N. C. Wyeth’s family dated back many centuries in New England, but N. C.’s first real taste of the Maine coast came in 1910. Along with another Pyle student, Sidney M. Chase, Wyeth traveled by steamer along the coastline from Portland to Rockland, stopping in Port Clyde. Nearly a decade later, in 1919, Wyeth wrote to Chase of his“ feeling of utmost necessity that we must get back to New England” (Betsy James Wyeth, ed., The Wyeths, The Letters of N. C. Wyeth, 1902-1945, 1971, p. 618). Ultimately, he did; buying property in Port Clyde, formerly owned by one Captain Norris Seavy. Wyeth saw a show of Winslow Homer’s watercolors in 1925, and wrote, again to Sid Chase, “Homer alone has risen above locality (yet sacrificing none of it!)and has presented the sea, land and sky for everybody and all time” (Betsy James Wyeth, p. 707). The family didn’t move in until another decade had turned, however.
In 1930, Wyeth hung a reproduction of a painting by Homer, that most “Maine” of Maine painters. The picture gave the name to the house: Eight Bells. The stormy scene of Homer’s 1886 masterpiece exhorted the Wyeth family to attend “real reverence and cherish the charm and historic appeal of the little storm-beaten homestead” (Betsy James Wyeth, p. 652). The family inarguably maintained that reverence, and the property remained in the family for generations. The present work was painted only a few years after family started coming to Maine with regularity, in 1931. It is the very opposite of every aspect of Homer’s Maine masterpiece—except for location, and transcendence of it. Where Homer’s scene is stormy and ominous, Wyeth shows the peace of Monday morning, sunlight and breeze lapping the morning wash. The upward gaze of Eight Bells denotes the anxiety of the men in their raincoats; Wyeth’s washerwoman looks earthward, and we join her tranquility as the view wanders down to the sun-dappled bay. The picture is nonetheless perfectly “Maine” and could be nowhere else—but it reaches a level of categorical sublime that does, as Wyeth said of Homer, succeed at transcending any place in particular.
The artist; to
Private collection, Greenville, Delaware, as a gift from the artist, in 1942; to
Private collection, Chadds Ford, Delaware, by gift, in 1958 to their son, until the present
Twenty-First Annual exhibition of work by Delaware Artists, Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts, Wilmington, Delaware, 1934, no. 38, as Harbor, Monday Morning // Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, 2003
“Paintings of Pyle Pupils Listed for Exhibition,” Wilmington Morning News, Nov. 5, 1934, p. 18 // “State Artists Show Work in 21st Exhibition,” Journal Every Evening, Wilmington, Delaware, Nov. 5, 1934, p. 9 // “Art Lovers See New Display of Canvases,” Wilmington, Delaware, Journal Every Evening, Nov. 6, 1934, p. 10 // Christine B. Podmaniczky, N. C. Wyeth Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings (2008), L.182, p. 760
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