitors in five days.
While the ship is docked in Newport, visitors will have the opportunity to tour the ship, admiring art from prestigious presenting paintings, sculputure, photography, solver, jewelry, design and fine art glass among other things. With five decks, a glass walled restaurant, luxe lounge, international coffee bar and open air sky deck bar and bistro, the Sea Fair promises to be a once in a lifetime visit.
Guests of The Spring Seasons Inn and Tea Room are eligible to receive special pricing on admission to the exhibits. Please call for details.
April 5th, 2011 by billfarrell
Newport Waterfront has announced their Sunset Music Series lineup for 2011. Reserve your rooms at the Spring Seasons Inn before we sell out.
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March 30th, 2011 by billfarrell
Portsmouth, RI – Greenvale Vineyards will continue with its 12th Annual Summer Jazz Series. The Jazz Series was organized by Matthew Quinn and is held in his honor.
The Jazz Series concerts are held in the Tasting Room from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday from May 7th through the last Saturday in November. We will be offering wine tastings as well as wine by the glass and bottle all day and welcome our guests to come with picnics.
Greenvale Vineyards is located at 582 Wapping Road in Portsmouth, just 6 miles from downtown Newport, along the Sakonnet River. This historic property produces approximately 3,500 cases of wine each year from over twenty acres of vines, which include Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc, Cayuga, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc grapes. All of the wines are made from 100% estate grown grapes. The Tasting Room is open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, with tours daily at 2:00 p.m. or by appointment. For further information, call (401) 847-3777 or visit online at www.greenvale.com
March 13th, 2011 by billfarrell
Saturday, March 12, 2011
GoLocalProv Lifestyle Team
Salve Regina University in Newport opens their annual French Film Festival on Sunday, March 27, a two-week event that attracted an audience of more than 2,000 last year.
The opening reception and film will feature a wine and cheese tasting provided by Newport Wine Cellar, French café music performed by Salve Regina students, and student ushers from the university’s theatre department dressed in can-can. The feature film on opening night, Heartbreaker/L’Arnacœur, is an action-packed romantic comedy that was a blockbuster in France.
Films range from dramas and thrillers and romantic comedies. A complete line-up can be found here: www.salve.edu/frenchfilm. The festival runs at two locations in Newport through April 7. Tickets are $15 for the opening night film and reception. All other films during the festival will cost $5 at the door and will be screened at Salve Regina University’s O’Hare Academic Center, Ochre Point Avenue. A festival pass to all films and events is available for $20. Salve Regina students are admitted free with valid university identification.
Tickets and passes may be purchased at www.tinyurl.com/salvecasino or by calling (866) 811-4111. Tickets may also be purchased at the Casino Theatre during box office hours.
December 10th, 2010 by billfarrell
NEWPORT, R.I. — Somewhere, Gilbert Stuart must be smiling.
by Bill Van Siclen, Providence Journal Arts Writer
Not only did the man who gave us iconic portraits of George Washington and other Colonial-era luminaries recently celebrate another birthday (his 255th, on Dec. 3), but his work is the focus of “Gilbert Stuart and His Times,” a sparkling new exhibit at William Vareika Fine Arts.
Indeed, the show, which has been handsomely installed on the gallery’s second floor, amounts to a kind of mini-survey of early American art: In addition to Stuart, visitors will find paintings by his daughter, Jane Stuart, his onetime mentor, Benjamin West, and the man whose success may have inspired Stuart to pursue a painting career in the first place: John Singleton Copley.
The gallery is down the street from the Tennis Hall of Fame.
Other highlights include works by Thomas Sully, a British-born artist who also painted several portraits of Washington; John Smibert, a Scottish painter who was active in Newport during the Colonial period; and Charles Willson Peale, a Philadelphia painter and the founder (along with his sons Rembrandt, Rubens and Raphaelle Peale) of one of the great family dynasties in American art.
The result is an exhibit that many museums might envy. Yet as gallery owner Bill Vareika explained during a recent visit, the show began as something far more modest.
