An exhibition

Discover Portsmouth center to enjoy Impressionist painter Tarbell's work

NH Weekend Editor
February 24. 2016 1:17PM

"Edmund and His Pony Peanut," 1930, by Edmund Tarbell 

An exhibition featuring nearly 60 works by American Impressionist painter Edmund C. Tarbell, one of the region’s most influential artists of the past century, opens Friday, March 4, at Discover Portsmouth, 10 Middle St.

The city’s welcome center and gallery will begin its 2016 season a month early to showcase “Illuminating Tarbell: Life and Art on the Piscataqua,” curated by Jeremy Fogg, a South Berwick, Maine, painting conservator, art researcher and collector who has worked on dozens of Tarbell paintings.

“We’re bringing in works from collections all across the country, and many have never been exhibited to the public before,” said Kathleen Soldati, executive director of Discover Portsmouth.

Tarbell (1862-1938) was a pioneer of the Boston School of painting, and he’s known as one of Ten American Painters who banded together to further their artistic approach. His work is evocative of 17th-century Dutch artists, imbued with rich hues and an emphasis on light, tone and delicate brushwork, according to exhibit literature. He crafted warmly engaging scenes, making viewers feel as though they’d just rounded a corner in his house to find family members engrossed in a task or game, or stumbled upon them enjoying a sun-drenched day at water’s edge.

Unlike previous exhibitions of Tarbell’s work, the Portsmouth showing will include not only his paintings but some of his engravings, drawings and oil studies.

“Tarbell’s family played a strong role in his artwork,” said Allison Galliher, director of programming at the Portsmouth Historical Society and Discover Portsmouth. “His family life ... is interwoven as the subject of many of his works of art. His wife, children and even the family dog posed for him on numerous occasions. He was able to capture daily life of the family in his paintings both inside their home and on the grounds of their New Castle property.”

In addition, a companion exhibit, titled “Legacy in Action,” makes the case for Tarbell’s ongoing influence as a painter and teacher, she said. Curated by Alastair Dacey, a New Castle fine art painter who recently lived in Tarbell’s own Seacoast home, will present a companion exhibit of about 50 contemporary works by artists Don Demers, Paul Ingbretson, Jean Lightman, Mary Minifie, Colin Page and Dacey.

“In choosing the painters for this exhibit, I looked to provide a broad scope, from painters who adhere tightly and strictly to Boston School methods and aesthetics like Ingbretson and Minifie to painters who chase core principles like harmony in the value pattern of a design (Demers) or the Impressionist search for color (Page and Dacey) but who would not generally be considered ‘Boston School.’”

A good juxtaposition, Galliher said, is Tarbell’s drawing “Mary and New Castle Poppy, 1915-16,” which depicts a Tarbell daughter with one of the family’s horses, and Dacey’s 2015 piece “Vernal Inkings,” shown in the companion exhibit.

“The simplicity of some passages combine with more developed and featured areas, like Mary’s silhouetted face, her hands and gloves, and the horse’s striking blaze that helps balance the design,” Dacey said of Tarbell’s “Mary and New Castle Poppy.” “It is a staged portrait but doesn’t lose any life or energy for being carefully planned.”

Though Dacey’s piece is very different in palette and setting, “both paintings evince the artist’s interest in the abstract pattern of light and dark and the careful rendering silhouettes,” Dacey said.

The exhibit and 72-page catalog (with an introduction by Susan Strickler, director of the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester) document Tarbell’s life and art with family photographs, personal letters and ephemera, while a reconstruction of his studio includes furniture and studio props.

The two-part “Illuminating Tarbell” exhibit, with “Life and Art on the Piscataqua” and “Legacy in Action,” will be on display March 4 through June 3 at Discover Portsmouth, 10 Middle St., Portsmouth. For details, visit or call 436-8433.

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