The Portland Museum of Art presents the exhibition “Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine,” to commemorate the opening of the newly restored Winslow Homer Studio. On view September 22 through December 30, this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition features 38 major oils, watercolors, and etchings created during Homer’s tenure in the Studio, 1883–1910. The works come from museums and private collectors throughout the country, including The Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Many of these works have not been on exhibition in Maine for a more than a generation and, due to their extraordinary rarity and importance to their institutional owners, will likely not be seen together again for decades to come.
Weatherbeaten explores the range and complexity of Homer’s mature artistic vision, which came to fruition at his Prouts Necks studio on the Maine coast. Inspired by the rugged beauty and dramatic weather of this locale, he produced works that revolutionized marine painting in American art and created an iconic and enduring image of the New England coast. The Portland Museum of Art’s painting Weatherbeaten serves as both the namesake for the exhibition and a quintessential example of the artist’s late work. This image of rough waves crashing against a rocky shore embodies Homer’s ability to capture the specificity of a place, while simultaneously meditating upon the timeless forces of nature.
In his Prouts Neck pictures, Homer envisioned nature as an arena for the constant clash of forces—water against rock, humankind against the elements. Eight Bells (1886, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy), for example, represents fishermen facing stormy weather at sea with Homer’s characteristic narrative ambiguity that leaves the viewer wondering about their fate. Other pictures in the exhibition, such as High Cliff, Coast of Maine (1894, Smithsonian American Art Museum) and West Point, Prouts Neck (1900, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute), capture the elemental dramas of nature with closely observed depictions of the seashore in varying seasons and conditions. Homer’s iconic painting Fox Hunt (1893), which rarely leaves the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, will make its first visit to Maine since its creation. This masterwork thematizes mortality and evolutionary conceptions about the survival of the fittest that arose in the late 19th century.
The relationship between Winslow Homer and the Portland Museum of Art is long-standing and intimate. Homer exhibited at the Museum in 1893 and his legacy runs throughout the history of the institution. In 1976 Charles Shipman Payson pledged his collection of 17 paintings and watercolors by Homer and an endowment that led to the construction of the Charles Shipman Payson building, which is the public face of the Museum. The Museum’s Homer collection also includes such notable objects as his first important oil painting, Sharpshooter (1863); an original watercolor paint box; and a significant collection of 400 wood-engravings (that represents 90% of Homer’s graphic output and chronicles the artist’s early career as a commercial illustrator). In 2006, the Museum purchased Homer’s studio at Prouts Neck, located 12 miles from the Museum, from Homer’s great grand-nephew. The restored Studio will open to the public on September 25, 2012.
Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine was organized by Thomas Denenberg, former Chief Curator at the Portland Museum of Art and current Director of the Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont. Karen Sherry, Curator of American Art at the Portland Museum of Art, is the in-house curator. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue that provides a lasting record of the research that guided the Studio restoration project and introduces new perspectives on Homer’s life and late work.
The Portland Museum of Art, Maine’s largest art museum, showcases fine and decorative arts from the 18th century to the present. The Museum is located at Seven Congress Square in downtown Portland and is free on Friday evenings from 5-9 p.m. No admission is required to visit the PMA Café and Store. For more information, call 775-6148 or visit portlandmuseum.org.