Friday, December 9, 2016

Savoring the quietly sublime art of Rockwell Kent, December 2016

Rockwell Kent (American, 1882 – 1971) • The Angel, Christmas Card, 1928

Rockwell Kent, View at Asgaard , 1945

Illustration by Rockwell Kent for Herman Melville's Moby Dick
Illustration by Rockwell Kent for N by E, 1930, his account of a voyage on a 33-foot cutter from New York Harbor to the rugged shores of Greenland

Rockwell Kent, Moonlight in the Adirandacks, date unknown

Rockwell Kent, Dan Ward's Stack, Ireland

Rockwell Kent, The View from Asgaard

Rockwell Kent's paintings feel uplifting to me, like time spent walking on the beach, looking out at the sea and the sky. They're boldly contemplative, a clean but also sophisticated, intelligent simplicity to them. There is something austere about them too, a spiritual starkness.

His prints have an art deco edge. His snowy mountain paintings remind me of  Nicholas Roerich. Something about the boldness of his landscapes remind me a bit of Thomas Hart Benton.

After a lifetime traveling the world, surviving World War II, his political interests leaned toward socialist ideas. He became targeted and scapegoated by that monster, Senator Joseph McCarthy, in the 1950s. That destroyed not only his career, his livelihood, but estranged him from neighbors he cared about and had spent much time with in Maine, where he'd built his home.

In 1947 Kent’s mother died at the age of 91, leaving each of her children $30,000. Kent invested most of his inheritance in hopes of building a hedge against his plummeting income. 

    With the rest, the artist returned with his wife, Sally, to Monhegan Island, Maine, the scene of his earliest triumphs and transgressions. 

    He reacquired the little cottage he had built back in 1907. By visiting in the fall and early spring, when the tourists were gone, Monhegan seemed little changed: 

“My body has grown old. I walk now where I used to run; step carefully where once I’d leap. But still, my eyes are good. And seeing, must I not respond to nature’s beauty? I began to paint again, with undiminished love for the familiar scenes.”

“I lug my canvasses across the gullies, up the headlands. I relive my youth. Or better I am young again.”

    But fallout from Kent’s clash with U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy was immediate. Kent’s politics were never a secret to the islanders, but now the symptoms were instantly apparent: avoidance on the footpaths, hurried departures from the general store whenever the Kents came in. Unable to find sanctuary even on Monhegan, Kent and Sally soon left, never to return. 

    The Adirondack Mountains that cradle Asgaard still inspired the aging artist, but his paintings were accumulating in his studio, most unseen by anyone except Sally. 

    In 1960 Kent arranged to give eighty canvases and eight hundred drawings and prints, work that covered every phase of his career, to the Soviet Union, “the one people in the world who have demonstrated their high regard for what I do.”

About Rockwell Kent.
Rockwell Kent was an American painter and illustrator born in 1882 in Tarrytown, New York. He was a highly prolific print maker. Kent painted landscapes of New York, Alaska, Vermont, and Minnesota. He was also an author of a number of books, which he illustrated.
He was most renowned for his illustrations for Herman Melville's Moby Dick.
He was commissioned by the United States government to paint murals on new buildings. Sometimes he would sneak in his own comments and ideas on their work in tiny letters or in Inuit syllables writing.
Kent illustrated several magazines and had many cover issues to his credit.
For his artistic education Kent studied at the Art Students League of New York City and also with private classes at ateliers. Some instructors include William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri.
> Rockwell Kent became increasingly radical and outspoken during World War II. After the war he advocated friendship and peace with the Soviet Union. U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy targeted him during the red-baiting era, and his reputation suffered. Once one of the most famous, well-paid artists of his day, he was no longer in demand as an artist or illustrator.
A snippet of a documentary about him.

An Antiques Roadshow snippet about a woman who owns a Rockwell Kent painting, Greenland, Land of Peace, 1946

A woman he knew died an accidental death, while staying at his house in Maine. The gossip surrounding this death was part of the reason Rockwell Kent and his wife sold their house in Maine.
Rockwell Kent, in honor of the Spanish Civil War

Rockwell Kent, Charlotte
Rockwell Kent, The Seven Ages of Man. Embrace 1918
Seven Ages of Man
William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

From “As You Like It,” Act II. Sc. 7.

                    ALL the world ’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His Acts being seven ages. At first the Infant,        5
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining School-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the Lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woful ballad        10
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a Soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard;
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the Justice,        15
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances,—
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered Pantaloon,        20
With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,        25
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness, and mere oblivion,—
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Rockwell Kent and wife Frances, Greenland, circa 1930
Rockwell and Frances Kent in Greenland, ca. 1930 / unidentified photographer. Rockwell Kent papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Some wonderful photographs of Rockwell Kent's life here, at the Plattsburgh State Art Museum, NY
101 Broad Street, Plattsburgh, NY 12901

Rockwell Kent: Still Photos of an Active Man 

As well as a collection of several dozen paintings.
Kent gave Asgaard Dairy to two loyal farmhands (left)
after Kent’s political views created a regional boycott, 1948
Rockwell Kent playing his father's silver flute, c. late 1940's

Rockwell Kent at home, playing piano with a silly glasses and nose mask.
Rockwell Kent, Resurrection Bay, Alaska, 1965

Rockwell Kent, Greenlanders, 1932

Rockwell Kent, Cloudy Day. Fjord in Northern Greenland
Rockwell Kent, May, North Greenland, 1935 -1937

Rockwell Kent, Whiteface Sunset

Rockwell Kent, Asgaard Jerseys, 1965

Rockwell Kent, The Trapper, 1921

Rockwell Kent, America Land of Our Fathers, 1956-59
America, Land of Our Fathers was painted during the period when Senator Joseph McCarthy, suspicious of Kent's socialist leanings, had summoned the artist to trial. Kent portrays a quiet farmhouse nestled in the undulating Virginia hills south of Charlottesville, the light of day radiating. The bucolic scene alludes to eighteenth century Jeffersonian ideals of pride, patriotism, and freedom. The luminous palette, contrasting colors, and tight, spare composition are characteristic of the artist's work of the 1950s.
Rockwell Kent, Landscape, 1933

Rockwell Kent, Alpes

Rockwell Kent, Sun, Tomorrow, Monhegan, 1907

Rockwell Kent, Asgaard's Meadow 

Rockwell Kent, Moonlight Sleigh Ride, December 1st, 1943

Rockwell Kent, Sturrall. Donegal. Ireland, 1926/1927

Rockwell Kent, Voyagers, Alaska, 1919-23

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