The Portland Museum of Art is the oldest and largest public art institution in the state of Maine. Founded in 1882 as the Portland Society of Art, it boasts of an extensive permanent collection. Featuring American, European and contemporary pieces, it also has a strong regional focus on Maine art that reflects the region’s rich artistic traditions.
It seeks to engage and inspire audiences through the preservation and interpretation of visual arts. On a regional level, it is focused on promoting Maine’s contributions towards the broader development of American art and culture, while on the international level; it attempts to interpret European modernism.
From Winslow Homer to Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the museum displays its exhibitions in three interlinked historic buildings – Charles Shipman Payson Building, McLellan House and L. D. M. Sweat Memorial Galleries. It is located at Seven Congress Square in downtown Portland, Maine. In addition, the museum also owns and operates the Winslow Homer Studio on Prouts Neck in Scarborough, Maine. Book through the museum for guided tours of the studio to get a better understanding of the life of the 19th century American master painter. More ideas: Best Things to Do in Portland, Maine.
The Portland Museum of Art boasts a collection of more than 18,000 pieces of artwork from the 18th century colonial period to the present. This includes an in-depth collection of works that closely examines artistic practices in Maine and New England.
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During the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century, many artists residing in big cities escaped to the coast of New England to seek peace and inspiration from the beaches and oceans that span across the region. This has led coastal art colonies to flourish throughout New England, where the artists established friendships and traded knowledge and skills. Moreover, moving away from established art practices meant that artists were free to explore new creative directions that they later brought home with them.
In Maine, the most well-known colonies are at Ogunquit and on Monhegan Island, a tradition that still continues even up until today. Exhibitions at the Portland Museum of Art seek to highlight the importance that Maine played in the formation of the American national identity and throughout American art history. Some of the artists associated with Maine include Marsden Hartley, Rockwell Kent, John Marin and Louise Nevelson.
The museum pays homage to Winslow Homer who is widely regarded as one of the greatest American painters of the 19th century. He is most known for his seascapes and marine subjects, typified by his masterpiece ‘Weather-beaten’ (1894) that is housed in the Portland Museum of Art. It shows water rolling in and crashing against the rocky shores of Prouts Neck, Maine. This is a powerful and moody image which brings Maine’s storm-churned seas from outdoors to indoors to present nature’s powerful forces to audiences. The museum houses his works from different phases of his career and in all variety of media, including oil paintings, prints and commercial illustrations.
Additionally, it also operates the Winslow Homer Studio on Prouts Neck in Scarborough, Maine, the site where Homer resided and worked between 1836 and 1910. The US government designated the studio as a National Landmark in 1966 and the museum bought it in 2006. After undergoing extensive restoration, it was reopened in 2012. There are daily guided tours of the studio.
It was in this house that Homer exclusively spent his last years creating some of his most notable works. Visitors can stand and observe the coast from his second-story balcony, where he often painted during the winter. Experience his perspective from his paintings, many of which convey the ocean’s strength, beauty and drama in contrast to the fragility and transience of human lives. The studio is furnished with his furniture, artwork and photographs to provide a fuller understanding of the artist and his life.
Homer is among other American artists that form the backbone of the Portland Museum of Art’s collection. In particular, a large proportion of its collection is from the colonial period to the mid 20th century. The 19th century was a transformative moment in American art history that coincided with the country’s newly minted status as a free and independent nation. Artists moved away from European styles to turn inwards to develop a distinctive American style.
The museum has amassed significant collections from key areas of development during this period. This includes landscape paintings from notable regional and national artists, such as Frederic Edwin Church and Fitz Henry Lane. Other represented artists from the late 19th century include portrait artist John Singer Sargent, impressionist Dennis Miller Bunker and neoclassical sculptor Benjamin Akers.
Works from the early 20th century are also represented in its holdings. Many of them were by artists who were part of Maine’s artist colonies that have flourished since the 19th century. From photographers such as Gertrude Kasebier and F. Holland Day to modernists such as Robert Laurent and Yasuo Kuniyoshi, their works bear testament to the artistic exchanges between regional and national currents in American art.
Post-war and Contemporary Collection
The museum has a large rotating selection of postwar and contemporary art pieces in its galleries. This is due to the influence of numerous art schools and art colonies being located in the area during the post-war period. The Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in particular brought young artists to Maine to help create a support network to develop their artistic creativity. Many of such artists, including Alex Katz and Ellsworth Kelly, went on to make a name for themselves, and introduced their experiences in Maine to the wider art world.
As such, the museum continues to amass and display American post-war art with a strong regional focus on American figurative practice. Notable pieces include Alexander Calder’s Snow Flurries III (1947), Robert Indiana’s Four Star Love (1961) and Alex Katz’ Ada and Neil (Study for Lawn Party) (1965). They are part of a wide range of post-war paintings, sculptures and photographs displayed at the museum.
The Portland Museum of Art is the only museum in Maine and northern New England that offers European art. Its European collection’s strength lies in 19-20th century French works and German Expressionism.
There are significant pieces from various movements on display. Some of the artists from the Realism, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism movement include Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas; while artists from the modernist movements include Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Georges Braque. The museum also has photographs from the mid-19th century when was a new artistic medium.
Ongoing Programs & Education
The museum places a strong emphasis on improving ways in which visitors engage with its artwork. One of the ways is by providing public education programs for adults and children alike.
It regularly organizes talks and discussion sessions for the public. Previous offerings included artist talks and themed talks about a featured artists. There are kids-friendly activities year round, increasing in frequency during the vacation periods. These activities encourage youngsters to experience art not only through viewing but also through games. From story sessions to film screenings, the museum is a family friendly destination. Children under the age of 14 can enter the museum for free.
Apart from these events, the museum’s vast collection is also made available online toprovide the public information about its most significant artwork, recent additions and latest artwork on exhibit. The site includes images and basic information about the entire collection. Such an online database makes art accessible for anyone to view at any place, any time.
Every month, the museum also hosts a free Friday night art party called PMA360 with different monthly themes celebrating art and creativity. The public is encouraged to come down to the museum and enjoy the night’s festivities and is challenged to view art from a different perspective. During previous events, visitors got to sip on cocktails and make letterpress bookmarks while local writers were invited to read their poems out loud.
7 Congress St, Portland, ME 04101, website, Phone: 207-775-6148
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