Art of the Week

The other day I was speaking with Val Vistocco in the President’s Office and stopped to admire a painting I had not seen for a time. While this image is a poor substitute for the work, I cannot help but share with you its luminosity and tranquility. It made a hectic day ever so much better for me.

Alfred Thompson Bricher (1837-1908)
Grand Manan
Oil on canvas, 46 x 99 cm.
Gift of Richard A. Scudamore ‘55

Bricher was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the son of English immigrants, and his youth was spent in Newburyport, Massachusetts. In 1851, he became a clerk in a store in Boston, and he may have studied art there at the Lowell Institute. During his early years in Boston, he became familiar with the art of the Hudson River School, and was specifically inspired by the work of the Luminists, John Kensett, Martin Johnson Heade, Sanford Gifford, and Fitz Hugh Lane. In 1864, Lane’s works were shown at the Boston Atheneum, and Bricher’s studio in Boston was in the same building as Heade’s. By 1859, Bricher had established a studio in Boston, where he displayed sketches of open-air works. In the 1860s, Bricher was creating marine subjects, working at Mt. Desert Island in Maine and in Northampton, Massachusetts. He found other subjects in locales in New England and New York state. He also began to use watercolor during the ’60s, a medium in which he created many of his finest works. By the middle of the decade, he had become employed by the Louis Prang publishing house, which claimed to have invented the chromolithograph. Eventually twenty-three of Bricher’s paintings were created as chromolithographs by the firm. In 1868, Bricher married and moved from Boston to New York, setting up his studio at 40 West 30th Street. During the next decade, he was influenced by the emergence of a younger generation of artists who were dedicated to experimenting with new techniques and developing personal styles. Affected by the art of his time, Bricher began to work in a more spontaneous and painterly manner, but he remained dedicated to capturing quiet, light-filled scenes of coastal areas and often rendered forms with a precision that reflected his continued adherence to Luminism. During the 1870s, Bricher became active in many important art associations, in particular, the American Watercolor Society. He also became affiliated with Swedenborgianism, a religion to which William Page and George Inness also subscribed. Affected in his art by the ideas of Swedenborg, Bricher created works that had a symbolic component in which forms were bathed in soft misty glows. Between 1878 and 1884, Bricher included figures in his landscapes, mostly women shown in leisure activities. These images have similarities to some contemporaneous works by Winslow Homer. In the 1880s, Bricher adopted a more tonal approach. His colors had always been predominantly pale blues and greens with touches of intense yellow; all harmoniously blended to convey the sensations of bright, sunny days. Now he concentrated on recording atmospheric conditions, which he conveyed by emphasizing a single, dominant color. Following his second marriage in 1881, Bricher spent summers in Southampton, Long Island, where he created a number of views of the expansive coastline and the village. However, throughout his career, Bricher traveled extensively, visiting the coasts of Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, and Canada. Bricher’s work is represented in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Indianapolis Museum of Art; the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; the Dallas Art Museum, as well as many other public and private collections.

After his first visit to Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick, Canada, in the mid-1870s, Alfred Bricher became so enamored with the picturesque surroundings that the location served as the subject for many paintings he completed over the next thirty years. He was struck by the juxtaposition of the large rocky cliffs and tranquil inlets that could be seen on the island. The area initiated a long series of paintings.

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