The American landscape, was the artist’s biggest and most reliable muse.
The Terra Foundation in one of its American landscape exhibits documented that “attitudes toward nature and the environment as manifested in paintings, pastels, and prints made between 1790 and the mid-1960s” radically evolved. “During this period, Americans’ views on nature changed significantly. Where colonial settlers saw seemingly endless nature and limitless bounty, nineteenth-century Americans explored outlying territories and expanded ways to harness and capitalize on nature’s abundance. Along with rapid industrialization and increased urbanization, the twentieth century also witnessed the birth of modern-day preservation and conservation movements and organizations. Over the course of the nation’s history, America’s embrace of its “manifest destiny” has been gradually displaced by a growing sense of its “manifest responsibility” to protect ecologically.”
Evidence of these changing attitudes in rendering landscapes is seen in the artworks of the Providence School. Look at five generations of Providence School artists and how they painted landscapes;
- Lewin 1836 -1877
- Swan 1853 – 1927
- Douglas 1860 – 1949
- Smith 1879 – 1965
- Cirino 1888 – 1983
1. James Morgan Lewin (1836 – 1877), Landscape, Oil on Canvas 16” x 24”
$3,500. SOLD $2,800.
2. Emma Swan (1853 – 1927), Landscape, Oil on Canvas 9″ x 9″,
$2,000. SOLD $1,800.
3. Arthur Douglas (1860 – 1949), Smithfield, RI, Oil on Canvas Board 12” x 14” $600.
4. Hope Smith (1879 – 1965), Birch in Landscape, unsigned front, Pencil signed on stretcher, Oil on Canvas 26” x 24”,
$1,200. SALE $950.
5. Antonio Cirino (1888 – 1983), Vermont, Oil on Board 10” x 12”,
$1,500. SALE $1,200.
1. James Morgan Lewin 1836 – 1877
James Morgan Lewin was born in Swansea, MA in 1836. He began his career as an apprentice at the Gorham Company in Providence, RI, learning engraving. At the close of his apprenticeship, he learned to paint photographs and was engaged by Manchester & Chapin, prominent photographers of their time. Lewin later turned his talents to landscape painting.
In 1858 he taught in Providence, RI, at the Charles Field Street Family and Day School. For the next two years, 1859 and 1860, he exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum. The Crayon for October 1859 noted that “Jas. M. Lewin, a landscape painter of great popularity here, is spending the summer at Conway, NH, taking sketches of the White Mountains.” He was a member of the Providence Art Club. In 1864, Lewin had a studio in Boston, MA. He exhibited at the Boston Art Club during the period 1875 to 1877.
In 1860, Benjamin Champney purchased one of Lewin’s paintings on exhibit at the Boston Athenaeum. In Champney’s book, Sixty Years’ Memories of Art and Artists, he writes:
“One day, many summers ago, there alighted at my cottage door in North Conway, from the Centre Harbor stage-coach, a young man of bright intelligent face, who told me that his name was James M. Lewin and that he had come from Providence to study the scenery of the Saco valley in the vicinity of my home. I took him to my studio and showed him some of the points of view I had painted. He seemed pleased and next day started out to find something for himself, but returned saying he could find nothing to paint. He wished I would allow him to paint near me. I agreed. He selected a subject by my side. He made a muddy mess of it. I gave him a few hints and the next day he made a charming little sketch of it. I was amazed and thought he had been shamming. But no, his eyes had only been opened to see as if by magic what was beautiful about him. Then we sketched all the summer and he produced many charming dainty bits.
Other summers he came to work and was constantly improving. I found he had great imaginative faculties and delicate, deft execution. He went to Boston, took a studio and painted landscape and still life with rare skill and ease. His pictures were highly esteemed but unfortunately death shortly ended his brilliant career.” Lewin died and was buried in Milton, MA in 1877.
From White Mountain Art and Artists website
2. Emma Swan 1853 – 1927
- Early Providence Art Club Member, 1880
- Exhibited in first Providence Art Club exhibitions, May and December 1880
- Exhibited at Tilden Thurber Galleries Providence
Emma Swan was a very popular painter among art patrons in Providence. From 1880 – 1927, Swan maintained an active artist studio first in the Wood’s Building, then onto the Hoppin Homestead, 357 Westminster Street, 468 Public Street, and finally, 385 Westminster Street. Given her numerous commissions and extensive productivity, her studio was always buzzing with activity over her nearly 50 year professional career. Out of her atelier Swan hosted studio shows, taught pupils, painted commissions and prepared her portfolio for gallery exhibitions.
Many a collector and art enthusiast purchased works directly from Swan’s studio shows, thus gaining entry into one of the most charming workrooms in the city. Her well-photographed enclave is re-created in the “Making Her Mark” Archives exhibit at the Dodge House Gallery.
