The Landing at Bailey Island, Maine, c. 1907
Oil on canvas, 15 X 32" (38. 10 x 81.28 cm.)
Signed, lower right
Museum Purchase, 970-0-146
For over forty years Alfred Bricher sketched and painted scenes along the East Coast from New Jersey to easternmost Maine. He painted his first shore subject in 1864, when close observations of nature, both in details and in larger effects, were highly valued. He created compositions in which a strong horizon line, often no more than one-third of the way up the picture surface, and an uncommonly wide canvas, created a panoramic effect. In the foreground there is usually a thin wedge-shaped expanse of beach, then two or three slightly diagonal ranks of breaking waves. The waves and water are often within a cove created by the shore sweeping around in a tight curve, the apex of which is cut off by the picture's border. The shore then reappears to form a prominent headland in the middle distance, sloping gently or dropping steeply to a horizon punctuated only by the tiny white triangles of sails. Filling well over half the picture surface is a sky animated by a remarkably convincing combination of white and gray-edged clouds interspersed with patches of blue. Bricher was also a master of the breaking wave, able to catch the translucency at its crest, the heaving fluidity of the body and the rush of foam down its forward slope.
Bricher painted the islands of Maine in storm and lifting mist as well as sunny calm. During the last few years of his life he concentrated his sketching on the northern islands in Casco Bay including Bailey Island, northeast of Portland, one of the larger of the over two hundred islands which dot these waters. From 1905 to 1908, Bricher exhibited no less than twelve watercolors and oils of Bailey Island subjects. In 1908, Gill's Art Gallery in Springfield, Massachusetts exhibited the Butler Institutes picture. At the Bricher estate sale of 1909, there were ten additional watercolors of Bailey Island subjects.'
The Landing at Bailey Island, Maine is a calm distillation of Bricher's accomplishments. Every detail is deftly drawn, from the foreground rocks to the landing and its buildings in the middle distance, to the distant sailboats, but not so meticulously as to make the picture the sum of many parts. On the left are active colors in the seaweed and a greenish tint to the water as it becomes shallow. The sea approaches the beach in three wavelets which lap lazily against the stones. With a light impasto of lively roiling brushstrokes a placid sea mirrors the sky above. One characteristic which distinguishes Bricher's work from that of many of his contemporaries is the darkness of his shadows. Even on a sunny day his quite dark shadows create a somewhat somber effect. The structure of the landing is in shadow; but a shadow that is transparent with details of buildings and pilings readily visible.
Characteristic also is the calculation with which Bricher has composed his picture. The horizon divides it into thirds and the end of the landing pier reaches exactly the picture's midpoint. In sketches that the artist made from several different vantage points, the buildings on the pilings are in other positions and the distant shore has very different profiles. The pier itself looks just the same today, but it is in a cove which Bricher has substantially eliminated. The sailboat off the end of the pier appears in only one sketch, but in a very different relation to the distant shore beyond. Bricher has exercised substantial license in shaping and repositioning elements, creating balance and harmony for a picture of singular tranquility.
WILLIAM S. TALBOT