J.M.W. Turner’s Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight.
Remington: Illustrator, Sculptor, Painter
Hyde Collection, through Aug. 24
The Late Seascapes
and Francine Clark Art Institute, through Sept. 7
Summer is a time of blockbusters. Museums around the world
are unashamed to ply tourists with big-name exhibitions aimed
at rattling the turnstiles, and our region is no exception.
Two billboards facing opposite directions along I-90 represent
this year’s entries: a review of the career of Frederic Remington
at the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls and a major show of
seascapes by J.M.W. Turner at the Sterling and Francine Clark
Art Institute in Williamstown.
The former, titled Frederic Remington: Illustrator, Sculptor,
Painter, was organized by the Frederic Remington Art Museum
in Ogdensburg and guest curated by independent consultant
Kevan Moss. The Hyde will be the show’s only venue.
Frederic Remington was born in upstate New York in 1861, and
by the time he came of age, the Wild West imagery that typifies
his work was already nostalgic. In effect, he made a career
out of extending the myths associated with the cowboys, Indians,
soldiers and scouts he depicted, much as Hollywood movies
did a generation or two later.
And, like John Huston and other great directors, he did it
exceedingly well. This exhibition does a good job of documenting
the early and middle era of Remington’s career as an illustrator
for mass-media publications and as a sculptor of action-oriented
collector bronzes, both of which dealt exclusively with the
Wild West theme.
But the show does not stop there. Remington eventually outgrew
his boyish fascination with manly activities and began to
reinvent himself as an artist in the more romantic mode: a
painter of light and color, primarily as seen in landscapes.
Unfortunately, an infection contracted after surgery for appendicitis
cut Remington down at the age of 47, just as he was starting
to really get somewhere. His late works, from about 1900 to
his death in 1909, showed the kind of promise that gives this
exhibition a raison d’etre and supports the idea that
he was much more than a skilled maker of myths and money.
Relying heavily on the holdings of the Remington Art Museum
plus a few loans from private collections, the show has excellent
examples of Remington’s early work, when he produced drawings
and paintings exclusively in black-and-white for the purpose
of reproduction. This technique, known as grisaille, is exquisitely
represented in the 1891 My Second Shot Sent Him Lining
Out After His Brother and Captain Grimes’s Battery
Going Up El Poso Hill from 1898.
Both paintings are large and impressive, full of dramatically
frozen figures and perfectly rendered horses. But they lack
feeling—not due to the absence of color but to the fact that
they are intended to tell stories, to entertain and inform,
rather than to express something beyond the surface.
In the latest paintings, such as the 1908 Pete’s Shanty,
Remington has added color (having had to teach it to himself
from scratch) but, more important, he has added his own feelings
about the place, his passion for its serenity and the dappled
sunlight that envelops it, his desire to capture the mood.
Based on this 12-inch-by-16-inch canvas alone, one could assert
that Remington was a great American impressionist.
The last painting in the show is a mystery; it was found in
Remington’s studio after his death, probably unfinished, very
possibly abandoned, and it now bears a signature that some
believe was forged. Untitled, but generally referred to as
The Cigarette (based on a reference in a letter), this
canvas fits into a group of later Remington works called the
Nocturnes, in which he depicted some of the same subject matter
as in his best-known work, but in a different light (both
literally and figuratively). As it happens, another major
exhibition of Remington paintings, titled The Color of
Night, is now on view in Tulsa, having just been transported
there from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and
it comprises the Nocturne paintings—except The Cigarette.
While the Hyde show is clearly proud to boast inclusion of
The Cigarette, it is probably not the best example
to prove the show’s thesis, and it leaves one feeling a little
flat in the end. The show’s strength is in the illustrations
(from an academic viewpoint), the five bronzes (all excellent
examples of this important phase of Remington’s career) and
in the little late landscapes that were almost certainly dearest
to his heart.
Turning to the Clark, but continuing with Remington, it is
worth noting that an 1890 example of his Wild West painting
better than any in the Hyde show is part of the permanent
collection there and currently on view. Titled Dismounted:
The Fourth Trooper Moving the Led Horses, it shows how
quickly and well Remington mastered color while staying within
the genre of his earlier (as well as contemporary) grisaille
work. Also part of the Clark’s collection, but on loan to
the Color of Night exhibition, is an even more impressive
Remington painting from 1900 to 1905 titled Indian Scout.
Just remembering it from previous visits, I can say with confidence
that it is as great as The Cigarette is not.
And speaking of greatness, there’s Turner: The Late Seascapes.
Not only was J.M.W. Turner quite arguably “Britain’s greatest
landscape painter of the 19th century” (as per the exhibition
wall text), he was one of the most important painters—of any
subject, of any place—of all time. Aside from a brilliant
level of mastery over his medium, augmented by constant technical
experimentation, Turner deserves credit for inspiring the
impressionists to reinvent painting, and himself invented
abstraction more than a century before it was to become the
The exhibition at the Clark features numerous masterpieces
from such places as the Tate Britain in London and the Yale
Center for British Art in New Haven, as well as many watercolor
sketches, some of them from private collections and not likely
to be seen in public again soon. It is built around the Clark’s
own Rockets and Blue Lights (Close at Hand) to Warn Steamboats
of Shoal Water, a tour de force of luminescence that has
been extensively restored and looks wonderful for it.
Covering the period from the mid-1820s to Turner’s death in
1851, curator James Hamilton has organized the show into sections
as much by theme as by chronology, and it is beautifully installed,
with sufficient but nonintrusive wall text and labeling, and
a supplementary short video detailing the restoration of Rockets
and Blue Lights. This fall the show will travel to Manchester,
England, and then on to Glasgow, Scotland, in 2004.
Highlights of the exhibition are many. Some of the watercolors
are so fresh as to appear to have been made just yesterday—they
are a revelation in contrast to the heavily worked and occasionally
huge oils on canvas. One, a study of a carp, has the ease
of brushwork characteristic of Asian art. Another, painted
on Turner’s final trip to Venice in 1840, is aptly described
as being “as atmospheric as it is topographically accurate.”
Another Venice painting, this a large canvas from 1834, hangs
with its paired opposite, a moonlit view of keelmen loading
coal into sailing vessels in an unnamed British harbor. Both
glow with the light that would eventually permeate, then dominate,
Turner’s later work.
And that’s where you find the core of the show. The period
1840 to 1845 was crucial to Turner’s development, and it is
generously represented here. Among the best works shown is
a near-complete abstraction titled Sunrise With Sea Monsters,
in which acid yellow and pale green combine with white and
bits of red to simply dazzle the viewer. As do so many other
To quote from a guest book at the Clark, “The Turners were
well worth the trip from Luxemburg.” Whatever else you do
this summer, don’t miss them.
Hourlong gallery talks on Turner: The Late Seascapes are
offered daily at 11 AM and 3 PM at the Clark.