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Provincetown Masters: “Together Again”

Friday, June 27 – Sunday, July 13 • Reception Friday, June 27, 7 – 9 pm

In a rare opportunity to experience the energy and excitement of the artists working in Provincetown in the teens through forties, Berta Walker Gallery will exhibit the work of four modern masters: Oliver Chaffee, Marsden Hartley, Blanche Lazzell, and Hans Hofmann. Included will be rare prints by Marsden Hartley, newly-discovered oils on board by Blanche Lazzell, The Vence paintings of Oliver Chaffee, made after returning to France from Provincetown in 1921-23; and a small group of ink and crayon drawings plus one extraordinary landscape painting created by Hans Hofmann while teaching in Provincetown.

Interestingly, the careers of these four artists are closely connected. Oliver Chaffee and Marsden Hartley worked together in Provincetown in 1916 and later in Vence, France in the 1920s. In 1916, Blanche Lazzell came to Provincetown to study with Chaffee. Chaffee and Lazzell remained closely connected to the Provincetown art colony. In 1935, at age 60, Lazzell joined Hans Hofmann’s first class in Provincetown.

Berta Walker Gallery was instrumental in bringing Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) back to Provincetown three years ago in a major survey exhibition at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum in conjunction with its own exhibition of Hofmann paintings and drawings.

Since the re-emergence of Hofmann in Provincetown, just those few years ago, his paintings and works on paper have become increasingly in demand worldwide, and it has thus become difficult to obtain any work at all, particularly work done in Provincetown. Hofmann spent his summers as teacher and painter from 1935 until his death in 1966. Whether painting still lifes in his converted barn studio or painting en plein air in the surrounding dunes, Hofmann’s ecstatic gaze spontaneously encompassed everything around him. The small pen and ink and crayon drawings on paper reveal, as Frank Stella wrote, “the magnitude of his vision, his ability to fuse the action of painting and drawing into a single, immediate gesture, [which] carries colored pigment into the viewer’s presence with the force of a bomb.” Hofmann said, "I want always to live in color!"

Hofmann will be represented by India ink drawings, crayon drawings and one magnificent landscape painted in Provincetown in 1935. These small drawings, completed from 1935-42, are a monumental testament to the brilliance, vigor and sheer beauty of the work of this extraordinary man who was the primary force in the development of Abstract Expressionism and whose influence continues as a vital presence in the studios of Provincetown and around the world.

Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), who painted in Provincetown in 1916, will be represented by four lithographs made in 1940, and one exquisite drawing of a church & lobster pots. Since Hartley worked in the print medium for only a brief time, the few prints he created are only rarely available to be seen. Marsden Hartley is considered one of the most important artists from the early American modern period. He explored the full continuum of options then open to avant-garde painters. Although academically trained, he valued innovation over tradition and worked to develop an original artistic voice. He is equally as well known for his groundbreaking German abstract works as for his lyrical landscapes. This spring Hartley was the subject of a major retrospective presented by the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT.

Oliver Chaffee (1881-1944) will be represented in this exhibition by Provincetown watercolors and three paintings and a watercolor made while living in Vence, France.

In the 1920s, Vence had become an artists’ colony described by Chaffee as “ a faraway Provincetown suburb.” In the mid- to late-20s in France, Chaffee continued his exploration of structure and design. “His indebtedness to Cézanne is seen in a series of landscapes painted in and around Vence”, wrote Solveiga Rusch in his catalogue accompanying the Chaffee retrospective at the Taft Museum in Cincinnati. “Like Cézanne,” he continues, “Chaffee compressed space, tilted objects, and built his composition with carefully constructed planes.”
On his return to Provincetown in 1928, having worked here summers from 1914-1919, Chaffee found a renewed interest in color and a new emphasis on texture and pattern, probably inspired, as so many artists were then and continue to be now, by the extraordinary light of Provincetown, his mastery of draftsmanship and design, and his sense of humor, opened his work to a new luminosity and brilliance of color.

Blanche Lazzell (1878-1956) whose paintings and white line prints were the subject of a major retrospective at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts last spring, will be represented by a group of never-before exhibited oils on board, and three drawings made for woodblock prints. Since Lazzell is thought to be the earliest female abstract painter, her abstract works are an exciting find. The oils on paper in this exhibition were created in the early 40's and reflect her astonishing understanding and use of color. In a letter to her sister, Lazzell explained her theory of abstract painting and the relationship of form and color:

The abstract as we consider it in painting today, is an organization
of color, whether the color is expressed in planes, or in forms, or in
volume - isn't music the organization of sound?

In the summer of 1916, after her return from France after the war, Blanche Lazzell came to Provincetown and became a student of Chaffee's. In 1923, at age 45, Lazzell returned to Europe, and developed close associations with artists who were interested in Cubism and abstraction. Here, Lazzell became interested in compositions based on the "golden section", the ancient mathematical formula for calculating proportional perfection. Lazzell never abandoned her will to experiment, and at the near age of 60, in 1935, she joined the classes of Hans Hofmann in Provincetown. Lazzell lived in Provincetown until she returned to Morgantown, WV, where she died on June l, 1956 at 78.

©2007 Rena Lindstrom All Rights Reserved