Fairfield Porter (1907-1975) Yawl in the Channel 22 x 37in (55.9 x 94cm) (Painted in 1974-75.)

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Lot 9
Fairfield Porter
(1907-1975)
Yawl in the Channel 22 x 37in (55.9 x 94cm)

Sold for US$ 725,312 inc. premium

American Art

20 May 2021, 16:00 EDT

New York

1

PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF YVONNE DE CHAVIGNY SEGERSTROM
Fairfield Porter (1907-1975)
Yawl in the Channel
signed and dated 'Fairfield Porter 74-5' (lower center) and inscribed with title and dated and signed again (on the turnover edge)
oil on canvas
22 x 37in (55.9 x 94cm)
Painted in 1974-75.

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    The artist.
    Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, 1975.
    Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Kowalski, Hamden, Connecticut, acquired from the above, 1975.
    Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York, 1992.
    Acquired by the late owner from the above, 1992.

    Exhibited
    New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Fairfield Porter, 1907-1975, September 25-October 31, 1992.

    Literature
    J. Ludman, "Checklist of the Paintings by Fairfield Porter," Fairfield Porter: An American Classic, New York, 1992, p. 307.
    J. Ludman, Fairfield Porter: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings,
    Watercolors, and Pastels
    , New York, 2001, pp. 84, 311, no. L925, illustrated.

    Fairfield Porter's Yawl in the Channel is one of the artist's most accomplished landscapes with a spontaneous sensibility that authentically captures Porter's lived experience. In Yawl in the Channel, Porter brilliantly exhibits the feeling of his beloved island home in Maine that he channeled during the painting process. The artist's best works were arguably painted in the last decade of his life before his unexpected death, and the present work was executed during this period when he was working at the height of his artistic abilities with a discernible individual aesthetic that explored an interplay of abstraction and representation. Through his mastered painterly execution of color, light, and form applied to the canvas with great control of the medium, Porter conveys the vitality and essence of the Maine landscape. The painted surface offers a tactile expression of the composition, from the articulated impasto of the jagged rocks on the coast to the smooth brushstrokes suggesting motion in the brightly lit sea. Porter's Yawl in the Channel is a masterful celebration of the extraordinary beauty and naturalistic splendor of a coastal landscape almost devoid and untouched by human life, as much as it is of the placid respite the artist found in nature when viewing the synchronism of land, sea, and sky on a bright sunlit day.

    Fairfield Porter was born in 1907 into a large and affluent family in Winnetka, Illinois, a small suburb north of Chicago, Illinois known then as Hubbard Woods. His parents were both well-educated and cultured. His father, James Foster Porter (1871-1939) was a Harvard graduate who studied architecture and designed the Georgian-style home that Porter and his siblings lived in above the shores of Lake Michigan. His mother, Ruth Wadsworth (neé Furness) Porter (1875-1942) was educated in classic literature at Bryn Mawr and remained an avid reader and active in progressive political causes throughout her life. The family's great fortune that descended generations originated with Porter's paternal grandmother, Julia Foster Porter, who was born on a massive area of farmland that became the site of the Chicago Loop in downtown Chicago. Although Porter's father was a trained architect, he spent his time managing the family's real estate interests. In 1912, he acquired Great Spruce Head Island in Penobscot Bay, Maine and this was likely where Porter was first exposed to the Northeastern coastal landscape that would inspire his most lyrical works. The artist grew fond of the Island and repeatedly painted the views of its shores, small inlets, and the spruce-covered rocky knoll from which the Island takes its name. Porter would spend nearly every summer of his life in Maine on the Island, remarking "We go to Maine in the summer because I have since I was six. It is my home more than any other place, and I belong there. You don't choose these things, any more than you chose to be born in Holland, and then to have come to America and so on." (as quoted in a letter to Claire Nicholas White, April 13, 1972, published in T. Leigh, D. Lehman, J. Spring, Material Witness: The Selected Letters of Fairfield Porter, Ann Arbor, Michigan, p. 294)

    In 1924, Porter left home to attend Harvard, where he began to formally explore his interests in the fine arts and study philosophy. After graduating in 1928, he moved to New York in the autumn of that year and enrolled at the Art Students League to pursue his ambitions as a painter. He studied under Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) and Boardman Michael Robinson (1876-1952) and, though he was enthusiastic at the time to be studying with professional painters, he lamented later in life that there was too great an emphasis placed on life classes rather than actual instruction in painting. He eventually decided to journey on his own to Italy in 1931 to educate himself as a painter and travel throughout Europe. In September 1932, just several months after his return to the U.S., Porter married the poet Anne Elizabeth Channing (1911-2011) and the couple made their residence in Greenwich Village in downtown New York.

    The 1930s and 1940s propelled the Porters into becoming active participants in debate, political activity, and the art of those concerned with social problems. The Porters remained active voices in political and social issues for most of their lives. Arguably the most influential moment from this period for Porter artistically, however, was the opportunity to see an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1938 of paintings and prints by the turn-of-the-century Post-Impressionists Jean-Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940) and Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), whose vivid colors and painterly qualities would influence his later work. Porter reflected on this exhibition, "I looked at the Vuillards and thought, maybe it was just a sort of revelation of the obvious, and why does one think of doing anything else when it's so natural to do so?" (J. Spring, Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art, New Haven, Connecticut, 2000, p. 121) He also credited his friend Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) for enlightening him on the virtues of spontaneity and the power that light can have in a work. The two were part of the same circle of artists and writers who frequented the Cedar Bar in New York to drink and discuss ideas. In 1949, Porter moved his family to Southampton, New York and it was there that Porter began to produce his first distinguishable paintings. It wasn't until a few years later, around 1952-54 when Porter would return to the subject of landscapes in a profound way. Moving away from the cramped and boisterous environment of New York to the open and green spaces of Southampton had a salubrious effect on his work, unleashing the influences he had compiled through the years to depict and celebrate his familiar, immediate surroundings, such as in the views of the large yard of his Long Island home or of the woods and shores of Great Spruce Head Island.

