In the late 1920s and early 1930s Frank Weston Benson traveled to New Brunswick, Canada to paint a series of oil paintings and watercolors that depicted salmon fishing on the York River. In these works the artist combined his brilliant Impressionist technique with subjects similar to great sporting pictures such as Winslow Homer's Adirondack watercolors. An avid outdoorsman and sportsman, Benson was attracted to this rugged subject matter. Dawn on the York 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.
In the sporting subjects that Benson completed after 1900, he retained the Impressionist style that had won him wide acclaim earlier in his career. The surface of the canvas of Dawn on the York is animated with vigorous brushwork. Cool blues and grays are placed side by side to give the effect of dawn's early light shimmering off the surface of the water. On the far horizon a streak of salmon-colored sky is juxtaposed with a deep royal blue--a brilliant Impressionist use of color that recalls his virtuoso canvases executed on North Haven Island off the coast of Maine.
Of Benson's sporting paintings from this period Bruce Chambers writes, "In 1930-31, Benson completed tow of his finest sporting oils, near pendants in subject and mood. Twilight, the earlier of the two, shows a lone canoeman on a mountain lake, silhouetted against the fading light that glances off the water. Dawn on the York of a year later is no less imposing a painting, its deep purples, greens, and lavenders arrested at the horizon by a brilliant streak of orange. In both works, the painter shapes his composition in broad, flat patterns; the motif is Winslow Homer's and the underlying aesthetic is still deeply ingrained in the Western tradition, but the effect is astonishingly Oriental." (Frank W. Benson: A Retrospective, New York, 1989, p. 158)
As an Impressionist, Benson was fascinated with atmospheric effects of various times of day. Faith Andrews Bedford writes, "Benson loved to paint at dawn. The titles of many works reveal his fascination with the pale light of early morning. In his younger days hunting on the marshes near Salem with his brothers and Dan Henderson, Benson had spent many a chilly hour waiting for the sun to rise and the birds to fly. As a painter the luminous quality of early morning challenged him time and again." (Frank W. Benson: American Impressionist, p. 201)
This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonn of the artist's work being compiled by Sheila Dugan and Vose Galleries of Boston.