Live camera feed brings Prouts Neck vistas into museum
PORTLAND — Beauty. Balance. Form. And the physical power of nature.
These are compelling aspects of the 38 masterpieces in the "Weatherbeaten:Winslow Homer and Maine” exhibit showing at the Portland Museum of Art through Dec. 30.
This extraordinary exhibit of paintings by one of the foremost 19th century American painters celebrates the completed restoration of his studio at Prouts Neck, acquired by the PMA in 2006.
Unique to the exhibit is a live feed from a camera atop the studio roof, with that view shown on a screen in the front Great Hall of the museum. This gives museum visitors a realistic sense of what Homer might have seen as he painted and looked out his studio window. It is an unusual and creative installation. Don’t miss it as you enter the museum on the left near the reception desk.
Another outstanding feature of "Weatherbeaten" is a timeline of key works done by Homer at different periods of his life. It was created on two huge canvases, which look like sailcloth from a schooner, and covers an entire wall in the first gallery, much like a mural.
What is most impressive, however, is the volume of monumental works — artwork that transcends time.
Dimmed lights protect the masterpieces obtained from private collections and museums across the country. The gallery walls are painted a shadowy gray and azure blue, providing a subtle backdrop for Homer’s dramatic paintings.
Inspired by the rugged beauty of Maine's coastline and its changeable weather, Homer painted authentic seascapes, capturing both the awesome mystery and frightening power of nature.
Unlike many artists who are well known for working in only one medium, Homer is highly respected for his talents in myriad media — oils, wood engravings, charcoal and white chalk drawings, and translucent and opaque watercolors.
Three outstanding oil paintings in the exhibit command your attention with their raw power. They are “Weatherbeaten,” done in 1894; “Fox Hunt,” 1893, which depicts a magnificent fox in the snow with crows overhead waiting to attack it; and “Wild Geese in Flight,” done in 1897.
In these works Homer captures the tension between life and death in nature on a large, powerful scale without superfluous details.
Breathtaking seascapes include “High Cliff, Coast of Maine,” an oil on canvas, 1894; “Prouts Neck Breaking Wave,” a transparent and opaque watercolor on cream woven paper; and “Eight Bells,” an oil on canvas, 1886.
Three interesting paintings of historical value are “Gloucester Mackerel Fleet at Dawn,” 1884; “ Taking An Observation,” 1884; and “Gloucester Fleet at Sunset,” 1884. These works created in oil on wood panels were originally given to Homer’s brother Arthur and were first shown at the Portland Society of Art in the old Sweat Mansion before it became the Portland Museum of Art . This is the first time they have been shown together since 1912.
Homer's “A Fishing Schooner, Prouts Neck,” 1884, charcoal and white chalk on paper, depicts a soothing contemplative scene in contrast to the dramatic “The Lifeline,” 1884, an etching printed in blue, on cream wove paper.
Many of the paintings in the "Weatherbeaten" exhibit are dark, creating an atmosphere of serious contemplation and a sense of awe.
For example, “The Fisher Girl,” 1894, an oil on canvas, is haunting and mysterious. In this somber painting a strong, sturdy, woman surrounded by gray fog stands on a bed of rocks overlooking the sea, waiting perhaps for a ship to come in or the fog to lift. Holding fish nets that extend over her shoulders and down her entire body, she looks like a tired statue of fortitude against nature's enormous power.
Born in Boston in 1836, Homer was an illustrator for Harpers Weekly during the Civil War. Later, he traveled and lived in England, where he became fascinated with the sea. He first visited Prouts Neck in 1875, when Arthur was honeymooning at a resort there. Homer’s oldest brother, Charles, moved to Prouts Neck in 1883 and purchased most of the peninsula with hopes of bringing the entire family there.
When the family heard that Homer was interested in joining them, they constructed a painting room in the carriage house for him. Homer, who prized solitude and independence, asked that the carriage house be moved in 1883 and converted into a studio nearby. John Calvin Stevens helped renovate and complete the structure in exchange for a painting in 1884.
Homer died at Prouts Neck in 1910.
"Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine" is an exhibit worth seeing many times because there are so many original works. There is nothing like seeing originals. They seem to have a life of their own and a vibrancy in color, texture and form that reproductions can lack.
The PMA is at Seven Congress Square. Gallery hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, with free admission from 5 to 9 p.m.
Admission is $12/$10 for seniors and students with I.D., with a $5 special exhibition surcharge added to each adult ticket. Admission is $6 for youths 13 to 17; children under 12, free. Advance reservations are recommended. Call 775-6148.
Pat Davidson Reef has a master’s degree in education and has taught art history at Catherine McAuley High School in Portland. She has written two children’s books, “Dahlov Ipcar, Artist,” and “Bernard Langlais, Sculptor.”