“Basically, it just sort of snowballed,” Vareika said. “At first, the idea was to do a small show focusing mainly on Gilbert but with a few supporting works from some of his close contemporaries. But as sometimes happens in this business, once we started it was hard to stop.”
This Gilbert Stuart oil painting is of Rebecca White Pickering, the wife of Col. Timothy Pickering, who served in President Washington’s Cabinet.
Vareika, of course, has done this sort of thing before. In fact, over the past few years, his Bellevue Avenue gallery has hosted a number of museum-worthy exhibits, including shows devoted to the 19th-century artist-designer John LaFarge and Newport painter William Trost Richards.
Those efforts, in turn, have made it easier for Vareika to borrow artworks that might otherwise remain locked away in private collections or inside museum storerooms. In the Stuart show, the loans include a handsome portrait of Abraham Touro, on loan from Newport’s Touro Synagogue, and a rare portrait bust of Stuart himself owned by the Newport Historical Society.
The Society also lent what is thought to be Stuart’s earliest known artwork — a pencil sketch of a young boy, presumably one of Stuart’s friends, made on a wood shingle.
In all, the show boasts about 75 artworks, ranging from small sketchbook drawings to large-scale landscapes and historical scenes. According to Vareika, roughly half the works are for sale, with the remainder on loan from a variety of public and private collections. (By the way, a percentage of each sale will go to a worthy cause: the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace and Museum in Saunderstown.)
At the same time, Vareika concedes that his gallery is no match for the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which organized a major Stuart exhibition in 2005, or Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, which affords Stuart a prominent place in its new Art of the Americas Wing.
Opposite is Stuart’s portrait of Abraham Touro, a Newport merchant, shipbuilder and philanthropist who was the son of the first rabbi of Touro Synagogue.
Instead, “Gilbert Stuart and His Times” offers something else — a quick but satisfying glimpse of Stuart the man and the artist, together with cameo appearances by some of his contemporaries, both famous and forgotten. Indeed, while many of Stuart’s most famous paintings are already in major museum collections, his skills as a portraitist are apparent even in relatively minor works.
A gifted raconteur, Stuart had a knack for putting his sitters at ease — a trait that’s evident in a circa-1816 portrait of Rebecca White Pickering, wife of Revolutionary War hero Col. Timothy Pickering. Sporting a white-lace cap and matching collar, the British-born Pickering manages to look both dignified and down-to-earth — the kind of woman you might meet in a Jane Austen novel.
Other works, including portraits of Harvard University president the Rev. John Thornton Kirkland and Newport businessman George Gibbs, show off the paint-handling skills Stuart learned in London, where he apprenticed with the expatriate American painter Benjamin West.
No Stuart show, of course, would be complete without a portrait of another George — George Washington. After all, Stuart painted the definitive portraits of the first president, including the so-called “Athenaeum Portrait” which appears on the U.S. one-dollar bill.
Don’t bother looking for any of those paintings here. However, you will find one of the few portraits of Washington painted directly from life; it’s by James Sharples, an English portraitist who was famous for using a special device, known as a “physiognotrace,” to create an exact outline of a sitter’s face. The result: Sharples’ Washington has broader (though presumably accurate) features than most of us are used to seeing.
After Stuart’s death in 1828, his daughter, Jane, carried on the family’s painting tradition. For the most part, that meant cranking out copies of her father’s Washington portraits. But on the rare occasions when she ventured out on her own, Jane Stuart proved to be a better-than-average painter in her own right.
A case in point: a charming painting of a cherub, his face as rosy as a bowl of Christmas punch, that hangs on the gallery’s back wall.
“Gilbert Stuart and His Times” runs through March 6 at William Vareika Fine Arts, 212 Bellevue Ave. in Newport. For information, call (401) 849-6149 or visit www.vareikafinearts.com.
October 14th, 2009 by billfarrell
Wed, 14 Oct 2009 21:56:01By Ted Hayes
Judy and Laurence Cutler in their Tiffany mural room at the National Museum of American Illustration at Vernon Court.
