Friday, February 24, 2012

ism of the Week - week 2

Each week during our current exhibition, ...isms: Unlocking Art's Mysteries, we will post deeper insight into one of the paintings on view. Past the credit line, past the exhibition label, Assistant Curator Amanda Burdan shares her thoughts:

In the first week of our Winter Studies class we talked about the peculiar case of “Luminism,” an “ism” that was invented a century after the Luminist painters worked. One of the paintings in the Luminist section of the current exhibition is John F. Kensett’s Fort Dumpling, although this particular work, like many others in the exhibition, might have been comfortably situated in other sections of the exhibition. Kensett is typically known as a Hudson River School painter, creating landscapes that romanticized American scenery. Hudson River School artists were highly skilled technicians who rendered their paintings with a high degree of finish and detail. Other Hudson River School paintings appear in the “Romanticism” section of the exhibition.

The Luminist painters were noted for their somewhat “quieter” scenes that lacked the drama and bravado of the Hudson River School works. Luminists also painted with virtuoso brushwork and crystalline details, but their compositions frequently felt simplified, or even empty. Fort Dumpling gives us a vast expanse of sky and sea along with the silhouette of the hilltop fort. Although the nominal subject is the fort, the glowing sunset helps us understand how the Luminist movement acquired its name.

Kensett’s Fort Dumpling would have been equally at home in the “Historicism” section of the exhibition. The fort itself is an interesting landmark that stands at the entrance to Narragansett Bay in Jamestown, Rhode Island. A strategic location for control of the Bay, the fort was occupied by American, French, and British troops during the American Revolution. By the time Kensett painted it, nearly a hundred years after the British evacuated Newport, the site was a romantic reminder of the bygone Revolutionary era.

John Frederick Kensett (1818–1872)

Fort Dumpling, ca. 1871

Oil on canvas
Florence Griswold Museum

Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company

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