    Porter's inspiration for Yawl in the Channel likely stems from his views on Great Spruce Head Island around the Porter family home or the "big house" as the family called it and was probably painted from his studio in the family home on what one can imagine was a bright, sunny day during his summer painting season of 1974. This would be the last of his painting seasons on the Island when he completed an exceptional body of work including his celebrated The Dock (1974-75, Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine). The subject of Yawl in the Channel is a remarkable representation of the very essence of Porter and his artistic interests. The landscape of Maine inspired some of the greatest American artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Winslow Homer (1836-1910), Rockwell Kent (1882-1971), Edward Hopper (1882-1967), and Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) who would paint Maine numerous times and captures its shores beautifully in Jotham's Island (now Fox), Off Indian Point, Georgetown. (1937, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts) Arguably, however, no other artist would capture the beauty of Maine as Porter did, nor understand its incomparable power as a subject. The shores of Great Spruce Head Island and the coastal landscape of Maine were so familiar to Porter that other artists might have denied it to be a unique subject, but to Porter it is for this very reason that he deemed it worthy to transcribe on canvas.

    In the present work, painted with dynamic brushstrokes and a vivid color palette, Porter depicts the rocky outcropping of the Island's shore, the slow-moving waters, the forest-covered island across the channel, and a yawl coasting in the distance. Porter painted each element central to the scene, such as the blue waters and the greens of the trees on the island across the channel, in a manner that resembles the technique of the color field painters to apply large plains of pure abstracted color with soft tonal shifts to describe and evoke emotion in the scene. By contrast, Porter executes the rocky shoreline in the foreground in a distinct representational manner. The yawl is the only sign of human life in the scene and serves as an almost purely white focal point in the center of the layered landscape that draws the eye forward. Furthermore, he has chosen a vantage point that immerses the viewer into the scene as if observing the landscape from the shore and allowing his audience to connect with the beauty and tranquility of the landscape on a more personal level.

    In Yawl in the Channel, Porter beautifully exhibits the culmination of his range and intentions as a mature painter. Characteristic of his works of the late-1960s and 1970s, such as Penobscot Bay with Peak Island (1966, The Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York) and View Toward Little Spruce Head (1973, Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, South Carolina), he employs flat, crisp colors with broad, sweeping brushstrokes that form the shore, ocean, trees, and sky. In the present work, Porter demonstrates his mastering of a technique that requires each brushstroke to be applied in such a way that gives each the appearance of being equal in mass. One of the most compelling aspects of the scene is the intense, permeating light. Porter concentrated heavily on light and shadow in his works and often challenged himself to view the light surrounding a subject as if it were his first time seeing it. The varying degrees of light reflected off the water and the soft rolling waves combined with the wide, open expanses of shore and harbor produces an inviting quality that is rivaled in very few of his other late works on the subject. It is the quality of the light together with the luminosity of his colors that Porter infuses into the present work that demonstrates his mastered abilities as a painter and places Yawl in the Channel among the very best works in his oeuvre.

    Porter was well-established as an art critic, writer, and artist when the present work was painted and was finally receiving recognition for the unaffected, spontaneous qualities of his paintings. Yawl in the Channel made its debut at Hirschl & Adler Galleries shortly after its completion. Porter joined Hirschl & Adler in 1972 with his first show opening in April of that year. He wrote to friend and fellow painter Arthur Giardelli (1911-2009), "I like my new dealers, Hirschl & Adler, who treat me very well and don't try to tell me how to behave or what to do, are a sound enterprise." (as quoted in J. Spring, Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art, New Haven, Connecticut, 2000, p. 312) Porter enjoyed paramount success at the gallery, almost selling out every show, and he received fresh and encouraging praise from contemporaries and critics alike. The present work was acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Kowalski of Hamden, Connecticut from Hirschl & Adler in 1975, a little over a month after Porter's unexpected passing. The work remained in the Kowalskis' collection for several decades before making its way back to Hirschl & Adler in 1992. Yawl in the Channel was then quickly acquired by Yvonne de Chavigny Segerstrom, the famed artist, arts philanthropist, retail pioneer, and member of one of America's greatest entrepreneurial families.

    Yawl in the Channel is a boldly painted work that conveys a strong sense of place and beautifully demonstrates Porter's maturity of handling a representational landscape subject through his hallmark lens of abstraction. His techniques resulted in works that were as individual as the moments in his life that he sought to portray and reflected his belief that an artist should be open to experience while creating art. The art historian William C. Agee wrote of Porter's approach and method that he "Sought an unforced naturalness. The idea was to render the canvas fluently and of a piece, by means of an abstract, interlocking surface; in this way, the sum of his painterly decisions determined the composition. Here was how Porter discovered the life and vitality inherent in what he saw, capturing his essential experience of the world around him." (Fairfield Porter: An American Painter, exhibition catalogue, Southampton, New York, 1993, p. 11) Porter's ability to genuinely transcribe his subjects with an unforced naturalness culminates in Yawl in the Channel like in few other of his works and the relationships between interlocking elements of the scene through palpable areas of paint and light remain captivating and fresh.
Contacts
Fairfield Porter (1907-1975) Yawl in the Channel 22 x 37in (55.9 x 94cm) (Painted in 1974-75.)
Fairfield Porter (1907-1975) Yawl in the Channel 22 x 37in (55.9 x 94cm) (Painted in 1974-75.)
Fairfield Porter (1907-1975) Yawl in the Channel 22 x 37in (55.9 x 94cm) (Painted in 1974-75.)
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