Urban Realism and the American Scene

Rockwell Kent (1882–1971)
Cranberrying, Monhegan, c. 1907
Oil on canvas, 28 1/16 x 38 1/4 in. (71.3 x 97.2 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Gift of Mr. Dan Burne Jones. Image © Plattsburgh State Art Museum, Rockwell Kent Gallery and Collection., C1983.4

Rockwell Kent, Cranberrying, Monhegan

The multitalented Rockwell Kent was a skilled painter, printmaker, illustrator, photographer, and filmmaker as well as an intrepid traveler, writer, and political activist. A contentious idealist who rejected modernism’s focus on the artist’s inner life, he favored a style he described as “romantic realism” to make his work accessible to a wide audience. In Cranberrying, Monhegan, tiny figures are scattered across a cranberry bog below a grassy ridge and a veil of thick blue-gray clouds. The artist’s application of paint in broad, sweeping strokes complements the boundless horizontal landscape, in which the harvesters appear vulnerable to this island’s mutable weather. In his paintings of Monhegan, a popular summertime destination in Maine where he lived and worked from 1905 to 1910, Kent depicted an isolated locale whose inhabitants come face-to-face with elemental nature.

Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website.


Perspective

In Rockwell Kent’s Cranberrying, Monhegan, people pick fruit in an open landscape: between land and sky they labor in a bog on this remote, wild, and wind-blown island off the coast of Maine. Humankind dissolves under a menacing blue and gray sky. The scene is calm, but the painting hints at an oncoming storm. Kent first came to Monhegan—an island of less than one square mile that was home to a fishing village and a small artists’ colony—from New York City in 1905 at the age of 22. The works he made there, this one among them, were early revelations of his gift for capturing the tenor of isolated places.

In subsequent decades, Kent established himself as the premier painter of coastlines and oceans throughout the Americas, working in rarely visited areas and depicting landscapes largely devoid of people. From the cliffs and coastal rocks, houses and boats of Monhegan, he moved west to Resurrection Bay in the Gulf of Alaska in 1918, then south to the Strait of Magellan at the tip of South America in 1922, before going north to Greenland in the summer of 1930, where he weathered the brutal winter of 1931. He made paintings of these desolate places, as well as numerous drawings and wood engravings of persons, objects, and detailed scenes of those in transit to the uttermost ends of the earth.

Throughout his career, Kent considered himself a “romantic realist.” Across two-and-a-half decades and thousands of miles of travel north and south, he combined elements of naturalism with a modernist tendency to critique both objective and subjective experience. His peripatetic travels, his voluminous writings on a range of topics, together with his paintings, drawings, wood engravings, and photographs are representative of the possibilities available to artists in the early twentieth century for experience, media, and technologies, as well as political and social understandings of the world and the role of art within it. There are resemblances between Kent’s aims and those of other artists and writers: in his 1920 book Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska, Kent quoted the British poet and printmaker William Blake (1757–1827) and enthused over Blake’s “intense and illuminating fervor,”Rockwell Kent, Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1920), 82. a quality echoed in the vivid prose of Kent’s travelogues, including Wilderness and Voyaging Southward of the Strait of Magellan (1924).

Cranberrying may be an autobiographical painting, as many of Kent’s works were—a portrait of quiet and solitude wrapped around a small convulsion of human life. “The only things that are far away are those that we do not know how to see,” sang Argentine folk guitarist Atahualpa Yupanqui (1908–1992) in “Distancia.” Continually shifting his focus from the macro to the micro, Kent collapsed the distance between his viewers and the far-flung landscapes he traversed and depicted.

