Fairfield Porter: Modern American Master

Fairfield Porter (American, 1907-1975) . Anne in a Striped Dress, 1967. Oil on canvas, 60 X 48 inches. Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, New York, Gift of the Estate of Fairfield Porter, 1980.10.176
Fairfield Porter: Modern American Master
November 10, 2012 to October 27, 2013

In 1949, Fairfield Porter relocated from New York City to Southampton with his wife, the distinguished poet Anne Channing Porter, and their children. During lifelong summers spent with his family on an island in Maine’s Penobscot Bay, Porter painted out-of-doors and the sweeping views of wildflower meadows overlooking the water are some of the most radiant landscapes ever painted. In Southampton, however, the outside world depicted is more frequently the one glimpsed from the interior of his studio, where his wife, children, and fellow artists were his most frequent subjects. A stone’s throw from the back door of the house on South Main Street, the studio was in an old stable, up a narrow flight of stairs that led to a hayloft that he retrofitted with a skylight and north-facing window. Through the window and the opened hayloft doors, Porter enjoyed a panoptic view of his surroundings. For some twenty-five years, this was the primary site of his painting.

Recognizable landscapes and portraits were frequent subjects throughout his career, but Porter bristled at the term “realist” that was often applied to his work. He insisted that he painted what he saw rather than what he might assume to be there, and that whole passages in his paintings were abstract. Porter’s swathes of vigorously applied paint have an energy and authority equivalent to Abstract Expressionist handling. His admiration for Willem de Kooning was absolute, and like de Kooning, he strove to communicate the essence of what he was trying to convey. Porter, who was also an articulate and widely-published art critic, once observed: “The realist thinks he knows ahead of time what reality is, and the abstract artist what art is, but it is in its formality that realist art excels, and the best abstract art communicates an overwhelming sense of reality.”

The presentation of the Installation of the Permanent Collection is made possible in part by The Hearst Foundations, Barbara J. Slifka, Henry Luce Foundation, Barbara and Mark Zand, Allison Morrow, and Gagosian Gallery. This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Museum’s programs are made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and by the property taxpayers from the Southampton School District and the Tuckahoe Common School District.