Fairfield Porter (1907 - 1975)
Street Scene, Southampton, New York, n.d.
Watercolor on paper
20 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches (sight)
Numbered in pencil verso: 92 / M2019D
Estate stamp verso
From the estate of Anne E. C. Porter, Collection of Fairfield Porter (estate stamp verso)
Fairfield Porter was born in Winnetka, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, in 1907. In 1924, at age seventeen, he entered Harvard University, where he studied art and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1928. Porter continued his studies for the next two years at the Arts Students League in New York, where he studied with Thomas Hart Benton. Porter himself was a mainly figurative painter, influenced by French post-impressionist painters, Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard. Porterís works of art shared many of the qualities of their works, primarily their emphasis on intimate subject matter and on color relationships and subtle effects of light. Porterís style is abstract yet recognizable, keeping with the realist tradition of representation, yet simplifying images so that the viewer is aware of the abstract design of the surface. He forged a distinct vision out of two disparate styles: one, intimate and representational; and the other, colorful and abstract. His subjects are often personal: appealing and intimate images of family and home, familiar roads and landscapes. Though he favored the watercolor medium early and late in his career, throughout his life he made pencil and ink drawings and painted in oils.
Porter understood his own work as an extension of the sensual and representational achievements of Vuillard, recording impressions at hand with a confident use of color and light. He eschewed traditional techniques of contour and form, and the inherent lack of spontaneity that follows, that he associated with artists such as Thomas Hart Benton. Thus, his pictures have a freshness and vitality similar to the abstract painters of his generation, but they are grounded in a less theoretical, more realistic approach. Porterís oil paintings are immediate, sensual impressions of the world immediately before him, unconstrained by any adherence to a particular theory.
Introduced by his friend, Willem de Kooning, Porter began to exhibit at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York, which was known primarily as a venue for Abstract Expressionist painting. Porterís work, largely landscape pictures of the areas of Southampton, New York, where he and his family lived, eventually gathered a following of critics and collectors who otherwise had interest in non-objective painting.
In his lifelong pursuit of realistic, non-abstract subjects, however, Porter was far ahead of his time, particularly in painting portraits of his family and friends, a genre that wasnít taken seriously by the art world until years later.
Besides his vocation as a painter, Porter was also a prolific poet and art critic until his death in 1975. An artist of wide intellectual interests, Porter was a friend of many younger contemporary artists, such as Alex Katz and Larry Rivers, and modern poets Frank OíHara and James Schuyler. Porter participated in numerous exhibitions, including the 1968 Venice Biennale, and major exhibitions held at the Whitney Museum and the Smithsonian Institution.