NEWPORT — Nine years after they opened their doors to the public, the founders of the National Museum of American Illustration may soon take possession of one of the master works of American mural art — a 160-foot long, 12-foot tall mural depicting the evolution of the telephone that until recently hung in the former Boston headquarters of telephone giant Verizon.
And if museum founders Judy and Laurence Cutler are successful in their quest to bring the piece to Vernon Court, they hope to build a new wing on the mansion to accommodate it.
“We’re very excited,” said Mr. Cutler. “We’re absolutely the right place for it.”
But to get the piece — “Telephone Men and Women at Work,” a 1951 mural by Dean Cornwell, they’ll have to fend off challenges also filed by the Museum of Fine Art in Boston and another Miami museum. All three have asked Verizon officials for the painting since company officials sold the building last year and earlier this year removed it from the lobby where it had hung for more than half a century. Verizon officials have been mum on who will win out.
“Telephone Men and Women at Work,” a 1951 mural by Dean Cornwell
The Cutlers will also have to rise above criticism from those in the art world, who have protested the painting’s possible move out of Boston, the historic home of the telephone.
Mr. Cornwell, one of America’s best loved muralists and illustrators, created the piece for New England Telephone and Telegraph, the forerunner of Verizon, between 1947 and 1951. Referred to as the “Dean of American Illustration” by Norman Rockwell, he was primarily an illustrator who sold works to the popular magazines and periodicals of the day while also creating murals for private companies, courthouses, libraries and other institutions. He loved the large format pieces, said Mr. Cutler, because “they would last and give him a life beyond death.” Newport’s museum already has about 15 other, smaller Cornwell works.
The imposing telephone piece, which Mr. Cornwell painted in the attic of Grand Central Station in New York City, depicts 197 people performing telephone-related functions throughout the device’s history. Painted in rich tones and hues, it depicts male and female telephone operators — they replaced the men after it was determined their voices were more soothing — wire workers, Alexander Graham Bell and more than 190 other people.
The mural hung inside the Verizon offices for decades until Verizon sold the property to another firm last year and reached an agreement to remove the mural. Mr. Cutler heard about its uncertain fate quite by accident, from a friend who lives in Cambridge, Mass.
“My roommate from grad school walked in to see the mural. A security guard told him they were being taken off and they were looking for a museum to take them. A lightbulb goes off in his head, and he called me.”
Mr. Cutler called Verizon officials a short time later, who told them other institutions were interested in the piece. Nevertheless, Verizon officials invited him to travel to Boston to watch the canvas mural being removed; the canvas had been secured to the walls with a lead-based adhesive and took some time to remove.
After traveling to Verizon, the Cutlers met with company officials, were asked to give their appraisal of the piece, and are currently waiting to hear whether they’ll win it. The painting is in storage.
Sip N Dip
Though their Newport museum houses two other large murals — one by Tiffany and another by Maxfield Parrish — the Cornwell piece, if obtained, would necessitate an entirely new wing as it’s too large to fit properly in any existing spaces.
The Cutlers said they always wanted to build an addition onto Vernon Court’s south facade, but until the mural became a possibility “we thought it would be done by someone else, after we were gone,” said Mr. Cutler, a trained architect.
After studying the painting’s dimensions, though, he realized its acquisition could be the perfect impetus for building now. He started sketching.
“I did some measurements and if we got (the painting) it would exactly fit” in a space they’d already identified as the perfect spot for a new main entrance, Mr. Cutler said.
The plan — Mr. Cutler has already talked to city officials about it and has determined that the plan would need a new round of zoning approval — is to build a 60-foot long, 40-foot wide addition on Vernon Court’s south side. The addition would butt up to a brick walkway that would serve as the new main entrance for museum visitors. Inside the addition, museum staff could house a gift shop, restrooms, a reception desk and possibly a coat room. Outside, parking areas could be reconfigured, with parking added behind Vernon Court walls where tennis courts are now housed.
“You want to get people oriented as soon as you get them in the museum,” he said. “This would do it. The ideal would be to also have the museum shop there.”
