By Susan Wallner
State of the Arts
Hurricane Sandy violently changed much of the New Jersey coast. We are still in mourning for what is gone, but the loss also reminds us of what makes the Jersey Shore so special, and so loved. An exhibition now at Morven Museum & Garden proves that the unique beauty of New Jersey’s coast has been a draw for artists since at least the 19th century. Coastal Impressions: Painters of the Jersey Shore, 1880-1940 is a rare treat, bringing many newly discovered artists to the public’s attention. The paintings are of wooden boats, fishing shacks, lighthouses, and, most of all, water. They remind us what summer down the shore is all about.
The exhibition, and a new book, Jersey Shore Impressionists: The Fascination of Sun and Sea, 1880-1940, are the outcome of many years of research by Roy Pedersen, a collector and Lambertville gallery owner. “I know Bucks County painting pretty well. I’d worked in that area for quite some time and was familiar with it, and I began to notice that New Jersey was silent,” says Pedersen, “And that’s when the process began.” The discovery of one New Jersey painter led to another, until it became clear that there were many accomplished artists at work along the shore from the late 19th through the early 20th century.
Roy Pedersen describes what characterizes painters of the Jersey Shore.
Some of the earliest of these artists studied in France with the Impressionists, and they brought their knowledge of this new style back to America with them. As in France, artists in New Jersey were drawn to the natural beauty and light of the seaside where they often painted out of doors, or “en plein-air.” They would sometimes paint together, and over the years artists’ colonies formed in Harvey Cedars, Cape May, Point Pleasant, and other towns.
One of the featured artists in both the book and the Morven exhibition is Ida Wells Stroud, who taught for more than 30 years at the Evening Drawing School in Newark, now known as the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts. In 1916 she began taking her painting classes to Point Pleasant Beach in the summers. Eight years later, her daughter Clara Stroud, also an artist, bought a house there. Mother and daughter held exhibitions and classes at the “Stroud Studio” on their property, and they were at the center of the “Manasquan River Group” of painters through the 1930s and ‘40s.The timing of the Coastal Impressions exhibition is bittersweet as the first summer after Hurricane Sandy is fast approaching. “We knew that an exhibition about the Jersey Shore couldn’t ignore the fact that we’d just been through this devastation,” says Barbara Webb, Director of Development at Morven. “We very quickly realized that this was an opportunity to give something back.” The opening reception for the exhibition on April 25 became a benefit for the Hurricane Sandy NJ Relief Fund, and over $2,000 was raised.
The Strouds, Edward Boulton, Thomas Anshutz, and other Jersey Shore painters may not be as well-known as the Bucks County Impressionists or the Hudson River School painters – yet. Roy Pedersen feels that this is going to change. The new book reproduces work by over 30 Jersey Shore painters, with detailed descriptions of their lives. In the galleries at Morven Museum & Garden, a wide cross-section of paintings from 1880 to 1940 can be seen together for the first time. All good news for lovers of art and the Jersey Shore.
On May 19 at 8 pm, tune into State of the Arts for a feature story about the rediscovery of the Jersey Shore painters, including footage of locations that inspired them.
Coastal Impressions: Painters of the Jersey Shore, 1880-1940 will be on view at Morven Museum & Garden in Princeton, New Jersey through October 2013. Roy Pedersen’s book, Jersey Shore Impressionists: The Fascination of Sun and Sea, 1880-1940, is available from Down the Shore Publishing.