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
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
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.