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Robert Torchia, “Henry Golden Dearth/Flecks of Foam/c. 1911/1912,” American Paintings, 1900–1945, NGA Online Editions, https://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/46595 (accessed January 21, 2020).

 

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Overview

When Flecks of Foam was auctioned at the American Art Galleries in 1916 the accompanying catalog described “a low, rambling, rocky coast [that] is brilliant with spots of color—blue, red, yellow, green, black, pink, brown—on a gorgeous summer day, and a woman in white, sheltered under a red parasol, is seated on a rock shelf looking over a sea that all but laps her feet. The spent waves circling among outlying boulders are foam-flecked; farther away are emerald shallows; and the distant sea is blue under a horizon of faint rose.” Henry Golden Dearth was a conventional tonalist painter until around 1912, when, six years before his death at the age of 54, his style underwent a radical transformation. Probably influenced by the late works of the painter Adolphe Monticelli (French, 1824 - 1886), Dearth began to work outdoors and to apply pigment directly from the tube onto his canvas, sometimes manipulating it with a palette knife or brush handle. Dearth’s most effective works using this unusual technique were his rock pool subjects, among them Flecks of Foam, a highly representative example of the artist’s new direction. Most of these were painted near the artist’s studio in Le Pouldu, a small hamlet in Brittany along France’s northwest coast. One influential critic praised these paintings for a “beauty of workmanship and originality of conception” that earned Dearth a place “among the finest painters of his generation.” Hugo Reisinger, the noted German-born collector and advocate of modern American art, purchased Flecks of Foam in 1912.

Entry

Henry Golden Dearth’s career can be divided into two distinct periods. The first, from around 1890 until 1912, is marked by a tonalist style that, in the words of an early critic, was "characterized by paintings of quiet landscapes reflecting a peaceful, somewhat dreamy temper of mind, and executed with a free though more or less conventional technique."[1] The most noteworthy among these early works depicted the landscape around Boulogne and Montreuil-sur-Mer in the Pas-de-Calais, on the French coast of the English Channel, where the artist had a summer home and worked for part of each year. Paintings from this first period of his career have positioned Dearth as a minor member of the American Barbizon school.[2]

Dearth’s second period commenced around 1912 and lasted until his untimely death in 1918 at the age of 54. During that brief six-year interval, and probably influenced in part by the unusually painterly and colorful late works of Adolphe Monticelli, Dearth's technique underwent what was characterized as an “extraordinary revolution.” He began “letting his pigment spurt directly from the tubes onto the canvases, and there manipulating it with palette knife or brush handle, or letting it remain in fresh jets of pure color as brilliant as a newly set palette.”[3] Dearth was so concerned with disassociating himself from his tonalist style that in 1915 he asked The Metropolitan Museum of Art to substitute a new portrait for an early view of the harbor at Boulogne. The New York Times reported that the latter was “not considered by the artist as representative of his work.”[4]

Although Dearth also practiced portraiture and still-life during his later years, his contemporaries most admired his many distinctive representations of rock pools. Most of these, including Flecks of Foam, were painted near the artist’s studio in Le Pouldu, a small hamlet in Brittany along France’s northwest coast, where Paul Gauguin (French, 1848 - 1903) and a number of his followers had worked a generation earlier. Flecks of Foam is an early and highly representative example of Dearth’s rock pool subjects and demonstrates how ideally suited his new technique was to the task of “commemorating the pebbled shore line of Brittany, with its deep pockets and richly colored rocks.”[5] When the painting was auctioned at the American Art Galleries in 1916 the accompanying catalog described Dearth’s rendering as

a low, rambling, rocky coast [that] is brilliant with spots of color—blue, red, yellow, green, black, pink, brown—on a gorgeous summer day, and a woman in white, sheltered under a red parasol, is seated on a rock shelf looking over a sea that all but laps her feet. The spent waves circling among outlying boulders are foam-flecked; farther away are emerald shallows; and the distant sea is blue under a horizon of faint rose.[6]

At the time of Dearth’s Memorial Exhibition in 1918 the New York Times noted: “Generally a human figure is introduced in the composition, a girl perched on the rocks in her Summer white, reading . . . treated abstractly as a decorative unit in the scheme of the picture, but carrying, nevertheless, a charm of human individuality.” The same source also drew attention to the brilliant palette Dearth used in his pool scenes, as well as their flat, decorative quality: “Coral red, purple, gold, and blue are interwoven into a brocade such as a Venetian lady of the Renaissance might have worn at a festival. The effect is less that of a painting than that of an enamel, the color flowing thickly and making no compromise with the third dimension or the envelope of tone from which form emerges full and serene.”[7]

The influential critic Charles L. Buchanan of the International Studio greatly admired Dearth’s new style in the rock pool series, and in 1918 deemed them “one manifestation of Dearth’s art wherein he achieved perfection.” Dismissing the early tonalist works as ones that “showed him as merely one or more of a myriad of painters who were more or less repainting Barbizon,” Buchanan felt that “in his quite strangely new and consummate studies of pools and rocks, and in his marines, Dearth presented us with a kind of beauty of workmanship and originality of conception that placed him among the finest painters of his generation.”[8] An additional measure of the painting’s importance can be gleaned from the fact that it was initially purchased by Hugo Reisinger, a German-born merchant who was a major collector and early proponent of modern American art.[9]

Robert Torchia

August 17, 2018

Inscription

lower right: Dearth

Provenance

The artist; (M. Knoedler & Co., New York); purchased 1912 by Hugo Reisinger [1856-1914], New York;[1] his estate; (his estate sale, American Art Galleries, New York, 18-20 January 1916, 1st day, no. 5); Edward G. O'Reilly [1870-1934], New York and Bridgeport, Connecticut; (sale, American Art Association, New York, 24-26 January 1917, 2nd day, no. 126); Stephen C. Clark [1882-1960], New York;[2] (sale, American Art Association, New York, 30 November 1928, no. 43); Chester Dale [1883-1962], New York; bequest 1963 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1912
Paintings by Henry Golden Dearth, M. Knoedler & Co., New York, 1912, no. 11.
1937
An Exhibition of American Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection, The Union League Club, New York, 1937, no. 43.
1943
Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1943-1951, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
Technical Summary

The painting was created on a thin, horizontally grained wood panel consisting of a single plank. It was prepared by the artist with a smooth white ground layer. Infrared reflectography revealed a few minor underpainted lines along the edges of the rocks at the right, in the water, and two parallel lines to the right of the figure. Also visible during the infrared examination, a square form to the right of the sitter’s chest could be a book once held by the sitter that was painted out.[1] The paint layer was applied freely and vigorously in high impasto utilizing a brush or a palette knife. Ultraviolet examination shows that the thick, glossy layer of varnish is a natural resin. The varnish is discolored and distorts the tones of the painting significantly. No X-radiographic examination was conducted.

Bibliography
1943
Paintings from the Chester Dale Collection. Philadelphia, 1943: unpaginated, repro.
1965
Paintings other than French in the Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 44, repro.
1970
American Paintings and Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1970: 48, repro.
1980
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1980: 142, repro.
1992
American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 157, repro.
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