DRISCOLL BABCOCK GALLERIES presents E. Ambrose Webster: The Primacy of Color, an exhibition of exceptional early 20th century works by America’s greatest interpreter of Fauvism. Webster’s paintings remain startlingly innovative and evocative to this day. It is said that when word of Webster’s death reached Paris, Picasso shed a tear; closer to home, Edward Hopper, one of Webster’s neighbors in Provincetown, paused to remember a painter in whom he “could find no flaw.” Later Richard Diebenkorn wrote that “Webster committed himself uncompromisingly to the Paris experience and found his own stride within it… he could achieve weight as well as brilliance.”
Webster (1869-1935) was among the first and most forceful modern American painters, and he created some of the most adventurous paintings of his time. In a dynamic career spanning forty years, he traveled widely in Europe, North Africa, the Azore Islands, Jamaica and Bermuda, chasing the sun-drenched color that would inform his own high-keyed palette and superb expression of light. From the heat of his tropical canvases to the crispness of his New England snowscapes, Webster developed a compellingly original landscape idiom.
In particular, Webster’s works from Bermuda and Jamaica lusciously describe the white-hot light that soaked the local landscape which he thoroughly embraced. BANANA TREES, SHUTTER, JAMAICA (1912) depicts the tropical flora of the island in exciting freshness and scale. Between the broad, smooth viridian banana leaves dance cool purple shadows on the sun-dappled ground. Webster may have shown this painting at the 1913 Amory Show.
Likewise, Webster’s 1913 paintings of the Azores cliffs reinvent the spectacular beauty of the natural seacoast through the scorching use of oranges, magentas, pinks, and turquoise. In VOLCANIC CLIFFS, AZORES (1913), and ROCK IN THE SEA (1913), contrasting hues and values are applied in highly varied brushstrokes, building up the forms of the jagged rocks and churning waves. Such fearless juxtapositions exemplify Webster’s approach, in which the breaking apart of color becomes the primary building block of composition and form.
Turning his attention homeward, Webster skillfully re-interpreted his love for the raucous light and color of the tropics and Mediterranean for his familiar New Hampshire surroundings in a series of garden and snow scenes. In BROOK IN WINTER (1914), one of Webster’s finest snow pictures, he continues to surprise: blazing purple trees are rendered in brittle, twig-like brushstrokes, set against shimmering snow raked with glowing sunlight and icy blue shadows.
Throughout, Webster painted some of the most vigorous and visceral expressions of color in American art, admired by American artists ranging from Maurice Prendergast to Edward Hopper to Richard Diebenkorn. Seeing a brilliant painting by Webster was, as the artist’s contemporary Charles Hovey Pepper commented, “like stepping from a dark room into the glare of open day.”
Webster’s work is found in many public collections such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC; the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia; The Huntington in San Marino, CA; the Bermuda Masterworks Foundation; Greenville County Museum of Art in South Carolina; and the Speed Art Museum, Louisville, among others. Webster’s work has figured prominently in publications and exhibitions including the High Art Museum’s The Advent of Modernism (1987), William Gerdts’ Art Across America (1987) and his landmark work The Color of Modernism: The American Fauves (1997) as well as Gail Scott’s 2009 monograph E. Ambrose Webster, Chasing the Sun.
This is Driscoll Babcock’s sixth one person show of Webster's work. For more than 50 years Driscoll Babcock has been the primary source for important examples of Webster’s work for public and private collections throughout the United States and internationally.