WILLIAM GLACKENS (1870–1938)
Lake Bathers, about 1920–24
Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in.
EX COLL: [John H. Surovek Gallery, Palm Beach, Florida]; to private collection, Maryland, until the present
Glackens’s penchant for depicting leisure activity at the shore, as well as his later emphasis on vibrant color and impressionist-inspired brushwork, is apparent in Lake Bathers, which features a group of vacationers gathered along the edge of a pristine waterway. The participants consist of three young women, a child, and a teenage boy (possibly Ira), all dressed in bathing attire, their activities observed by a female spectator wearing everyday garb, her face protected from the sunlight by a straw hat. The rock-bound beach in the foreground and the line of majestic mountains on the opposite shoreline indicate that the work was painted between 1920 and 1924, when Glackens made regular seasonal excursions to Conway, a small town in eastern New Hampshire nestled amidst the White Mountains. (The artist and his family had spent the summer of 1919 in a beach house in the Eastern Point section of Gloucester, Massachusetts. However, in the following year, Glackens decided to seek out an inland locale that offered pleasing scenery as well as an opportunity for piscatorial pursuits. As recounted by Ira Glackens, it was while reviewing advertisements for vacation properties in the Boston Transcript in the early spring of 1920, that a “glowing description of a house on a lake near Conway, New Hampshire caught [his father’s] eye. After an inspection trip that involved wading through drifts of snow, though it was early May, the house was taken."
During his sojourns in New Hampshire, Glackens led a simple life, spending his time fishing for bass in Walker Pond (later renamed Conway Lake), mountain climbing (on both Mount Washington and Mount Chocorua), and fraternizing with members of the summer colony in Conway, among them the journalist Frank H. Simonds and the painter Alice Mumford. Visitors to his rustic house (snug and homey but devoid of electricity and running water) also included Dr. Barnes and his wife, Laura. Although socializing and outdoor recreational activities kept him busy, Glackens also found time to paint, especially, as his son recalled, during the late summer, when the “autumn colors began and the landscape grew less green” (Glackens, p. 193). To be sure, uninspired by the rugged wilderness scenery that surrounded him, Glackens focused his creative energies on themes related to his immediate milieu, painting floral subjects, still lifes, and depictions of his picturesque residence, as well as light-filled shore scenes such as Conway Lake, New Hampshire (Walker Pond) (c. 1923; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College), which features the same large boulder and distant silhouette of Mount Washington that appear in the foreground and background left, respectively, of Lake Bathers.
As William H. Gerdts has pointed out, Glackens’s New Hampshire pictures constitute the “most significant Impressionist paintings of this famed region”—a comment that brings to mind works such as Lake Bathers, with its dynamic handling, rich orchestration of contrasting hues, and emphasis on bright sunlight. The artist’s familiarity with the work of Renoir is apparent in the soft brushwork used to render the figures, while the rapidly applied divisionist strokes appearing in the water and landscape point to his knowledge of Post-Impressionism, with its concern for textured effects and lively patterning. Glackens’s modernist approach to color is demonstrated in his bold fauve-like palette, wherein jewel-like blues and cool greens merge and mingle with areas of pink, violet, and yellow, complimented here and there by tints of red and orange, and gold. As was his practice, Glackens retains an interest in form and structure, adhering to a carefully defined composition of water and sky, bisected by the mountainous landscape that helps evoke a sense of place. Certainly, Lake Bathers exudes a glowing luminosity and give us a palpable sense of the fleeting effects of nature. At the same time, the painting functions as an intimate genre scene––a striking pictorial souvenir that captures the feelings of pleasure and informal relaxation that Glackens experienced with his friends and family during his seasonal retreats to the Granite State.