Landscape painting exhibition opens at the Museum of Art

Notations of Color: Oil Sketching in Maine, a special two-month exhibit of landscape painting, will be on view in the Bates College Museum of Art from Aug. 28 to Oct. 30. The exhibit features small-scale oil sketches by more than 40 American landscape painters of the late 19th and 20th century, including George Bellows, Robert Henri, Neil Welliver, Joel Babb, Ann Lofquist and Lewiston-native Marsden Hartley. John Arthur, author of Spirit of Place: Contemporary Landscape Painting and the American Tradition will give the opening lecture for the exhibit Friday, Sept. 11, at 7 p.m. in the Bates Museum of Art. The public is invited to attend the exhibit and Arthur’s talk free of charge.

Although not an American invention, the open-air oil or “plein-air” sketch became standard practice in the United States by the mid-19th century. In Maine, artists worked along the coast, painting Mount Desert Island, then moved inland to study the vistas of Mount Katahdin and several rivers, including the Kennebec.

“Oil sketching is an artist’s private refuge. It’s where standard conventions of painting are set aside, and where originality is allowed to stir,” said Genetta McLean, director of the Bates College Museum of Art and curator of the exhibit. “For more than a century, Maine has been one of the favorite places where American artists have gravitated to paint directly from nature. This exhibition shows how artists have looked intently at Maine’s landscape in an attempt to understand light, color, atmosphere and a sense of place.”

By leaving the studio and taking their oil paints outdoors, 19th-century landscape painters found not only a worthwhile artistic exercise, but also an immediacy and freshness in their painting that enriched the realism of their technique, according to McLean. These artists attempted to depict nature as literally as possible, while avoiding conventional lighting situations created in the studio and traditional methods of representation, such as adding religious or mythological narratives to the landscape. Today, artists continue to find painting directly in the field a beneficial process in their work.

In addition to works from the Bates College Museum of Art’s collection, the exhibit has works from other public and private collections, including the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Colby College Museum of Art, Farnsworth Art Museum, Ogunquit Museum of American Art and the Portland Museum of Art.

This exhibition was generously funded by Fleet Charitable Trust and friends of the Bates College Museum of Art.

The public is invited to enjoy this exhibition free of charge. Special Saturday parent-child landscape painting workshops will be held during the course of the exhibition. The Museum of Art is open Tuesdays-Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Schools and other groups are welcome by appointment. For more information or to schedule a group tour, call 207-786-6158.

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