Sea History 106 - Winter 2003-2004

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A Commentary on John Prentiss Benson Paintings

by John G. Hagan

ohn Be nso n's li fe spa n coincidce nter of t he paint ing. The eye ed wit h a n exciting pe ri od for t hen natura lly moves on to view America n pa int ing. He was bo r n t he sma ll er boats on t he far right in 1865,j ust a t th e end of th e Civ il side. These boats are a co mposiWar. By the time h e was in hi s eart ional devi ce desig ned to bring ly twe nt ies, virtually every m aj or your eye co mfo rta bly back t o t h e American city offered wo l1l d-be subject of t he picture. The a rt ist artists a n opportunity for exce lemployed what is referred t o as lent train ing. Publi c a ppreciath e Stee lyard Prin cip le in designt io n of art was substa nt ia l. John ing th is picture. Thi s prin cipl e alBenso n received ample expos ure lows t hat a la rge mass at t h e pi cto t he world of art. Hi s older t ure's ce nter ca n be balan ced by a "Untitled-Boat Anchored in Rough Sea " brother Fra nk (1862-1951) was an small mass at its edge. Im agin e a (1929, oil/canvas, 24-114" x 35-114'') acco m pli s hed painter. John we nt seesaw with a large child on on e to Paris in 1885, studying architecture first at L:Acade mi e J u- side a nd a s ma ll chi ld o n t he other. In order for th em t o ballia n and later at L'Ecole des Bea we-Arts, where he rece ived ex- a nce, t he dista nce fro m t he center (fulcrum) m ust be g reate r ceptional tra ining a nd fo und himself immersed in o ne of t he for t h e sma ll er chil d. It is t his sa me principle t hat a ll ows t he world's great a rt centers. sma ll boats to ba lance t he larger one. When Jo hn Benso11 beca me a fu ll-t im e pa inter in 1921at57 John Be nso n had a n except ional eye. His architectural yea rs of age, he experienced a lm ost im med iate successs. Ge n- tra ining tal1g ht him how to see det a il a nd tr ut hfully re nd er erally speaking, it is q uite un usua l for a pa inter to do so well t hat deta il as a pa inter. Ma ny of John Benso n's paint ings were after such a late start. I suspect John Be nso n beca me t he ex- created fro m me mory, as a number of hi s very large canvases ception beca use of his so un d t ra in ing in des ig n a nd his never- cou ld on ly have bee n clo ne in a stud io. forgotte n pass ion to pa int. John P. Be11son was a pa inter of sign ifi ca nt accomp lishThe ha llm ark of a John Pre nt iss Benson pa int ing is co n- me nt . He enjoyed mem bershi p in num erou s prestigious artsistent ly good desig n, a nd hi s pictures were a lways well-de- ists' orga nizations a nd exhibited reg ularly wit h his peers. In sig ned. It is sa id t hat John's brother Frank once comme nted 1942, he was incl uded in a major exhibition of Th e Gui ld of Bosthat a bea ut ifu lly pa inted, but poorly-cl es ig necl picture, would to n Artists at t he Ml1se um of Fine Arts, along with works by not be successfu l, w hil e a we ll-cles ig necl a nd poorly pa inted hi s t hen fa mous brother Fra nk Be nson. J, picture co uld. An examp le of such solid des ign ca n be see n in hi s paint ing August Calm (be low). In t hi s pa inting t he artist John C.1-lagan has been an artand antiques collectorforoverthirtyyears pos it io ned t he subj ect of t he pa int ing, a large schoo ner, on t he specializing in American works ofart from the late nineteenth and early left halfoft he ca nvas in such a way as to d irect one's eye to t he twentieth centuries,concentrating on traditional Boston trained artists.

J

Left (p3 0): "Self Portrait-1943 " (oil/canvas, 23-114" x 19-112 ''); Below: "August Calm " (circa 1936, oil/canvas, 7-114" x 14-112'')

SEA HISTORY 106, WINTER 2004

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