Coastal Impressions: Painters Of The Jersey Shore, 1880–1940

A harbor scene of “Toms River” is an oil and canvas, circa 1910, by Island Heights artist Frederick R. Wagner. Courtesy of Mr and Mrs Peter Bryant Kier.

PRINCETON, N.J. — The newly unveiled exhibit “Coastal Impressions: Painters of the Jersey Shore, 1880–1940” presents an entirely different aspect of the New Jersey Shore than that of the popular perception. This is a revelation of the quiet coves and harbors along the coast, portrayed by dozens and dozens of little-known but eminently talented artists. Works in the exhibition delineate the play of light and water practiced by the Regional Impressionists who captured the once-serene beaches and bays of the Jersey Shore on canvas.

On view at the Morven Museum & Garden, “Coastal Impressions” illuminates the prolific artist colonies of the Jersey Shore in the late Nineteenth Century and first part of the Twentieth Century. As such, it demonstrates six degrees of separation: the network of connections among the men and women drawn to work along coastal New Jersey. Most were related by training, travel or simple geography. Like the artists of many coastal artist colonies in the United States at the time, these men and women were drawn to the interplay of light and water, often capturing the scenes while working in the open air.

In most cases, more than one work by each artist is on view, allowing a hint of the evolution of the artist’s style. Most of the pictures on view are from the collection of Lambertville, N.J., dealer Roy Pedersen, author of the forthcoming Jersey Shore Impressionists: The Fascination of Sun and Sea 1880–1940.

Although some artists had painted along the Jersey Shore throughout the Nineteenth Century — John Frederick Kensett made “Shrewsbury River” in 1859, and Winslow Homer painted “Long Branch” in 1869 — area artist colonies appeared in the region a little later. What is unusual about the painters of the New Jersey Shore is the number of women artists there.

Many of the artists who began arriving in the Manasquan River area around 1880 had returned recently from study in France, Italy and Germany, where they had studied with the masters and came away influenced by en plein air painting. Several spent summers at Barbizon. Most are relatively unknown outside New Jersey and gifted with a distinctive aesthetic and impressive range and versatility. The exhibition should bring recognition to the New Jersey Impressionists.

Among the earliest arrivals was Will Hicok Low, who, after study in France with Gérôme and Carolus-Duran, returned the United States and spent summers at Brielle and Point Pleasant Beach, both on the Manasquan River. A commission to illustrate “Lamia” by John Keats led him to rent a cottage at Manasquan in order to work on the project. Low seems to have been a social mainstay of the area. It was his friendship in France with Robert Louis Stevenson that led the author to spend time in Manasquan. Another of his friends was Wyatt Eaton, whom he met in France and who also spent time in Manasquan visiting Carrie Sanborn. Eaton studied with Whistler, Gérôme and Millet.

Although the Manasquan River area was well populated with artists, painters worked along much of the New Jersey coast.

As a child, Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins began visiting Tindall’s Landing in Fairton on Cohansey Creek where his father co-owned a boathouse. He and his father swam and fished; later, Eakins also sailed and hunted. Eakins depicted himself and his parent in the circa 1874 “The Artist and His Father Hunting Reed-Birds on the Cohansey Marsh,” which is on view. Later in life, Eakins spent time at Manasquan and Point Pleasant.

Eakins was a central figure among the artists of the Jersey Shore. He was an important, if controversial, instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and later at the Art Students League in Philadelphia and New York, the Art Students Guild in Washington, the National Academy of Design, Cooper Union and Drexel University.

It was Eakins who in 1880 began using the camera in the studio to explore precision of movement; other artists followed.

Thomas Pollock Anshutz established himself in Holly Beach (now Wildwood) after studying and teaching with Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and then in Paris, where he absorbed the teachings and techniques of the Impressionists. His paintings and watercolors of Holly Beach made in the 1890s evoke the calm coves and flat landscape of the coast.

Another of Eakins’ former students was Edward Boulton, one of the founding members of the Art Students League of Philadelphia, who also served as president of the organization in which Eakins was the sole instructor. Living and working around the Manasquan River, with Eakins as his neighbor, he painted Impressionist views of coastal life and pursuits for 34 years. His “Bay Head Pound Fishery” visually draws the viewer into the canvas, making the climb up over the dune to the sea. Boulton’s 1894 “View of the Manasquan” and his circa 1910 “On the Manasquan” illustrate the evolution of his style. The earlier example is Barbizon-like in its quality, while the later view exhibits a bolder and freer style.