Alberto Harambour
Associate Professor, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia


    Rockwell Kent (1882–1971)
    Cranberrying, Monhegan, c. 1907
    Oil on canvas, 28 1/16 x 38 1/4 in. (71.3 x 97.2 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Gift of Mr. Dan Burne Jones. Image © Plattsburgh State Art Museum, Rockwell Kent Gallery and Collection., C1983.4

    Urban Realism and the American Scene

    William Glackens (1870–1938)
    Bal Bullier, c. 1895
    Oil on canvas, 23 13/16 x 32 in. (60.5 x 81.3 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.59
    Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1858–1924)
    The Grand Canal, Venice, c. 1898–99
    Watercolor and graphite on paper, 18 1/8 x 14 1/4 in. (46.0 x 36.2 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.123
    Everett Shinn (1876–1953)
    Theater Scene, 1903
    Oil on canvas, 12 3/4 x 15 1/2 in. (32.4 x 39.4 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.136
    Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1858–1924)
    Salem Willows, 1904
    Oil on canvas, 26 1/4 x 34 1/4 in. (66.7 x 87.0 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.120
    George Luks (1866–1933)
    Knitting for the Soldiers: High Bridge Park, c. 1918
    Oil on canvas, 30 3/16 x 36 1/8 in. (76.7 x 91.8 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.87
    Robert Henri (1865–1929)
    Sylvester, 1914
    Oil on canvas, 32 x 26 in. (81.2 x 66 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Art Acquisition Endowment Fund, 2017.2
    Rockwell Kent (1882–1971)
    Cranberrying, Monhegan, c. 1907
    Oil on canvas, 28 1/16 x 38 1/4 in. (71.3 x 97.2 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Gift of Mr. Dan Burne Jones. Image © Plattsburgh State Art Museum, Rockwell Kent Gallery and Collection., C1983.4
    George Bellows (1882–1925)
    The Palisades, 1909
    Oil on canvas, 30 x 38 1/8 in. (76.2 x 96.8 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.10
    Robert Henri (1865–1929)
    Figure in Motion, 1913
    Oil on canvas, 77 1/4 x 37 1/4 in. (196.2 x 94.6 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.69
    Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975)
    Slaves, 1925
    Oil on cotton duck mounted on board, 66 7/16 x 72 3/8 in. (168.8 x 183.8 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Art Acquisition Endowment Fund. Image © T.H. Benton and R.P. Benton Testamentary Trusts/UMB Bank Trustee/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York., 2003.4
    Walter Ufer (1876–1936)
    Builders of the Desert, 1923
    Oil on canvas laid down on aluminum, 50 1/8 x 50 1/8 in. (127.3 x 127.3 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1992.174
    Reginald Marsh (1898–1954)
    Chicago, 1930
    Watercolor, over graphite, on cream wove watercolor paper, 13 7/8 x 20 in. (35.2 x 50.8 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Art Acquisition Endowment Fund, 1998.4
    Reginald Marsh (1898–1954)
    Pip and Flip, 1932
    Tempera on canvas mounted on canvas, 48 1/4 x 48 1/4 in. (122.6 x 122.6 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection. Image © Estate of Reginald Marsh / Art Students League, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York ., 1999.96
    Archibald J. Motley, Jr. (1891–1981)
    Between Acts, 1935
    Oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 32 in. (100.3 x 81.3 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Art Acquisition Endowment Fund, 2009.1
    Charles Sheeler (1883–1965)
    Bucks County Barn, 1940
    Oil on canvas, 18 3/8 x 28 3/8 in. (46.7 x 72.1 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.135
    Romare Bearden (1911–1988)
    After Church, 1941
    Gouache on brown paper, 22 × 34 1/2 in. (55.9 × 87.6 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Art Acquisition Endowment Fund. Image © 2018 Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York., 2015.2
    Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
    Dawn in Pennsylvania, 1942
    Oil on canvas, 24 3/8 x 44 1/4 in. (61.9 x 112.4 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection. Image © Heirs of Josephine Hopper/ Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York., 1999.77
    Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000)
    Bar-b-que, 1942
    Gouache on wove paper, 30 7/8 x 22 1/2 in. (78.4 x 57.2 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Art Acquisition Endowment Fund, 2013.1
    Walt Kuhn (1877–1949)
    Clown with Drum, 1942
    Oil on canvas, 60 7/8 x 41 3/8 in. (154.6 x 105.1 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1992.172
    Edward Hopper (1882–1967)
    Sierra Madre at Monterrey, 1943
    Watercolor with touches of wiping, over a charcoal underdrawing, on heavyweight textured ivory wove watercolor paper, 21 1/4 x 29 3/4 in. (54.0 x 75.6 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1994.18