Be Careful by that Cliff…
Rockwell Kent was born in Tarrytown, New York, the same year as fellow American artists George Bellows and Edward Hopper. Kent was of English descent. He lived much of his early life in and around New York City, where he attended the Horace Mann School. In his mid-40s he moved to an Adirondack farmstead that he called Asgaard where he lived and painted until his death. Kent studied with several influential painters and theorists of his day. He studied composition and design with Arthur Wesley Dow at the Art Students League in the fall of 1900, and he studied painting with William Merritt Chase each of the three summers between 1900 and 1902, after which he entered in the fall of 1902 Robert Henri‘s class at the New York School of Art, which Chase had founded. During the summer of 1903 in Dublin, New Hampshire, Kent was apprenticed to painter and naturalist Abbott Handerson Thayer. An undergraduate background in architecture at Columbia University prepared Kent for occasional work in the 1900s and 1910s as an architectural renderer and carpenter. At the Art Students League he would meet and befriend the artists Wilhelmina Weber Furlong and Thomas Furlong.
Kent’s early paintings of Mount Monadnock and New Hampshire were first shown at the Society of American Artists in New York in 1904, when Dublin Pond was purchased by Smith College. In 1905 Kent ventured to Monhegan Island, Maine, and found its rugged and primordial beauty a source of inspiration for the next five years. His first series of paintings of Monhegan were shown to wide critical acclaim in 1907 at Clausen Galleries in New York. These works form the foundation of his lasting reputation as an early American modernist, and can be seen in museums across the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum, New Britain Museum of American Art, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Among those critics lauding Kent was James Huneker of the Sun, who praised Kent’s athletic brushwork and daring color dissonances. (It was Huneker who deemed the paintings of The Eight as “decidedly reactionary”.) In 1910, Kent helped organize the Exhibition of Independent Artists, and in 1911 together with Arthur B. Davies he organized An Independent Exhibition of the Paintings and Drawings of Twelve Men, referred to as “The Twelve” and “Kent’s Tent”. Painters Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and Max Weber (but not John Sloan, Robert Henri, or George Bellows) participated in the 1911 exhibition.
A transcendentalist and mystic in the tradition of Thoreau and Emerson, whose works he read, Kent found inspiration in the austerity and stark beauty of wilderness. After Monhegan, he lived for extended periods of time in Winona, Minnesota (1912–1913), Newfoundland (1914–15), Alaska (1918–19), Vermont (1919–1925), Tierra del Fuego (1922–23), Ireland (1926), and Greenland (1929; 1931–32; 1934–35). His series of land and seascapes from these often forbidding locales convey the Symbolist spirit evoking the mysteries and cosmic wonders of the natural world. “I don’t want petty self-expression”, Kent wrote, “I want the elemental, infinite thing; I want to paint the rhythm of eternity.”
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