The mural was designed to be housed in an oval room, and Mr. Cutler said he would round off the interior corners to accommodate it.
“This would fit very nicely,” he said.
Since word leaked out in Boston art circles that Newport and Miami were under consideration for the mural, there has been more than a little online scuttlebutt over its possible move to the City By The Sea. Much of it has come from Boston-based art lovers and historians, many of whom want the painting to stay in Boston.
Susan Park, president of the Boston Preservation Alliance, was one of many in Boston to state opposition to the move. In an interview with the Boston Herald, she said, “It has no reason to be in Newport. Bell made the first telephone call in the South End, not Newport.”
But from the Cutlers’ perspective, Newport has an edge. Their museum celebrates muralists and illustrators like Cornwell, has an impressive collection, and they have a real plan for how to use it. As for keeping it in Boston?
“I understand their feelings, but I think the most important thing is that it stay in New England,” said Mr. Cutler.
Explore the treasures of Newport and beyond from our exquisite bed and breakfast Newport RI lodging hideaway. The National Museum of Illustration is about a mile from our Inn. At The Spring Seasons Inn, your exclusive Rhode Island adventure awaits.
August 15th, 2009 by billfarrell
Sat, 15 Aug 2009 21:25:46By David Boyce
On a recent day trip to Newport, some friends and I spent a few hours at the National Museum of American Illustration (NMAI), housed in Vernon Court on Belleville Avenue.
This makes for a beautiful, Gilded Age ambiance for a spectacular collection of original works by America’s illustration masters, called imagists, including works by N.C. Wyeth (father of Andrew and grandfather of Jamie), Howard Pyle, J.C. Leyendecker, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, Violet Oakley, Charles Dana Gibson, J.M. Flagg, Jesse Wilcox Smith, and Howard Chandler Christy, among several others.
As the guidebook describes it, “Vernon Court is a Beaux-Arts adaptation of an 18th century French building, Cháteau Harouè (1721), outside Nancy, by architect Germain Boffrand. French-style architecture was considered the consummate expression of proper architectural manners and this New World manifestation is more perfect than its historic antecedents.” The setting is as beautiful as the artworks.
Founded in 1998 by Judy and Laurence Cutler, and opened to the public on July 4, 2000, this is the first national museum dedicated to the art of illustration. Because the world of fine arts looked down on commercial enterprises, illustration did not find significant support or collectors until the late 20th century.
Early in the 1960s, Judy was one of the first private collectors to recognize illustration for its intrinsic aesthetic value, and she collected with a passion. The NMAI’s collection has grown since then, using the Cutler’s American Imagist Collection as its base.
Beginning the museum’s tour, we watch a video as an introduction to the collection and Vernon Court, featuring interviews and commentary by the Cutlers and such collectors as actress Whoopi Goldberg, an avid collector herself. An informed docent then guides our group through the various first-floor rooms of Vernon Court, filling in details about the artworks as well as the architecture and décor. Each room is laden with exquisite objects and it takes a while to soak it all in, but it makes for a visual feast that is well worth the price of admission ($18 for adults).
At the beginning of May of this year, I reviewed the new Abrams publication “J.C. Leyendecker” by the Cutlers, a beautiful volume and the second (and far superior) major study of the German immigrant who became Norman Rockwell’s hero and mentor, and the most prolific cover artist for the Saturday Evening Post with 322 covers. Seeing so many of Leyendecker’s original paintings at the NMAI was quite thrilling, as he was a painter in the true meaning of the word.
David B. Boyce is senior arts correspondent for The Standard-Times. ARTicles appears biweekly.
June 24th, 2009 by billfarrell
Wed, 24 Jun 2009 12:35:43
By Bill van Siclen, Providence Journal
There was a time, just over a century ago, when Rhode Islanders couldn’t spend a day at the beach without bumping into a famous artist. There was Martin Johnson Heade, who came to paint the thunderstorms rumbling across Narragansett Bay. There was William Trost Richards, who painted the surf breaking near his home on Jamestown Island. And there were artists like John La Farge and John Frederick Kensett, who explored the rocky cliffs and coasts of Portsmouth and Middletown.
