Woodmere Art Museum in Chestnut Hill recently unveiled an ambitious three-tiered show, which features work by a famous watercolorist, artwork from his personal collection, and some of the museum’s newest acquisitions.
Philip Jamison Watercolor: The Spirit of Chester County features a selection of subtle, arresting watercolors.Jamison, a Navy veteran, was born in Philadelphia in 1925, but grew up in West Chester.
Many of his watercolors revel in the interplay of nature and manmade structures. Window-views abound, as well as vases of Jamison’s favorite flower, the daisy, which cover the landscapes outside his summer studio in Vinalhaven, Maine.
“John Chadd’s House” (c. 1958) has a haunting, atmospheric darkness: the precise pattern of the stones in the wall of the old house accompany a naked black tree whose branches seem to bleed into the sky. In “My Maine,” a piece from the 1980s, Jamison’s signature daisies float in a palpable gold-tinged mist, while beyond them the palest hint of water is confirmed by the white triangle of a boat’s sail.
“My paintings look direct, but really they’re not,” Jamison, who attended the Saturday premiere, said to an admirer who noticed that most of his work relies on earth tones and not bright colors.
Instead of a clear succession of layers, Jamison’s process often involves scrubbing out sections of the work and beginning again – ruling out the use of “staining colors.”
Jamison is also behind the Woodmere’s simultaneous exhibition, “Objects of Desire: Philip Jamison Collection.”In addition to his own work (his 1966 “Floss Mullin’s Window”, now seen at Woodmere, has appeared at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), Jamison is a world-class art collector who has decided to gift Woodmere with 84 pieces from his personal collection, a selection of which are now on display.
Woodmere Director and CEO William Valerio called the gift an “exciting moment of growth” for Woodmere, whose existing collection now totals about 3,000 works of art.
“It’s a great, great, great treasure,” he said of Jamison’s gift, noting artists’ exquisite sensibility as collectors.
“It beats playing golf,” Philips quipped of his passion for collecting.
Highlights of these promised gifts are several pieces by the renowned Arthur B. Carles (1882-1952), another Philadelphia-born artist whose early-twentieth-century career spanned a thrilling art-world odyssey from realism to abstract expressionism.
For Valerio, these new pieces – like Carles’s abstract “Reclining Nude” of the late 1930’s – add up to a “beautiful conversation” alongside existing Woodmere pieces, such as the more realistic 1922 Carles classic, “Woman with Red Hair.”
Another of Valerio’s favorites among the new Carles gifts is 1909’s “Portrait of Mrs. Carles and Sara.” It depicts a girl and an older woman working together to stitch a white piece of cloth, and was possibly painted when the 25-year-old artist was a student.
“It’s the best early Carles that there is,” Valerio said, noting the painting’s homage to the style of Mary Cassatt.
“I love the intensity of the focus,” he said of the painted figures’ gaze.
Jamison admitted that it’s a challenge to relinquish so many treasured works, especially when it comes to Carles. When he sold several pieces of that artist’s opus in a New York show years ago, afterwards, “I felt like I was kind of naked,” Jamison said, even though he still had 45 Carles paintings.
Jamison felt the Woodmere was a worthy home for the gifted pieces because of the museum’s dedication to showcasing Philadelphia-area artists – a cause that is also dear to Jamison, who still maintains a studio in West Chester.
“I’m getting used to the idea,” he said of passing this portion of his collection to Woodmere.
Jamison’s 84-work gift represents 39 artists in all, including Hugh Henry Breckenridge, Horace Pippin, Leon Kelly, and Tom Bostelle, a sculptor who rendered figures in metal by shining a bright light on a model, and then using the cast shadow to inspire the sculptural form.
Digitizing a collection
The Woodmere’s third simultaneous exhibition, “Just in: Recent Acquisitions in the Collection of Woodmere Art Museum,” highlights 45 of the 704 artworks Woodmere has acquired within the last two years.
The show is divided into two major themes: “A Legacy of Abstraction” and “The Figure,” the former exploring a range of abstract and impressionist works, and the latter boasting an array of nudes and portraits from the late 19th century to contemporary times. Artists like Carles, Quita Brodhead, Salvatore Pinto, Sterling Shaw, and Violet Oakley contribute.
Topping off Woodmere’s latest efforts, the museum is in the midst of an initiative to digitize its entire collection. Approximately a year old and now making almost 1,400 works of art from Woodmere’s archives available online, the ongoing project is thanks to a two-year, $60,000 grant from philanthropist John H. McFadden in honor of Woodmere supporters Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest.
“Philip Jamison Watercolor: The Spirit of Chester County” and “Objects of Desire: Philip Jamison Collection” are running through May 5. “Recent Acquisitions” will be up through March 17.