Joseph McGurl (American, b. 1958) Sankaty Light, 2016 oil on canvas, 30 x 40 in.
An accomplished plein air painter and contemporary luminist, Joseph McGurl is a highly sought after American landscape artist. McGurl grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts, beginning his studies under his father, James, who was a notable muralist. His father taught Joseph crucial skills such as color theory, draftsmanship, and the skill of negotiating between preparatory studies and large-scale finished works. Joseph McGurl continued his studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The Massachusetts College of Art, and he attended summer programs in London and Florence. While in Florence, he took private lessons from Robert Cormier, a distinguished Boston artist devoted to French Academy methods. It is clear that Cormier influenced McGurl as his pupil’s works “indicate academic figure drawing skills with sight-size landscape painting resulting in a new and unique approach to addressing the landscape.”
McGurl’s artistic process is methodical. It begins with hours of enplein air studies using oil paints. He returns to his studio with his preparatory studies and transforms the images into a larger scale—relying solely on his memory and imagination to create a work that is inherently unique. McGurl is one of the few contemporary realists who notably refuses to rely on photography to create his landscapes. He declares, “I do not use photography because I feel it diminishes the artistic and intellectual experience of the intense observation and reinterpretation that I find so satisfying. My field studies painted on location are combined with my memory and imagination to form a framework for the larger studio pieces." Thus, when looking at one of his paintings, one is looking from McGurl’s unique perspective.
In Sankaty Light (2016), McGurl says he has looked down from the cliffs at Sankaty many times, and used his collective memories of the Sankaty cliffs to form the composition. For example, in this piece the boat and certain details are derived from his familiarity with the subject. McGurl interestingly chose not to include the actual lighthouse, and instead use only the monument’s shadow. This is a deliberate visual pun, “where the presence of the lighthouse, whose purpose is to shine a light, is indicated by its shadow, which is created by the absence of light.” McGurl also emphasizes the calming bow-and-quarter waves, which add a sense of movement to the piece. Combining realism with his own memories of the Nantucket landscape, McGurl creates a work that is both modern and timeless.
McGurl is a member of the Plein Air Painters of America, and he was the youngest person ever to have won the John Singleton Copley Award from the Copley Society of Boston. He has also won theGrumbacher Gold Medallion from the Guild of Boston Artists. McGurl's paintings have been included in several museum exhibitions throughout the country including the Cape Cod Museum of Art,The Cahoon Museum of American Art, and the Saint Botolph Club of Boston.
Stuart Davis (American, 1892 - 1964) Private Way, 1916 oil on canvas, 18 x 22 in.
His work a forerunner of American modernism, an exhibition of Stuart Davis’s œuvre is currently on view at the renowned Whitney Museum in New York City. A Philadelphia native born to artistic parents who had both studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Davis was introduced by his father to the likes of John Sloan and Robert Henri. He studied with Henri in New York City from 1910 to 1913. Henri progressively encouraged his students to open themselves to the influence of any artistic style they met. Although his style was certainly abstract, he kept his focus on social realism by choosing subjects such as run-down hotels or apartment interiors. Davis appropriated elements of Cubism while combining it with his own realism that exuded the spirit of popular mass culture in America.
Private Way (1916) is one of Davis’s early works from when he was developing his abstract style. Davis completed this painting after he participated in the 1913 Armory Show where he contributed five watercolors. The innovations that he had seen at the exhibition inspired Davis. With his unconventional colors, flattened forms, and visible brushstrokes, Davis was influenced by the European modernists such as Matisse, VanGogh, and Gauguin. His early works display his movement away from realism and his experimentation with becoming a modern artist.
In the late 1920s, Davis spent time in Paris learning the conventions of the European avant-gardemovement including artists such as Alexander Calder and Piet Mondrian. He would remain in New York City for the majority of his career, keeping a studio in the City as well as Hoboken, New Jersey. From then on, his paintings strictly reflected the American spirit with inspiration drawn from jazz music and modernist styles.