Nowadays, of course, artists still visit these storied locations. Still, it’s been a while since cutting-edge painters — and Heade, Richards and La Farge were all cutting-edge by the standards of their day — spent some quality time painting and sketching along the Rhode Island coast.
Sue McNally, a Newport artist whose work is the focus of a wonderful solo exhibit at the Newport Art Museum, aims to change all that. A longtime fan of painters such as Heade and La Farge, McNally decided to test her own (considerable) painting skills against her 19th-century heroes.
To do that, she revisited many of the locations favored by 19th-century artists, including landmarks such as Hanging Rock and Paradise Valley. She also consulted previous works by the likes of Kensett and La Farge, as well as more obscure talents such as David Maitland Armstrong and George Quincy Thorndike. (For the record, Thorndike was a Boston-born artist who settled in Newport around 1850; Armstrong, meanwhile, was a New Yorker who spent most of his career in Italy and France.)
At the same time, McNally’s goal wasn’t simply to mimic what other artists had done. Instead, the idea was at once more challenging and, ultimately, more rewarding: to channel the spirit of 19th-century painting while still maintaining her identity as a 21st-century artist.
About a dozen examples of this past-meets-present approach are now on display in NAM’s main Griswold House gallery. In many cases, the specific locations and topographical features that inspired the paintings will be familiar to anyone who’s spent much time wandering along the Rhode Island coast, especially Aquidneck Island. But McNally’s style, which combines bright, neon-hued colors with a playful Pop Art sensibility, also forces us to see these familiar landmarks through new eyes.
A good example is Hanging Rock Sunset, a painting that turns the famous rock formation into something akin to a psychedelic rock poster. In contrast to the muted greens and browns favored by 19th-century artists, McNally uses an array of more vibrant colors. Lush pinks and maroons, for example, dominate the cattail-filled marsh that sits at the rock’s base. The craggy profile of Hanging Rock itself is rendered in darker shades of blue and black, highlighted with streaks of electric blue and green.
As for the sky, its mix of lime greens and pale salmon pinks might seem better suited to the Caribbean than the North Atlantic. Still, the whole thing works. Granted , this may not be the Hanging Rock you’re used to seeing in old paintings and postcards. But who’s to say that McNally’s version, with its simple, stylized shapes and candy-hued palette, isn’t just as true to the spirit of the place?
Other paintings take similar liberties.
The phrase “fall color,” for example, takes on a whole new meaning in Valley Floor, one of several large multi-part paintings in the exhibit. Though the scene looks familiar — almost anyone who’s taken a walk in the New England woods has seen similar tangles of trees, vines and shrubs — McNallay’s colors, which range from bright pinks and purples for the trees to luscious reds, oranges and pinks for the ground, transform it into something dream-like and otherworldly. If Paul Gauguin had decided to skip Tahiti and settle on Aquidneck Island, he might have done something like this.
Perhaps the show’s most striking work is a night view of Middletown’s Sachuest Point. Titled Paradise at Night, it has an almost childlike simplicity. The waves rolling in toward Sachuest’s horseshoe-shaped beach, for example, are rendered — in classic paint-by-numbers fashion — as a series of flat bands of color. The moonlit clouds, meanwhile, are little more than glowing splotches of white.
Yet the painting itself is far from simple. Indeed, Paradise at Night has some of the spooky beauty of another nighttime scene: Van Gogh’s famous Starry Night.
That’s not to say McNally can do no wrong. While some of her subjects lend themselves to easy stylization — notably the waves in Paradise at Night and the playful polka-dot-shaped clouds that hover over many of her scenes — others are less successful. That’s especially true of some of the smaller paintings, where her efforts to depict a snowy field in mid-blizzard (Feb. 3:40 P.M.) or a spring meadow in full blossom (Spring) look more like sketches than finished paintings.
Still, these are minor complaints.
