Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent: Painting Blackhead


Hopper

In 2006 I first visited Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine. The small island has earned a special place in American art history from  the steady stream of artists who followed the advice of their charismatic teacher Robert Henri to go there and paint. Two of the best to take the advice were Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent. Both spent important time early in the 20th century painting on the island. The commanding promontory Blackhead that stretches eastward out into the Atlantic inspired both of them make repeated paintings of it.



Hopper

The first four images are all small oil studies Hopper made of Blackhead. The final four paintings are by Hopper's art school classmate Rockwell Kent. Though the temperament of their paintings differ, what the two shared was an almost obsessive willingness to create painting after painting of a motif that obviously fascinated them. There's a sort of driving youthful energy to their engagement with Blackhead. 



Hopper

By their actions they seem to be saying that if you look long enough and hard enough important discoveries others have overlooked will reveal themselves to you.



Hopper

When the art historian Eva J. Allen, PhD was organizing the eight venue traveling exhibition of my own paintings Unbroken Thread, she urged me to go to Monhegan and see the place that had inspired the artists from previous generations I so admired. So along with my wife Alice and my trusty French easel, I took the long ferry ride out to the island for a week of painting.



Kent


Kent

The first thing I did was to ask directions to Blackhead. It turns out to reach the overlook where Hopper and Kent painted one has to carry one's equipment over a long muddy and root-filled path through Monhegan's amazingly dense forest. At its end you climb over steep rocks before reaching the bluff from which they painted.
I made a note to myself that while I was 58, Hopper and Kent had dragged their heavy load of painting materials to the spot when they were young artists.



Kent




Kent


It turns out the view of Blackhead from this ledge is a tough view to paint. I was there midday and found the direction the sun was shining on the rocks generated few shadows and was poor for painting. Probably Hopper made the same discovery, as all four of his sunlight filled panels show he returned to paint there later in the afternoon.

Kent solved the problem another way, turning his focus more on the sea's white spray to add drama to his compositions. And his skies play a bigger role as well. All his paintings are enveloped in a foggy atmosphere.


2 comments:

  1. I'll be heading back to Monhegan for the second time in late October when pretty much everything has closed down. The first time I was there I sketched Blackhead in red and black chalk in late afternoon from just about the same viewpoint as the first Hopper painting that you posted. The challenge in painting during that time from that vantage point, however, is that it gets dark pretty quickly and you still have to hike back through the woods to get back to the village. I wonder if Hopper did that first painting over the course of a couple of days.

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  2. MJC, I am sure you're right about Hopper returning over the course of a couple of days for all but the 3rd Hopper image that seems more quickly executed. The others feel larger and have lots more information. There's a limit to how much anyone can do in just one session. I also bet he worked on the pieces back in the studio.

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