This luminous seascape by Willard Metcalf depicts the harbor of picturesque and storied Gloucester, Massachusetts, a popular destination for many American artists throughout the nineteenth century. Metcalf’s generally light palette and broken, but controlled brush marks reveal his study of French Impressionism, which was enhanced by visits to Giverny, France, home of Claude Monet. Adapting Impressionist techniques, the artist rendered shapes through his composition rather flatly, resembling interlocking puzzle pieces. Gloucester Harbor received a prominent award in 1896. Metcalf’s achievement was one of numerous signs late in the century that audiences had grown to prefer scenes of pleasing, familiar environs over grandiose landscape paintings, such as those produced by the members of the Hudson River School.
Later, as one of “The Ten,” a group of American artists who seceded from the Society of American Artists in 1897, Willard Metcalf would famously reject the academic style of painting, preferring to work from observation to capture the temporality of landscape. As the emphasis on light and expressive brush marks in this view of Gloucester Harbor—which received the Webb Prize at the Society’s 1895 exhibition—already suggest, Metcalf studied works by the French Impressionists, and was deeply influenced by his visits to Giverny, France. Yet Metcalf never sought to stray into the abstraction of color and form of his contemporary Monet. Metcalf described the pursuit of painting as “something that will make … wandering souls stop and look … think of beautiful things, and so perhaps [enjoy] happiness.”
Sierra Cobb, Class of 2008
In this 1895 depiction of Gloucester, Massachusetts, the American Impressionist painter Willard Metcalf crafted an idyllic view of what was then the largest fishing port in the world. This celebrated painting came to Amherst as a gift from George D. Pratt, Class of 1893. A son of Standard Oil magnate Charles Pratt, George D. Pratt became president of the Long Island Rail Road and a trustee of Amherst College; his generous gifts of more than 150 paintings, sculptures, textiles, and prints from many cultures helped to lay the foundations of the Mead’s wide-ranging collection.
EEB, 2008: 1821 Society brochure