In these new paintings, McNally manages to pay her respects to some of the giants of American art without submerging her own artistic identity. It’s a brave, possibly even foolhardy mission, but McNally makes it work. No doubt fellow painter-surf bums like Heade and La Farge (several of whose works appear in postcard-size miniatures alongside McNally’s canvases) would approve.
While there’s plenty to see at the Newport Art Museum these days — in addition to the Sue McNally show, the museum is also exhibiting works from the collection of former Fleet Bank CEO Terry Murray and his wife — don’t miss François Poisson’s small one-man show near the museum’s front desk. A RISD-trained artist who now lives in Connecticut, Poisson makes toy-like sculptures and mixed media pieces that walk the line between childhood innocence and adult experience.
It’s a duality that’s summed up in Poisson’s favorite image — a cartoon bunny with puffy cheeks and an enigmatic, Mona Lisa-ish smile. When you first meet him, it’s easy to take this quirky little creature as a benign, even slightly comical presence. But the longer you look — and look you must, since the bunny appears on almost everything Poisson does, from a series of portraits to a collection of wooden cars and trucks — the stranger the bunny gets.
By the time you’re done, you may never look at Peter Rabbit or Bugs Bunny the same way again.
“Picture Paradise: Paintings by Sue McNally” runs through Aug. 12 and “François Poisson: The Bunny Car and Friends” through Aug. 23 at the Newport Art Museum, 76 Bellevue Ave. Hours: Tues.-Sat. 10-5 and Sun. noon-5. Admission: adults $10, seniors $8, students and military with I.D. $6, five and under free. Contact: (401) 848-8200 or www.newportartmuseum.org.
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June 21st, 2009 by billfarrell
Sun, 21 Jun 2009 13:36:39The National Museum of American Illustration, located on Newport’s famed Bellevue Avenue, a short distance from The Spring Seasons Inn is hosting a special exhibition entitled, Norman Rockwell, American Imagist, Rhode Island’s first ever Normal Rockwell exhibition from June 6th – August 31st, 2009.
Norman Rockwell’s heartwarming depictions of everyday life made him the best-known and most beloved American artist of the 20th century. He lived and worked through one of the most eventful periods in the nation’s history and his paintings vividly chronicled those times. His images often served as a mirror of American life, reflecting not who we really were, so much as what we thought and felt – and what we subconsciously endeavored to become.
Norman Rockwell: American Imagist exhibits a remarkable collection of selected original art spanning six decades, providing us with a comprehensive look at his career.
Rockwell was a storyteller during a time when so-called “serious” art was neither narrative nor representational. His painted stories were folksy, humorous, and often topical, but Rockwell was more than just a chronicler of the times. He had a genius for knowing which stories to tell, how to tell them and what details to emphasize. It has been said that a Rockwell painting does not require an explanation, a caption or even a title. It speaks to us directly.
Although Rockwell is most associated with small-town America, he was in fact born and raised in New York City. At 21, he moved to New Rochelle, New York, to be near his idol, the notable illustrator and icon-maker, J. C. Leyendecker. He set up a studio and began to sell freelance work to magazines such as: Life, Literary Digest and Country Gentleman.
In 1916, at the age of 22, Rockwell painted his first cover for the prestigious Saturday Evening Post beginning a long (1916-1963) and fruitful relationship. Most readers immediately recognized his covers, and responded well to the charming portraits of American life. Readers became fans and followed his covers through the Depression years and World War II.
In 1943, the entire nation joined together when he created the Four Freedoms, which toured in an exhibition raising $135 million for the war effort through the sale of war bonds.
The Saturday Evening Post covers became Rockwell’s greatest legacy. Yet he parted ways with the Saturday Evening Post in 1963 and began to work for Look magazine, where he had more creative freedom. The Look illustrations included his first socially conscious work concerning civil rights, space travel and other issues of national concern.
Rockwell lived the last 25 years of his life with his wife Molly in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. On November 8, 1978, he died in Stockbridge at the age of 84, leaving an unfinished painting on his easel. Norman Rockwell was an American Imagist, whose art captured America and ultimately the world.
