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Fishing on the Grand Banks: The Marine Art of Thomas Hoyne

June 16 - September 30, 2005


(above: Thomas Hoyne, The Antagonist, 1986, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Estate of Adrian S. Hooper. The steam trawler SPRAY was built by the Fore River Shipbuilding Co., Quincy, Mass. in 1905. She was an experimental vessel, handled by a small crew and fishing without dories -- quite different from the long accepted and more dangerous method of fishing in small boats from a sail-powered schooner. A great deal of animosity and antagonism was felt by the large crews on the sailing vessels at first, but the safety and comfort afforded by the steam trawler insured its success.)


At Philadelphia's Independence Seaport Museum, the terrors and hardships of fishing in the North Atlantic are conveyed in the first-ever retrospective of paintings by marine realist Thomas Hoyne. Part of the Museum's summer celebration of its 10th year on Penn's Landing, the exhibit, Fishing on the Grand Banks: The Marine Art of Thomas Hoyne, opened June 16, 2005. The exhibit features 48 paintings, almost half of Hoyne's work, on loan from maritime museums and private collectors. The paintings are augmented with memorabilia from Hoyne's studio and life, and related artifacts, including ship models. (right: Thomas Hoyne, Taking a Bath in the Georges, 1988, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Estate of Adrian S. Hooper. With a storm picking up, men on the McManus-designed, round-bow, semi-knockabout schooner STILETTO are shown shortening sail -- taking in the jib. This was a dangerous job, which accounted for considerable loss of life aboard schooners with bowsprits. The tramp steamer in the background is the LAKE BUCKEYE.)

Hoyne worked for most of his career as a commercial artist drawing famous advertising icons such as the Jolly Green Giant and the Charmin baby. But in mid-life, after being diagnosed with cancer, he changed career paths and became a marine artist. Although Hoyne only lived and painted for another 17 years, he was considered to be one of the finest contemporary marine artists in the world until his death in 1989. While Hoyne painted many scenes depicting maritime activity, most of his work evokes the terrors and hardships of fishing from sailing vessels on the notoriously inhospitable Grand Bands of the northern Atlantic.

Many consider Hoyne's greatest strength as a painter his ability to depict vessels realistically, showing how they went about their work along the fishing banks of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. It is said that the water shown in a Hoyne painting "feels" wet if you touch the surface of the artwork, a testament to the degree of realism the artist brought to his work. His intuitive feel for water perhaps was enhanced by his experiences on the water during his service in the Navy during World War II.

A founding fellow of the American Society of Marine Artists, Hoyne brought life to his canvases and breath to the working sailors he portrayed. Because of his meticulous studio methods, he was able to produce paintings that have become known for their accuracy in depicting vessels and their crews at sea. He commissioned Erik A. R. Ronnberg, one of the finest ship modelers, to build models that became the subjects of his paintings. To capture the vessel's movement in water, Hoyne positioned the model in a tray of kitty litter, and then raked the kitty litter against the model as water would rake against a ship. These miniature seascapes were then sketched and photographed in order to produce possible compositions for paintings.

Hoyne used a similarly thorough method to create the figures in the paintings. His standard practice was to pose and photograph himself in costume. Using these self-created resources, Hoyne produced color sketches and drawings. A full-size drawing finalized the composition. This final drawing would then be traced onto the canvas and followed with the application of paint.

Reese Palley and Marilyn Arnold Palley, authors of Wooden Ships and Iron Men: Maritime Art of Thomas Hoyne, recently released by W.W. Norton, comment in their book on Hoyne's accuracy as an artist,

"On the easel of another painter this insistence on precision might have resulted in wooden and stilted images. But Hoyne's deep involvement with and reverent admiration for the fishermen and the skippers led to an extraordinary blending of truth and life, enhanced with the exclusionary eye of the artist -- a combination rarely achieved in the field of nautical art."

Hoyne produced about 100 marine paintings, many of which have already found their way into major museum collections, including Mystic Seaport Museum, Peabody Essex Museum, and Maine Maritime Museum. In addition, many of his paintings were made into limited-edition prints, which have sold out over the years. (right: Thomas Hoyne, Parting the Crest, 1985, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Estate of Adrian S. Hooper. The clipper bow schooner EVELYN M. THOMPSON is shown here as she and the HELEN G. WELLS, a knockabout built in 1908, close in on a coasting schooner as they make their way to the fishing grounds.)

The exhibit at Independence Seaport Museum closes September 30, 2005.


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