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Recent Acquisitions: Frank Weston Benson, Wooster Farm, North Haven, Maine, 1924

Hood Quarterly, spring 2012

Frank Weston Benson (1862–1951) was midway through his artistic career when he took up watercolor in 1921, but he adapted to the medium quickly and went on to create a large body of work that won him critical favor and swift sales. In this virtuosic example he captures the shimmering effects of dappled sunlight on his beloved summer home, Wooster Farm, on the island of North Haven in Penobscot Bay, Maine. Benson purchased the property and its large, late-eighteenth-century house in 1901. He had by then established himself as an influential instructor at Boston’s Museum School and as a leading figure in the so-called Boston school—an informal circle of painters known for their images of genteel women set in elegantly appointed rooms. Summer holidays in Maine offered him a welcome opportunity to paint outdoors—in both watercolor and oil—in a freer, more spontaneous manner than he typically adopted for his interiors.

In this work Benson first lightly indicated essential outlines in graphite, then applied both thin swaths and thick dabs of watercolor to further convey form, color, and the flickering effects of light and shadow. Reserves of the bright white paper provide the composition’s brilliant highlights. Using a low vantage point, he cropped the top portion of the house, thereby accentuating the broadly handled foreground and giving the image a greater sense of immediacy. Passed down through the artist’s family, this watercolor is imbued with rich personal associations. Benson frequently painted family members seated on the garden bench visible near the doorway and, according to his grandchildren, he dubbed the tree in the left foreground the “banana tree.” He would attach newly purchased, green bananas to its branches, to be “picked” when ripe.

Related Exhibitions

 

  • Summer in New England: Impressionist Watercolors by Childe Hassam and Frank W. Benson
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