Swan’s art education primarily derived from her father, a die sinker who engraved dies used to stamp designs on coins or medals. He taught her drafting skills that she further developed by practice and self-tutelage. It was in 1889, at the age of 36, that she was able to study under the talented and eccentric artist Abbott Handerson Thayer in Dublin, New Hampshire. Thayer taught both portraiture and nature studies and attracted many dedicated students like Swan who returned several summers for instruction. In 1895 Swan had the opportunity to travel abroad and refine her art skills, sketching and studying works of the great masters in Germany and Holland.
Swan was a prolific and hard working painter who developed a considerable audience. She was a regular exhibitor at the Providence Art Club, exhibited at the Tilden Thurber gallery, held an annual studio exhibition and was a sought after art instructor. As an exhibiting artist, her paintings were a favorite topic for Providence Journal writers, garnering numerous positive critical reviews.
In a spring Providence Art Club exhibition in 1889, where over 1,400 visitors were recorded and 400 catalogues sold, the Providence Journal was quick to mention the sale of one of her paintings.
In March 1900, the Providence Journal critic extolled, “Miss E.L. Swan’s ‘Roses’ forms another brilliant note on the east wall. They are strongly painted and the canvas is one of the best examples of her work in this line which has yet been shown.”
Due to the demand for her art, over time she exhibited fewer paintings at the Providence Art Club. It was noted, “Her time was so taken up with commissions that she found it often difficult to arrange for exhibitions.”
At the time of her death Swan was very well known and respected by artists and patrons alike. The Providence Journal obituary honored her with the moniker “Dean of Rhode Island Women Artists.” A memorial exhibition was held at the Tilden and Thurber galleries. Her early membership in the Providence Art Club began a life long association that offered opportunities for women artists.
3. Arthur Douglas (1860 – 1949)
Born in 1860, Arthur S. Douglas attended the first term of the Rhode Island School of Design as daytime student #68 and graduated as a part of the second graduate class. Ever the professional artist, Douglas worked as an instructor and exhibited with the Providence Art Club while he was a student. One of the earliest acclaims came at age twenty-one. George Whitaker noted that “Arthur Douglas, of the R.I.S.D., showed meritorious work” in the December 3, 1881 issue of the Providence Journal.
In 1882, Douglas pursued his work in Europe for some time as the companion of a wealthy man. His travel to Yorkshire in the United Kingdom is evident in a series of watercolors that sold in 1991 at the Christie’s Fine Art Auction and at two auctions held by Sloan and Company Fine Art. These pieces depict coastal scenes along the North Sea Coast at Whitby and Scarborough, Yorkshire.
Douglas returned to living in Rhode Island after his trip. He continued to paint and created a remarkable series of ten etchings for publication. This book, published in 1890 and entitled Woodward Rambles, Ten Etchings of Nooks and Corners in Some Old Rhode Island Farms, is perhaps the best example of Douglas’s refined drafting skills. Although Douglas concentrated on mainly watercolors and some oil painting, it is evident through his book that he possessed the technical skill of an accomplished professional artist. This book is now held in the collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society and at the Brown University John Hay library.
In 1918 Arthur Douglas was selected to exhibit in the Society of Independent Artists, of which the well-respected New York artist John Sloan was president. The Society of Independent Artists was founded in 1916 and was based on the French Société des Artistes Indépendants. The goal of the society was to hold annual exhibitions by avant-garde artists. Selection into the society exhibition indicates Douglas’s ambition to seek a wider audience for his painting beyond the borders of Rhode Island.
Douglas stayed in Rhode Island, painting and teaching in the Providence area until the end of his life. Like other artists of his time, Douglas enjoyed working outside and painting the landscapes that surrounded him, generally using a pastel palette and broad, loose brushstrokes. In his later years, people commissioned Douglas to paint portraits. Even after being diagnosed with cancer of the mouth and throat, Douglas continued to paint and teach about the techniques of blending colors while staying in a nursing home in Providence. Arthur Douglas died in 1945 at the age of 89.
Well after his death, Arthur Douglas’s artwork have been displayed in various exhibits with the Providence Watercolor Club, the Watercolor Society of Rhode Island, and at Bert Gallery.
4. Hope Smith 1879 – 1965
Tucked away painting from the window of her North Main Street Studio, Hope Smith would not realize that her posterity as a Rhode Island artist would be made on her painted records of a fast disappearing and developing Providence. She cherished painting urban and rural scenes and this affection and integrity shines through all of the pieces of this subject matter. It is for these pieces that she is best remembered.
