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Where the Water Meets the Land: Selected Paintings from the Phelan Collection
August 24 - September 10, 2004
The Mitchell Gallery at St. John's College will display "Where the Water Meets the Land: Selected Paintings from the Phelan Collection" August 24 - September 10, 2004. America has always had a love affair with the sea, a fact well understood by Washington-area art collector Jay Phelan. Phelan began to collect nautical paintings in the 1960s, and his collection now spans the last 200 years of maritime art. This exhibition features 25 of the most notable pieces, from early 19th-century ship portraits to Connecticut Impressionist works to Depression-era paintings of industrial waterfronts. (right: Antonio Jacobsen, The Bark Columbia, 1915, appears in the exhibit, "Where the Water Meets the Land: Selected Paintings from the Phelan Collection.")
In 19th-century painting, the highest test of an artist's proficiency was the realistic depiction of a scene. For nautical painters, capturing the power and motion of the waves created the greatest challenge. Renowned 19th-century painters in the exhibit include Alfred T. Bricher, William Trost Richards, and Maryland's own John Ross Key, grandson of Francis Scott Key (the author of the "Star-Spangled Banner" and a St. John's alumnus).
A selection of ship portraits includes a rendering of the U.S.S. Constitution done in 1828, as well as the "James A. Stevens" by James Bard, the foremost painter of steamboats on the Hudson River. This picture represents the only known case in which Bard painted the same ship for three separate owners, once in pencil, once in oil, and the one on exhibit in gouache.
After Impressionism made its way across the Atlantic, artist colonies grew up on the East Coast, especially around Old Lyme, Conn. A number of Connecticut artists began to paint scenes in towns that have long been associated with whaling or commerce; these town scenes were designed to arouse nostalgia for a pre-industrial time. Examples would include views of Noank Harbor by Eliot Clark, views of Mystic by Walter Clark and George Thompson, and views near Greenwich by Elmer MacRae.
With Impressionism came the idea that art should show the common man's lifestyle, affecting genre painting. An early example in the collection is "Duck Shooting, Chesapeake Bay" by James Brade Sword. Later examples, where people are shown enjoying the beach, are by Percy E. Moran, and Edmund Greacen.
After the Depression, as industrialization became an accepted subject for artists, many pictures involving rivers and the sea included iron boats and the industrial waterfront. "Chappaquiddick Ferry" by Julius Delbos portrays automobiles; the Hudson River view by Palmer Hayden-an important member of the Harlem Renaissance-represents an army base, steam ship, and bridge.
This exhibition was organized by collector Arthur J. Phelan. Funding has also been provided in part by Anne Arundel County, the City of Annapolis, Crosby Marketing Communications, the Cultural Arts Foundation of Anne Arundel County, the Maryland State Arts Council, members of the Mitchell Art Gallery, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Clare Eddy and Eugene V. Thaw Fine Arts Fund, William Paca Beatson Jr., Frederick Graul, and Carleton Mitchell.
On September 26 Art educator Lucinda Edinberg will give a gallery talk on the Mitchell Gallery exhibition, "Where the Water Meets the Land: Selected Paintings from the Phelan Collection." At St. John's College, 60 College Ave., Annapolis. 3 p.m. Free. Registration requested. 410-626-2556.
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