Caroline Coventry Haynes summered with her family at Highlands, studied at the Art Students League of New York and in France with William Bouguereau and Alfred Stevens. She traveled from New Jersey to other artist colonies along the coast, including Cos Cob and Appledore Island. Two of her works on view, her 1892 oil on canvas “Appledore, Isles of Shoals” and the 1896 “Grey Day at Sandy Hook, N.J.,” are coastal views of stormy seas and skies.

Albert Grantley Reinhart’s circa 1900 pastel “Manasquan Inlet” depicts a sullen sky and the light it sheds on the planes on the inlet.

Camden-born Charles H. Freeman studied in Italy and France and was much influenced by Whistler. He worked in Brielle and painted scenes of the area, including his “Winter Scene.” Several sweeping shore scenes, each markedly different from the others, include the 1910 oil on board “Manasquan River,” the 1914 oil on canvas “Dunes” and the October 1914 “October Meadows.” There is also a view of children playing in the shallows along a beach, a version of which served as the cover of The Ladies’ Home Journal in September 1913.

Robert Henri, born Robert Cozad in Nebraska, studied at the Pennsylvania Academy and then in Paris. Later he taught at the Avalon Summer Assembly, where he was recorded to have made five paintings of the area. Henri’s 1893 “Beach at Atlantic City” is on view.

New Orleans native Ida Wells Stroud studied in New Jersey prior to moving to New York with her son and daughter in 1894 to further her training. She studied at Pratt Institute with Arthur Wesley Dow and William Merritt Chase, then worked and taught in and around the Newark area. She considered herself primarily an educator and later took up the cause of women’s rights, becoming active in the suffrage movement. Another of her interests was exhibitions of the work of women painters.

A varied selection of her work on view includes the 1914 oil on canvas “Clara Eating Strawberries,” her 1915 oil on board “Harbor Scene” and the 1916 “Clara on the Rocks,” a view of her daughter at seaside. Stroud’s 1915 Impressionist oil on board “Home of Clara Stroud” is also included in the exhibition. Ida came to spend summers painting with Clara at that house and they painted and traveled together, both receiving numerous awards.

Clara Stroud had studied at Pratt and at the Ringling School in Sarasota, Fla., and later settled in Point Pleasant. Her 1916 “Jersey Shore” is a mix of Impressionism and folk. She also created posters and illustrations for magazine covers. By 1930 she had abandoned oil for watercolor, of which her 1930 “Swans” is on view. Such watercolors were highly regarded and exhibited widely.

Less than 20 miles south of the Manasquan River, Island Heights, established in 1895 as a Methodist camp, was a big draw for artists attracted to “the simple life” — it was a dry town, according to Roy Pedersen. Philadelphia engraver James Moore Bryant opened his Island Heights home to many artists who spent summers painting there. Other island artists included Fred Wagner and Frederic Nunn, Carl Buergerniss, John Frederick Peto, Francis I. Bennett and Mildred Miller, all of whose works are explored in the exhibition. Nunn’s misty, almost ghostly, shore scenes from about 1914 pose a sharp contrast with Peto’s crisp circa 1900 scene “Gathering Salt Hay” and Frederick Wagner’s lively scenes of Toms River and other seaside communities. Buergerniss captured the Shore in Impressionistic works and Bennett’s views of boatyards are captivating. Miller’s paintings make arresting use of coastal light.

Perhaps the most well-known of the Jersey Shore artists is Theodore Robinson, whose 1894 “Boats at a Landing” is a star of the exhibition.

The exhibition is timed to coincide with the publication of Pedersen’s book, Jersey Shore Impressionists: The Fascination of Sun and Shore, 1880–1940 published by Down The Shore Publishing. It is available from the publisher at www.down-the-shore.com, at the bookstore at the Morven Museum & Garden and from area booksellers and gift shops.

“Coastal Impressions: Painters of the Jersey Shore, 1880–1940” is on view through September 29 at the Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street. The museum itself is a mid-Eighteenth Century National Historic Landmark, built by Richard Stockton, signer of the Declaration of Independence and formerly the governor’s mansion. For information, www.morven.org or 609-924-8144. The museum is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 11 am to 3 pm; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4 pm.

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