E. Ambrose Webster

E. Ambrose Webster (1869-1935) was:

an American painter proficient in the dark-toned academic style prevalent at the turn of the century. He went abroad to study in 1896 and returned a convert to bright color and strong light -- in short, an American Fauve. Monet and van Gogh ranked among his influences, but Matisse, fellow American artists and trips to tropical places also fed his devotion to sun-heated and often nonnaturalistic hues.His headquarters from 1900 until his death was Provincetown, Mass., where he set up an art school and became a pioneer of Modernism. But although he was one of the first American Fauvists and submitted two brilliantly colored canvases to the famous Armory Show of 1913, his impact as a Modernist painter was more regional than national.

Still, as this show makes evident, the work deserves more attention than it has received. The earliest canvas in it is "Tamarisk, the Pride of India, Bermuda" (1916), a gorgeously colored composition of whitish trees in a lineup against turquoise water with foliage enlivened by blues, lavenders, pale greens, pink, flaming orange and a low purple fence. The rest of the work, from the 20's and 30's, happily reflects Webster's further study in Paris with the Cubist Albert Gleizes.

Two fine landscapes done in France in 1926, "St. Paul II" and "La Gaude I," are as much about shape and volume as about color, with roundish, slightly stylized foliage counterpointed by solid yet minimally detailed geometric buildings. A lively but heavily derivative shot at pure abstraction is "Nonobjective" (1925), whose brightly colored geometric flats lie deceptively collagelike on one another, topped by a fragment of guitar.

More robustly interesting is the heavily stylized, almost surreal "Greenwich Village in Geometry" (1929). Its focal point is a cool nude, rendered in a mix of Cubist and soft, natural forms. She sits on a checkerboard rectangle surveying below a toylike scene of red-brick building forms and a green backhoe puffing Deco clouds of smoke. Maybe it's a metaphor for the artist and his take on the American scene. It's a wonderful painting.

cite journal | author=Grace Glueck| title= ART IN REVIEW; E. Ambrose Webster| journal=New York Times| year=2003]


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