One of America's foremost illustrators, N. C. Wyeth is renowned for his depictions of Treasure Island, the Arthurian Legends, and The Song of Hiawatha, among many other popular texts. Less well known are his accomplishments as a landscape painter, many of which depict the Maine coast near Port Clyde, where he made his home in the 1920s. "He had renovated an old sea captain's home looking onto the ocean from a beautiful neck of land," writes James Duff. "Summers were spent there with the entire family and familiarity with the sea, the Maine coast, and the customs of its working people became part of life. Thus, every detail of paintings like Deep Cove Lobsterman (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and The Doryman (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York) accurately represents the light, the rocks, the water, and the crafts that are unmistakably of that territory. He told Sidney Chase that he hoped to 'outgrow the picturesqueness' of the place. 'It is the extraction of abstraction that I want to get out of this beloved spot.' He wrote" (J. H. Duff, Not For Publication: Landscapes, Still Lifes, and Portraits by N. C. Wyeth, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, 1982, p. 35)
Wyeth was drawn to Port Clyde as much for the ruggedness of the coast as for its associations with earlier artists. Leaving Massachusetts, and "moving further north, he gave in to the cultural longings embodied by [Winslow] Homer's paintings. He even named his house [in Port Clyde] Eight Bells, after the painting of the same name by Homer. This painting of two sailors taking the measure of the sun was, as he said, one of 'the productions of men who are dead in earnest, who hate all bunting and shams, and who have taken off their coats in the service of truth and are not ashamed to be found in their shirt sleeves'-just as Wyeth wanted to be viewed." (W. Truettner, et al, Picturing Old New England, Image and Memory, Washington, D.C., 1999, pp. 151,153)
In the present work, Wyeth depicts Port Clyde on a sunlit day. One of his men "in their shirt sleeves" can be seen rowing a dory laden with lobster traps. In the background he paints a flock of gulls crossing the water and the village of Port Clyde, with a few isolated figures visible in the distance. In the foreground, a dinghy rests on a mud flat at low tide, and additional lobster traps frame the composition. Above all, a profound sense of quiet pervades the scene.
Similar to another large harbor scene dated 1932 and entitled Herring Cut (Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania) , this work, and the many images he painted in Port Clyde of fishermen and their families, celebrates the sturdy New England spirit that first attracted Wyeth to the Maine Coast. In the end, concludes James Duff, "he had clearly been recognized by his contemporaries as a painter of importance, even though a later generation was to largely forget what he had accomplished beyond illustration. He created an art distinctly his, an art of large dimensions, including depth -- in both meanings of that work. He based his paintings on his own strong sense of values as much as on intense observation of complex details in landscapes, small objects on tables, and human characters."
As noted in 1945 by Ernest Watson, discussing Wyeth in American Artist magazine: "No artist in his work has so fully encompassed the cosmic spirit of his native land." (Not for Publication: Landscapes, Still Lifes, and Portraits by N.C. Wyeth, p. 36, 37, 39)
This painting is included in the N.C. Wyeth catalogue raisonné database that is being compiled by the Brandywine River Museum and Conservancy, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania as number 982.