In 1895 Frank W. Benson wrote to a friend, "Salmon fishing seems to me the finest sport in the world." (F.A. Bedford, Frank W. Benson: American Impressionist, New York, 1994, p. 208) In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Benson expanded on this lifelong sporting enthusiasm with a group of extraordinary oil paintings and watercolors that depicted the sport of salmon fishing. In these works the artist combined his brilliant Impressionistic technique with subjects similar to the great Adirondack watercolors of Winslow Homer, which portrayed, "the ordinary man engaged in hunting or fishing for food or sport in a truly American setting and manner." (Frank W. Benson: American Impressionist, p. 200) The present painting, Lower Camp Pool, captures the essence of these two qualities-- the painting is infused with careful observation of light, color and atmosphere and it speaks to the artist's understanding of the peacefulness and tranquility found in the North American wilderness.
An avid outdoorsman and sportsman, Benson was attracted throughout his life to fishing and hunting as a subject matter. Born in Salem, Massachusetts to a maritime family, Benson spent much of his youth on the water, receiving his first sailboat by the age of 12. By 17 he had a passion for sports including tennis, boxing and "hunting and fishing; his diaries reveal that he found time almost every weekend from spring through fall to take to the fields and streams of Essex County...His father gave him his first shotgun and taught him how to hunt the wildfowl and shorebirds of the North Shore." (Frank W. Benson: American Impressionist, p. 17) One of his first oil paintings as a child was of two birds shot on a hunt. Throughout his life, Benson made frequent fishing and hunting trips. The works that came from these outings after 1900, mostly watercolors and etchings, became very popular and sold well. Benson continued to paint these scenes for the remainder of his career.
In Lower Camp Pool, painted in 1928, Benson has retained the light palette and Impressionistic style that received wide acclaim earlier in his career. He has captured a peaceful morning of fishing for two men, one of whom stands at the shore with his rod and the other is about to set out on his canoe for fishing down the river. In Lower Camp Pool, Benson concentrates his painting on the total mood of the work rather than the figures, as he did in his earlier paintings. Benson's reverence for the outdoors can be seen as the smaller figures are placed in an expansive landscape with imposing mountains and towering trees. "Some of Benson's paintings of this period, especially his large oils, were often more landscape than figure study, more about nature than the people who inhabit it...The tiny man silhouetted against a small patch of silver water is insignificant. His being is subordinated to the majesty of the looming mountains and the power of the swift stream." (Frank W. Benson: American Impressionist, p. 200)
Benson paints a cohesive composition by blending the tones together in large blocks of color and through use of light and shadow. The surface of Lower Camp Pool is animated with quick and light brushstrokes. Cool blues and grays are placed side by side to give the effect of early morning light shimmering off the surface of the water and the colors are used again in the cloud-filled sky. The beige and blue tones of the shore blend in to the water and the light and dark green trees mix with the green and blue mountains. Benson's mastery as an Impressionist can be seen with the light and shadow of the painting. The rising sun drenches the trees at left in sunlight while the trees at the right are dark. The shadows of those trees reach across the river towards the men on the shore. Benson has painted Lower Camp Pool with intersecting planes that meet at the center of the composition. The angular lines of the trees, the mountains, the shore and the water create large blocks of color, making Lower Camp Pool a unified painting of cool hues, representing the majesty and calmness of nature.
Faith Andrews Bedford writes that "Benson was never happier than when he was outdoors. He worked hard and long to support organizations that fostered stewardship of the land and conservation of its resources." (Frank W. Benson: American Impressionist, p. 200) With its refined subject matter and sensitive execution, Lower Camp Pool typifies Benson's highly personal imagery, bringing together Impressionist technique and sporting art at its best.
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work being compiled by Vose Galleries of Boston.