According to the Whitney Museum of American Art, “Davis’s unique ability to transform the chaos of everyday life into a structured yet spontaneous order communicates the wonder and joy that can be derived from the color and spatial relationships of everyday things.” Davis exhibits such a remarkable ability particularly in his vibrant later pieces, but this quality is apparent in his earlier works as well.
Davis’s paintings have been often been likened to jazz music on canvas. In the dive bars he frequented, Davis developed a passion for the expressiveness and energy of jazz songs. According to the Columbus Museum of Art, “His paintings effectively form the visual equivalent to the spirit of improvisation embodied in jazz. They are composed of energetically-arranged geometric elements interspersed with simplified representational forms.” In Private Way, we see an absence of accuracy in his representation of forms, and a juxtaposition of hard edges with curved lines. This work prefigures his later works, which are starkly geometric, rhythmic, and Cubist in style.
Davis went on to teach at the Art Students League in New York and created murals for the Works Progress Administration during the 1930s. He continued teaching at New York’s New School for Social Research (1940-1950) and Yale University (1951). In 1964, Davis received the first commission by an American artist to design a postage stamp, which was issued six months after his death in that year.
Davis’s work can be found in countless esteemed institutions across the nation including the Museum of Modern Art and The Whitney Museum in New York City; the National Museum of American Art andThe Phillips Gallery in Washington DC; and The Peggy Guggenheim Museum, in Venice, Italy.
This work is currently on exhibit in our Nantucket gallery.
James Edward Buttersworth (British, 1817-1894) American Frigates in a Storm oil on canvas, 22 x 36 in.
“Just think of it—a span of sixty years of the greatest maritime development in history. He was with it all the way and depicted the entire spectrum of this interesting panorama, and he did it accurately, artistically and dramatically. […] His expert and detailed recording of those events was by all odds his single greatest contribution”
Rudolph J. Schaefer, J.E. Buttersworth, 19th-Century Marine Painter, Mystic, Connecticut, 1975, no. 487 (the pair), p. 257
American Frigates in a Storm, is a dynamic maritime portrait by James E. Buttersworth (1817–1894), who was known in the 19th century for painting lively vessels in their natural conditions. Appreciated alongside other American marine painters such as William Bradford and Fitz Henry Lane, he rendered temporal elements in his pieces, thereby reducing any static features and relying on dramatic sky effects to capture the viewer's eye. In this particular painting, Buttersworth uses this technique of a striking, golden skyline to illuminate his vessels.
According to a letter from John Carter, President of the Independence Seaport Museum of Philadelphia, Buttersworth “This particular work shows a central axis of sunlight so characteristic of his work and the dark middle tones are present in the clouds which go into pink and red tinting on the edges, again another tell-tale characteristic of the artist’s work.”
Hailing from what is now the northwest of Greater London, Buttersworth came from an artistic family. His father, Thomas Buttersworth, Jr., was a respected sea painter, and it was undoubtedly he who cultivated his son’s artistic persona. In 1845, Buttersworth sought to make a name for himself in America when he chose to settle in what is now Union City, New Jersey, where he quickly became a well-established marine artist. Signing his works, J.E. Buttersworth, magazines and newspapers often used his works to report on the yachting events of the day, and the firm Currier and Ives often copied Buttersworth’s pieces as lithographs. With a knack for meticulous detail, he could document the vessels residing in the New York Harbor and nearby areas. His reputation soared as he demonstrated his ability to portray faithfully the sailing yachts, steamers, and racing clipper ships of the time.
To account for the motion of these vessels, Buttersworth would elongate the hulls and sails to create a sense of speed along a low horizon line. Contrasting dramatic skies with his accurate detail, he romanticized the sailing ships in his pieces which remain timeless pieces of sophistication to the viewer, such as American Frigates in a Storm.
Buttersworth's paintings of the 1893 Vigilant vs. Valkyrie II Cup match—done one year before his death—completed the chronicling of America's Cup races through oil painting just before the advent of viable sports photography. As a result of his work, Buttersworth was inducted into the America's Cup Hall of Fame in 1999; and nearly early 600 of his paintings are known to exist. Buttersworth’s works can be found in the collections of the Museum of the City of New York; the Mystic Seaport Museum; thePeabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts; and the Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, Virginia.