Gordon Peers (1909-1988): From Thomas Hart Benton Landscape to Cezanne Still Life

Gordon Peers (1909-1988): From Thomas Hart Benton Landscape to Cezanne Still Life

An Essay by Catherine Little Bert

Noted RISD professor Gordon Peers began his career as a traditional realist American painter who after his RISD education went on to study with American scene painter Thomas Hart Benton. An independent and disciplined painter, Peers acquired technical and theoretical art sophistication early in his career. His tightly delineated still life compositions painted in the 1930’s and 1940’s were exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Corcoran Art Gallery, Carnegie Institute and the National Academy of Design.

But by the 1950s the influence of Cezanne became evident in Peers’ work and the painter began a lifetime of experimentation that culminated in a body of brightly colored and thickly painted still life. One of these signature works, Bottle of Wine, 1987 is akin to stained glass with each object with a halo of color. Christopher Willard in a 1988 American Artist article wrote, “Peers actively explored complementary colors as a means of creating glowing colors in studies done directly from still-life setups… he seems to be using a group of paints with extremely luminous and varied colors.”

In Bottle of Wine, the artist demonstrates his respect for paint – he uses it with reverence, integrity and skill. The wine bottle sits among the folded linen napkin, the red apples, the fruit compotes and other carefully chosen tabletop objects. Fruit and pottery radiate due to the painstaking adjustments of slowly adding darker and lighter tones as well as purer colors to heighten the intensity of colors by contrasting them with their complements (Willard, 1988). Peers enjoyed a very long art career, married to artist Florence Leif his artistic journey over fifty-five years allowed time to assimilate new ideas and accommodate his painting style. At Rhode Island School of Design he advanced from instructor to Department Chair and became the Chief Critic of the school’s European Honors Program. An exacting and critical teacher he kept searching in his art for that little something extra. Providence Journal Art Critic Brad Swan wrote in 1960 of Peers painting exhibit at the Dattorro-Tonoff Gallery,

In a world obsessed with the mere manipulation of paint as the be-all and end-all of painting, it is intensely satisfying to find paint being manipulated from some deeply felt esthetic purpose… Today the work of Gordon Peers is enjoying a new audience. In current critical review, Peers is acclaimed for his thoughtful composition, meticulous craftsmanship and great color sensibility. He was a member of the Providence Art Club and Provincetown Art Association. His work is in the collection of the Rhode Island School of Design.

Photo Pictured on Right:
Gordon Peers, Bottle of Wine, 1987
Oil on Canvas, 40″ x 50″