Fairfield Porter (1907-1975)
Fairfield Porter (1907-1975)

Lobster Boat, Morning

Fairfield Porter (1907-1975)
Lobster Boat, Morning
signed and dated 'Fairfield Porter 70' (upper right)--signed and dated again and inscribed with title (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
27 ¾ x 31 ¾ in. (70.5 x 80.6 cm.)
Painted in 1970.
The artist.
[With]Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York.
Mrs. Louise Ottinger, New York, acquired from the above, 1972.
By descent to the present owner.
J. Ludman, "Checklist of the Paintings by Fairfield Porter," Fairfield Porter: An American Classic, New York, 1992, p. 300.
J. Ludman, Fairfield Porter: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Watercolors, and Pastels, New York, 2001, p. 262, no. L726, illustrated.
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., Recent Works by Fairfield Porter, April 11-29, 1972, no. 21.

Lot Essay

Fairfield Porter's Lobster Boat, Morning was likely inspired by the view onto Penobscot Bay from Great Spruce Head Island, the Porter family's home in Maine. Fairfield’s father James built a large two-story shingle house on the small, mile-long and half-mile-wide island in 1912, and the artist and his brothers grew up looking out onto the Barred Islands in the bay from its porch and lawn every summer. In 1954, Porter resumed his yearly summer trips to Maine, and the local landscape provided the inspiration for some of the most captivating paintings of his career, including Lobster Boat, Morning.

John T. Spike explains of Porter’s routine when in Maine, “Porter established a productive working pattern that summer of 1954. He was notorious for always being the first to go off to bed at night, which was logistical, since he liked to get up hours before everybody else (sometimes as early as 5:30 A.M.) and start painting in his back-porch studio. This summer studio was half-immersed in the woods. The bristling branches of spruce trees pressed against its screens. The door opened onto a path lined with ferns and the occasional orange flower known as devil’s paintbrush. The porch was bare, except for painting supplies lying about and a table, a chair or two, and maybe a book open on the floor and a spray of wildflowers in a glass of water, the fruit of somebody’s morning walk. It was a place through which people were allowed to pass, but they did so with respect for the work that went on there.” (Fairfield Porter: An American Classic, New York, 1992, p. 114)

One can imagine Porter painting Lobster Boat, Morning from this studio on a misty, early morning during his summer “painting season” of 1970, capturing his view onto the water partially obscured by the greenery dotted with flowers on the path in front of him. Reducing the lobster boat and neighboring isles to dark shadows on the pale, calm water, he accurately represents the scene while capturing the unique essence of a foggy day on the Maine coast. Porter described in a July 27, 1961 letter, “Maine is like this: each day is a different weather, and it is so intense, that by breakfast, you think that the weather has always been whatever it is that morning. One only remembers the other days of similar weather. And it is most changeable. The water is still icy, but once or twice it is bearable in the cove. We eat many lobsters, which I cook only until red, which is a little underdone…At night I am exhausted, after morning and afternoon paintings, plus cooking…” (as quoted in Fairfield Porter: An American Classic, pp. 162-63)

In Lobster Boat, Morning, Porter distills the character of Maine into his landscape through his focus on painterly brushwork and the distinct light of the summer morning. As exemplified by this work, "[Porter's] paintings convey a strong sense of place and presence, but for him the literal transcription of what he saw before him was beside the point. The actual subject was of little concern; rather it was in the paint itself that he found the life, the vitality, and the wholeness of the painting. He understood that the difference between realism and abstraction is not as simple as it seems...Rather than literally describing, Porter determined the relations and connections between things, and for him it was these relations that were the vital elements in a painting." (W.C. Agee, Fairfield Porter: An American Painter, Southampton, New York, 1993, p. 11)

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