Published: June 5, 2001
Abraham J. Bogdanove Creations Offered at Spanierman
NEW YORK CITY – Spanierman Gallery will open, on July 9, “Abraham J. Bogdanove (1886-1946): ,” an exhibition of the work of the landscape painter, portraitist, muralist, and art teacher, who is best known for his dynamic images of Monhegan Island, Maine.
The gallery’s first show of Bogdanove’s art, held in the summer of 1997, introduced the artist’s work after a long hiatus; since 1961, when his memorial exhibition was held at the College of the City of New York (now City College of The City University of New York), there had not been a major presentation of his art. Like its predecessor, this exhibition of Bogdanove’s sometimes bold and sometimes peaceful works reveal the artist’s ability to produce images that are an evocation of their creator, while also speaking to the special inspiration that Monhegan offered, and continues to offer to artists. Accompanying the show will be a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Dr. William H. Gerdts and Dr. Lisa N. Peters.
A native of Minsk, Russia, Abraham Bogdanove immigrated with his family to New York City in 1900. Upon arrival, he enrolled at the Cooper Union Institute of Art, the National Academy of Design, and the Columbia University School of Architecture. His teacher at the latter school was the important muralist Francis Millet. Encouraged by Millet, Bogdanove had begun to create his own murals. By 1912, he was receiving mural commissions, in which he addressed historical, educational, and moral themes and presented images in simple and graphic terms. His last mural, The Great Teachers, 1930, may today be found in Shepherd Hall at City College of The City of New York.
As his aspirations as a muralist were realized, Bogdanove increasingly devoted his free time, particularly the summers, to painting for himself. While his first paintings were allied to his murals, demonstrating academic styles and didactic messages, by the 1910s, he had begun to visit the countrysides of Connecticut and New Jersey, and to paint the landscapes he observed directly in a lively Impressionist style. In search of new subject matter, Bogdanove traveled to Maine for the first time in the summer of 1915. Staying at Seal Harbor on Mount Desert Island, he painted the dramatic vistas of mountains plunging to the sea that had previously fascinated the Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church and the Luminist Fitz Hugh Lane.
However, for Bogdanove, the refinements of summer life on Mount Desert had lost their attraction by 1918, and his desire for a rougher locale was satisfied by Monhegan, a remote two-mile-square island seventeen miles off the mid-coast of Maine. Like other artists who ventured to Monhegan, Bogdanove was drawn to the island because it offered a unique kind of scenery. In contrast to the more accessible summer resorts such as Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Ogunquit, Maine, where busy harbors and curving seacoasts provided conspicuously picturesque material, Monhegan with its wilder and rougher terrain, encouraged a new way of painting and seeing nature. Among the first artists to visit Monhegan, Robert Henri declared that he had “never seen anything so fine” and stated: “It is a wonderful place to paint–so much in so small a place one can hardly believe it.”
When Bogdanove arrived on Monhegan in 1918, he would have known the images of the island by Henri, as well as those of Edward Hopper, George Bellows, and Rockwell Kent. He would have seen these artists’ works in exhibitions at the National Academy of Design as well as at the MacDowell Club, where he also showed in 1918. It seems likely that he would also have seen Hopper’s and Henri’s works on Monhegan. Certainly, working painters were acquainted with each other on an island that held a swollen summer population of merely 250 people. Indeed, Bogdanove’s method of painting directly on panels fitted into the lid of his paint box parallels that of Henri. His frequent use of vibrant yellows, oranges, and blues evokes Kent’s style, while the physical strength of his brushwork is similar to that of Bellows.
The art of Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper, on view in New York and Boston in the early twentieth century, also may have had an impact on Bogdanove’s Monhegan work. In particular, Bogdanove may have drawn on his knowledge of the seascapes of Homer, who had portrayed wrathful waves assaulting leaden rocks while living at Prout’s Neck, Maine, at the turn of the twentieth century. In a number of works, Bogdanove used Homer’s strategy of conveying the force of the sea and the resistance of rocks. Amongst Hopper’s works, his quickly rendered pochades of rocks and sea, of approximately 1916 to 1919, have close parallels with many of Bogdanove’s loosely painted Monhegan sketches. In both, rocks are often anthropomorphically configured, evoking symbolic associations.
Bogdanove created wide-ranging images from the limited subject matter of Monhegan’s rocky landscape. For twenty-eight summers he spent his days hiking over a precarious terrain of jagged outcroppings, high rocky cliffs, and deep crevices in all vicissitudes of Maine weather, carrying his “streamlined kit” (a paintbox that doubled as an easel carried by a shoulder strap), which contained the pigments that he had mixed himself from raw materials. Upon setting down his easel at a chosen spot, he worked feverishly, creating spontaneous, on-the-spot images that captured the physical realities of his subject matter-such as the solidity of rocks juxtaposed with the dashing movement of the surf. Bogdanove perceived Monhegan’s rocks to be full of color, and he captured their animated qualities with a wide-ranging palette. His water is also vivaciously alive, its unmeasured vigor conveyed by the energy of the artist’s brush.
While Bogdanove was committed to recording his direct perceptions, he also used his subject matter as a means of exploring issues of abstract design. For over twenty-eight years, he found infinite possibilities in Monhegan’s scenery, seeing nature in terms of shape, pattern, and composition, and he experimented with different ways of breaking down form and juxtaposing colors and surface textures to create unusual and visually compelling arrangements.
Bogdanove had begun to receive renown for his Monhegan views by 1920, when his first solo exhibition was held at the Young Men’s Hebrew Association in New York. Shortly thereafter, his Maine images began to be shown at annual exhibitions at such institutions as the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Carnegie Institute. In 1930, an exhibition of Bogdanove’s marines was held at the Lamson and Hubbard Gallery in Boston. Over the course of his many summers in Monhegan, Bogdanove helped introduce the island to a new generation of artists, and even today, the painters who gather on the island during the summer to portray its scenery carry on Bogdanove’s legacy.
There are many facets to Bogdanove’s art. At times he painted with the eye of a realist seeking to record the physical properties of his subject matter, and at other times he depicted his motifs expressively, using them as a point of departure for conveying emotive or pure aesthetic experiences. Most of his work falls between these poles, revealing his openness to the world that he loved, the powerful yet simple, the grand yet humble landscape of Monhegan.
The gallery is at 45 East 58th Street. For information, 212/832-0208.
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