Some critics have called his art too sentimental to be taken seriously, but the fact that his work continues to resonate and find new audiences in the 21st century says something else. There is a universality to his appeal, suggesting that Rockwell’s real subjects were not simply “grandfathers, puppy dogs – stuff like that,” as the artist once said, but something larger, if less tangible.
This exhibition permits us to review selected works in chronological order, making the stages of his career recognizable and his images more poignant. These original works give the viewer a chance to see Rockwell’s accomplished technique and superb craftsmanship, which are sometimes overlooked in the more widely seen reproductions of his work.
Norman Rockwell: American Imagist asserts Rockwell’s place as a great American artist/ illustrator and suggests that his real and most enduring subject matter was capturing The American Spirit.
This exhibition, curated by Judy Goffman Cutler and organized by Laurence S. Cutler along with the American Illustrators Gallery and the National Museum of American Illustration, gives us the opportunity to experience Rockwell close up and marvel at his painterly skills.
While visiting the National Museum of American Illustration, plan to stay at The Spring Seasons Inn in Newport, Rhode Island , where your exclusive Rhode Island adventure awaits you.
June 10th, 2009 by billfarrell
Wed, 10 Jun 2009 21:55:58Thanks to some lucky timing, two Bellevue Avenue neighbors — the National Museum of American Illustration and the Newport Art Museum — are hosting summer exhibits that not only showcase American art but celebrate the depth and variety of the American experience. If these shows don’t make you want to break out the Fourth of July bunting a few weeks early, nothing will.
Certainly, the timing couldn’t be better for “Norman Rockwell: American Imagist,” a much-acclaimed traveling exhibit that opened June 6 at the illustration museum. Not only is Rockwell’s artistic reputation at its highest point in decades — nowadays even highbrow critics find it had to dismiss him as a mere “illustrator” — but his trademark blend of wry humor and gentle populism feels especially welcome in these topsy-turvy times. (One wonders, for example, what this outspoken supporter of America’s civil rights struggle would have made of the election of the country’s first black president.)
Organized by museum co-founders Laurence and Judy Cutler, the NMAI show features more than 60 Rockwell works, including dozens of rarely seen pieces on loan from private collections. Highlights range from Rockwell’s first-ever magazine cover (a rather nondescript fishing scene commissioned by a forerunner of Field and Stream) to later illustrations that tackle more politically sensitive topics such as civil rights, school desegregation, foreign aid and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
(If that makes “Norman Rockwell: American Imagist” sound more like a political debate than an art exhibit, don’t worry. The show, which is coming off a sold-out run at the Naples (Fla.) Museum of Art, also features many of Rockwell’s now-iconic scenes of small-town life.)
By contrast, “The Art of Life: Selections from the Terrence and Suzanne Murray Collection,” focuses on two subjects that Rockwell mostly avoided: seascapes and city scenes.
Drawn from the collection of former Fleet Boston CEO Terry Murray and his wife, the show, which opens Saturday at the Newport Art Museum, features a wide range of American-made artworks — everything from a dramatic shipwreck scene by 19th-century painter William Bradford to a cache of lithographs by the great (though still underrated) Ashcan School artist George Bellows.
Other highlights include paintings by Bellows’ fellow Ashcan School artists John Sloan (including a wonderful Impressionist-tinged view of sailboats on Gloucester Harbor) and Robert Henri (whose charming portrait of a young Irish girl is one of the stars of the exhibit.)
Even some lesser-known artists manage to make a splash — notably Leon Kroll, a turn-of-the-century artist who contributes lively, paint-speckled view of the Maine coast, and Mabel Woodward, a Rhode Island painter who more than holds her own against the show’s heavyweights.
Like most collectors’ shows, “The Art of Life” has some thin patches. (Though the Murrays are avid collectors of Ashcan School artists such as Bellows and Henri, their collection doesn’t have the kind of thematic or even qualitative consistency you’d expect to find in a traditional museum exhibition. On the other hand, the Bellows lithographs alone are worth the price of admission — especially the iconic 1921 boxing print The White Hope and an equally good revival-meeting scene, Billy Sunday.)
