Scott R. Ferris et Ellen Pearce

Rockwell Kent's forgotten landscape : an artist's gifts to the former soviet Union

Down East books

Camden (Maine), 1998

bibliothèque insulaire

   
peintres des îles

parutions 1998

Rockwell Kent's forgotten landscapes / Scott R. Ferris and Ellen Pearce ; foreword by Shahen Khachaturian ; photographs by Susan Muniak. - Cmaden (Maine) : Down East books, 1998. - 96 p. : ill. ; 25x29 cm.
ISBN 0892724404

THE BANGOR DAILY NEWS, July 31, 1998 : Rockwell Kent's Forgotten Landscapes, a coffee-table book released last month by Down East Books in Camden, is a major accomplishment. Although the book came out in July, its story begins more than 40 years ago at the height of McCarthyism and the threat of un-American activities. Kent was, indeed, one of the great « un-American » artists who appeared before Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1953 on the charge of Communism and was consequently shunned by American museums and art dealers.

In the late 1950s, a collection of his works had been enthusiastically received in the Soviet Union. So, when it came time to bequeath « The Great Kent Collection » — as he called it — Kent favored the Soviets. He admired their policy on state-supported arts and felt that the 86 paintings and hundreds of drawings in the collection would be better placed in such an atmosphere. Furthermore, his insistent political goal for art would be met : In the hands of the Soviets, the largest number of people would benefit from the collection.

Plus — and this is key to understanding Kent's tempestuous moves — he felt underappreciated by his own country, and giving his work to the Reds was the ultimate celebration of and insult to his American rights.

What Kent couldn't have anticipated was perestroika, which dispersed the collection among the new states of Eastern Europe, including museums in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, Odessa and Dilijan (Armenia). Forgotten Landscapes reunites the works in that collection and reproduces them in 50 color and 30 black-and-white plates.

Scott Ferris is a Kent scholar, and Ellen Pearce is Kent's granddaughter. To have accomplished this feat, they are also detectives of a sort. Their essays bring into focus both Kent's place in art history and the rambling life he led. Ferris draws attention to Kent's life as an artist in Maine, the Adirondacks, Newfoundland, Alaska, Tierra del Fuego, France, Ireland and Greenland. Pearce gives a dense political history interspersed with details from Kent's personal life. There is always a sense that both Ferris and Pearce are passionately championing Kent, as if his own personal desire and battle for praise has been taken up by this present-day duo. In truth, no one is likely to argue that Rockwell Kent is an esteemed American artist, controversial though he was for his politics, philandering and impulsive behavior. But many might bristle at the notion that Kent is as remarkable as Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper or Robert Henri. Notably, Kent was Henri's student and came to Maine on his teacher's advice. Henri supposedly said: « You know, Kent, there's a place in Maine where I think you'd like to paint. It's a small island quite a way out at sea : Monhegan Island ». So, it comes as no small surprise when Pearce quotes her grandfather as saying: « It was I — a Maine resident winter and summer for many, many years — who established Monhegan as an important art community ».

Yet after reading about Kent's life, about his resistance to family and marital responsibilities, about his petty arguments and an overindulgence of ego, one comes to expect such inaccuracies out of the man. All in the name of art, naturally.
You should come away appreciating the art of Kent and the hard work of both the editors for this momentous book. But don't feel obliged after reading this heady and sometimes maddening info to come away with a clear-cut feeling about the man himself.
COMPLÉMENT BIBLIOGRAPHIQUE
  • Herman Melville, « Moby Dick » ill. by Rockwell Kent, New York : The Modern library, 2000

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