Hope Smith was one of the first graduates of the Mary C. Wheeler School in 1898. She then studied at Rhode Island School of Design, at the Julian School in Paris and under Woodbury Chase. It was in a 1916 Providence Art Club Show that her artistic talent was confirmed as she won praise from the Providence Journal art critic. He commented ” This group [of paintings] is far ahead of anything this young artist has yet shown, and entitles her to serious consideration.” He went on to say that, “This show was one of the most interesting and compelling exhibitions.”
The artist was a consistently strong painter who during her lifetime progressed logically in her artistic development. She has been identified by the art critic, Bradford Swan, as ” a spiritual heir of the Impressionists” who concentrated in her work on outdoor light. She had a strongly developed esthetic sense and her works were representative or realistic only on a superficial level. More specifically her painting reflected an internal vision, a private view of what she saw. While oil was the medium she primarily concentrated on, she exclusively worked in watercolors for two years, 1928-1930, in order that she could gain a freshness and surity in handling oils. It is in oils that her technical dexterity and ability to depict subtle shadings of light and color were admired.
An avid traveler, Hope Smith painted from Providence to China and in and around New England. During her lifetime she exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy, Boston Art Club, Providence Art Club, South County Art Association and the Newport Art Association. She was a member of the Providence Art Club and the South County Art Association.
5. Antonio Cirino 1888 – 1983
“When painting with a lion’s heart and in deep fervor, I wandered through the labyrinths of life, the country side, yea the wood interiors, mountain passes and the shores of the rivers and ocean and running streams conjuring up new worlds of beauty, ideas without ancestors, fact and fancies that stirred complacency and composure all this while in a world of facts or hard realities…” Cirino Journal 1981
Antonio Cirino was born in Italy in 1888, immigrated to Providence at age two and was raised among the bustle of Atwells Ave, the center of business and culture for Providence’s Italian population in the early 20th century. A colorful and confident personality, he amused many and enraged others in his lifetime. In 2008 it is his iconic repertoire of paintings, be it the woods of Lincoln, Rhode Island, the little church spire in East Providence or the fisherman in their picturesque old wooden boats in Rockport, that solidify his legacy as a painter.
Cirino integrated readily into the Rhode Island community. In a 1980 article he noted,
”Nota Bene! Though I am a native of Serino, Italy, Province of Avellino, I bear the tradmark, ‘Made in the U.S.A.’, because of the influence that public education had on me, kneading me for the life to come.”
The artist attended Providence Technical School, graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 1909 and received a Bachelor’s of Science Degree from Columbia Teachers College in 1912. Then the young man went directly to the Rhode Island School of Design to teach jewelry design commencing a thirty-five year teaching career. He co-authored a significant textbook, Jewelry Making and Design with A.F. Rose. While the number of Italian Americans swelled in Providence from 18,014 in 1894 to 42,044 in 1920, Cirino selected an uncommon path compared to fellow immigrants from his generation. He distinguished himself with a college degree and teaching position in higher education.
Cirino, however, always had a driving passion for painting and in the 1920’s began to summer in Rockport where he became one of the founding members of the Rockport Art Association. Rockport became not only an important summer refuge for the artist but a location where he would produce his most important canvases.
Critical acclaim would follow along with acceptance into the Salmagundi Club in New York City in 1926 and the Providence Art Club.
His fluid painting technique showed a keen understanding of composition and skillful craftsmanship in manipulating oil pigments, especially in the fluttering and lively effects of light reflecting off water. A keen student of nature, Cirino painted outdoors for his entire artistic career. He was a kindred spirit to the Impressionists and focused on his personal interpretation of the subject. In 1949 the New York Times wrote of one of his paintings, Mooring Place “one of the more honest and sensitive examples of this genre.”
Throughout his life Cirino not only refined his painting craft but also understood that to insure his legacy he needed to actively promote his work and document his achievements. He did this by winning prizes in juried exhibitions, earning favorable critical reviews and placing his work in important collections. He dedicated much of his energy to achieving these goals and received over seventy- nine prizes for his paintings including the gold Medal of Honor by the Rockport Art Association and the Hope Show prize from the Butler Institute of Art in Youngstown, Ohio. His work is included in numerous collections such as the RISD Museum of Art, Dayton Art Institute and National Academy of Design. As if these accolades were not enough, he assembled his own account of his successful art career in three detailed volumes, giving great insight into his perceptions as a painter. In the opening pages of his third and final volume of 1981 he reflected,
This diminutive figure, with his imposing personality started off in the Federal Hill neighborhood teeming with vendors selling their goods in push carts and the sounds of live chickens and rabbits in wooden cages and went on to achieve great success in the world of art. Upon his death he left the majority of his paintings to the Salmagundi Club in New York City and the Rockport Art Association, two institutions he felt critical to his growth and success as an artist. In addition, he established the Antonio Cirino Memorial Fund at The Rhode Island Foundation to provide scholarships for those pursuing graduate degrees to teach art.
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