In fact, both shows have some quirky aspects.
“The Art of Life,” for example, freely mixes works from the Ashcan School, a movement that celebrated the grit and glamour of Jazz Age New York, with paintings of ships (Bradford), sailors (Sloan) and sun-bathers (Woodword). It’s an unusual approach — call it an artistic version of surf and turf — although NAM curator Nancy Grinnell does her best to make sure everyone gets along.
The NMAI show, meanwhile, is missing some of Rockwell’s most famous works — notably the great World War II-era paintings known as The Four Freedoms and the equally famous Triple Self-Portrait. (Fortunately, all five paintings — and, yes, all of Rockwell’s cover illustrations started out as oil paintings — are on view at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.)
Following the show’s convoluted layout can also be a problem. Things start off well, with roughly a dozen paintings and other works installed in the museum’s newly restored Tiffany Loggia (so-called because Tiffany & Co. designed the nature-themed ceiling murals). But keeping track of the rest of the show, which wends through a series of upstairs rooms before ending in a basement gallery, requires some advanced orienteering skills. Prepare to backtrack more than once.
Still, these are minor complaints.
At NMAI, the Cutlers have put together an exhibit that spans nearly the entirety of Rockwell’s five-decade career. True, America’s greatest illustrator could be hopelessly sentimental at times — witness The Runaway, a 1922 painting showing a teary-eyed boy being comforted by a circus clown and his faithful dog. Though beautifully painted — the clown’s polka-dot suit, for example, practically pops off the canvas — the scene is as cloyingly sweet (and about as nourishing) as a gumdrop.
Yet the show, which is sponsored by Newport’s William Vareika Fine Arts gallery, also features more ambitious works. A case in point is Bridge Game — The Bid, an aerial view of four bridge players that’s a marvel of technical skill and sly sophistication. Created in 1948 for Rockwell’s longtime employer, The Saturday Evening Post, it’s the kind of image — at once mundane and magical — that Rockwell excelled at.
Even the show’s Where’s Waldo layout turns out to be a plus. While tracking down individual Rockwell paintings can be a chore, it’s also helps showcase works by other illustrators such as J.C. Leyendecker, Howard Pyle and Maxfield Parrish, all of whom Rockwell admired.
“The Art of Life,” meanwhile, probably could have used some extra editing, especially the beach scenes. Still, there are some wonderful pieces scattered around NAM’s Cushing Memorial galleries: Bradford’s dramatic, Rembrandt-esque The Wreck of an Emigrant Ship; a lovely nude study by William Glackens, in which he seems to be channeling the work of French artist Pierre Bonnard; a small gouache and pencil study by Winslow Homer; and of course anything by Bellows.
So, yes, both shows probably could have been better. But if you love art — and especially if you love American art — you’ll put “Norman Rockwell: American Imagist” and “The Art of Life: Selections from the Terrence and Suzanne Murray Collection” on your summer to-do list.
“Norman Rockwell: American Imagist” runs through Aug. 31 at the National Museum of American Illustration, 492 Bellevue Ave., Newport. Hours: the museum is open Saturday 10-4 and Sunday 11-4 for general admission and for a 2 p.m. guided tour on Friday; all other times are by reservation only. Admission: $18 adults, $16 seniors, $12 students with I.D. and $8 ages 5-12. Contact: (401) 851-8949, ext. 18 or www.americanillustration.org.
“The Art of Life: Selections from the Terrence and Suzanne Murray Collection” runs through Oct. 12 at the Newport Art Museum, 76 Bellevue Ave. Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10-5 and Sunday noon-5. Admission: $10 adults, $8 seniors, $6 students and military with I.D., 5 and under admitted free. Contact: (401) 848-8200 or www.newportartmuseum.org.
Spring Seasons Inn is a Newport Rhode Island Bed and Breakfast located in the heart of all of the exciting activities in Newport Rhode Island including the Newport Art Museum and the museum of American Illustration.