ROSS MOFFETT (1881-1971)


For over half a century Ross Moffett lived and worked in Provincetown, painting its beaches and harbors, its fishing vessels and its people. Moffet was born in Clearfield, Iowa, into a farming family.  He attended the Art Institute of Chicago and upon graduating with honors in 1913, immediately set out for Provincetown to study with the well-known painter and teacher Charles Hawthorne.  He soon became one of Hawthorne's star pupils.  Although the First World War briefly interrupted the Provincetown experience, by 1919, Moffett was again back in his old haunts painting with enormous energy and gaining a reputation as a young "lion" of the art community. 


Moffett painted with intense personal focus composing canvases which inevitably reflected the character of his native American West and the life of the farmer, but transporting those values to the marine environment and the daily working life of the Provincetown fishermen and his family. These canvases and monoprints resonate with a sense of place.  "Nature's worse was man's common expectation, in both cases," writes Josephine Del Deo in her notes for a 1995 exhibition at the Provincetown Heritage Museum.  Perhaps the most nostalgic motif is the representation of the working horse as an integral element of this life.  His works are described as "compelling and enigmatic" and portraying a "mystic solemnity" by critic and biographer Del Deo, who writes


                             Moffett portrayed a world of bleak strength, fateful

          mood and stark poetry that paralleled the work of

another artist expressing a similar taut and dramatic

concept, the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch.


Moffett portrayed his subjects with great empathy. The men fish and plow, repair boats and nets; the women hang clothes, till the gardens, pick cranberries, wait for the boat's safe return.  These humble people accept the harsh circumstances of their life, bare it gracefully.  Moffett presents his figures not as individual, recognizable people, but as archetypes of the sturdy and reliable pioneer character. In his many renditions of boats in dry dock and his still lifes, with their infinite subtleties of color, form, and design, one recognizes Moffett's fine eye for the abstract.  Del Deo sites Untitled (Still Life After the Manner of Braque), 1929, as an example of Moffett's influential participation in the earliest development of abstract art in America.

The Intellectual Pawnshop, c. 1930, is meant to amuse by its title and, at the same time, reveal the influence of several early abstract painters whom Moffett admired -- Marcoussis, Severini and Gleizes.  "In every way, Del Deo tells us, this canvas enlightens our perception of Ross Moffett's challenge to himself."


1919, Moffett met Dorothy Lake Gregory, also a student of Hawthorne's and a spirited painter in her own right.  They were married in 1920. 


The contours of Ross Moffett's career over the next twenty years followed a curve of unique expression and increasing acclaim, especially in regard to the representation of the figure in the landscape.  His paintings, singled out for their great individuality and for their incorporation of a modernist approach, were exhibited in almost every major art institution in the country between 1920 and 1940.  In 1930, as recognition of his place as one of the foremost modernists in America, Moffett was chosen to serve on the jury of the Carnegie International with Henri Matisse and others.


Moffett's work is included in the collections of more than 20 museums; among them, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Academy of Design, and the Musee Galliera in Paris.


Josephine Del Deo is the author of Figures in a Landscape, 1994, a biography of Ross Moffett.


©2007 Rena Lindstrom All Rights Reserved