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Beatrice Cuming (1903-1974)
probably 1940

Oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 31 3/4 inches. Signed lower right: "CUMING".  

Inscribed in pencil "BEATRICE CUMING/ NEW LONDON" on top of strainer

and "[illegible] 1931" on strainer's center support.


American Artists Congress group exhibition, American Art Today Pavilion, New York World's Fair, August, 1940; Beatrice Cuming, 1903-1974, Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, CT, February 4 - March 18, 1990, cat. no. 21 (as "Bourne Bridge"); Enduring America: Selections from the Collection of Art and Peggy Hittner, Northern Arizona University Art Museum, April 7 - May 29, 2015 (as "Industrial Landscape").


Jewell, Edward Alden, "S.S. America: More Than a Floating Hotel: New Shows," The New York Times, August 4, 1940, p. 109; Hittner, Arthur D., "Art of the Thirties: Rediscovered Masters of the American Scene," Antiques & Fine Art, Autumn/Winter, 2009, p. 170; Enduring America (catalogue entry and back cover ); Speer, George V. and Arthur D. Hittner, "Enduring America: The Collection of Art & Peggy Hittner," American Art Review, June, 2015, p. 91.


Beatrice Cuming: 1903-1974 (exhibition catalogue with essays by William C. Bendig, Cecile S. Tyl and Barbara Zabel, Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, CT, 1990); Manoguerra, Paul, “Beatrice Cuming” in Coming Home: American Paintings 1930-1950 from the Schoen Collection (Athens, GA, Georgia Museum of Art, 2003), p. 111; Pohrt, Tanya, "Beatrice Cuming: Connecticut Precisionist," American Art Review, Winter 2024, p. 118ff.


Alma C. Wies, New London, CT; Estate of the foregoing, 2003; Nadeau's Auction Gallery, Inc., Windsor, CT, January 1, 2005, lot 459.


Original 5-inch wood frame with antiqued white finish, most likely applied by the artist.

    A native of Brooklyn, New York, Beatrice Lavis* Cuming studied locally at the Pratt Institute Art School before departing for Paris to attend the Academie Colarossi. Within two years, she was back in New York working as an illustrator and attending classes at the Art Students League in 1928-29. Following a four-year sojourn to France and North Africa, Cuming again returned to New York where she came under the influence of Charles Burchfield, Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth. In 1934, Cuming moved to New London, Connecticut, where she remained for the balance of her career, participating in the Public Works of Art and WPA Federal Art Projects, teaching art classes and directing the Young People’s Art Program at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum from 1937 through 1967. She exhibited widely, including solo exhibitions in New York City at the Guy Mayer Gallery (1942) and Contemporary Artists Gallery (1946) as well as various Connecticut venues culminating in retrospectives at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in 1968 and 1990.

   The present work is reminiscent of Sheeler in its focus on the industrial environment and of Edward Hopper in its sense of urban isolation. The three figures in the middle ground of the painting serve in one sense to provide scale and in another to underscore industrial dominance. “Her typical subjects are buoys, drydock cradles, industrial plants, bridges, storage sheds,” wrote The New York Times critic Edward Alden Jewell. "Miss Cuming paints a man’s world, and she does so with uncompromising vigor.”** When queried about her choice of subject matter, she responded by noting that such industrial subjects "seem to be obviously beautiful, powerful, dramatic, exciting. They stir my imagination."*** 


   Thanks to research recently conducted by curator Tanya Pohrt in connection with a 2024 Beatrice Cuming retrospective at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum (see Recollections, below), it is now possible to identify the subject matter of this painting as the New Bedford-Fairhaven Bridge, a “swing bridge” originally constructed in 1903 to connect the two southeastern Massachusetts cities.****  When rotated, the “open” bridge allows for passage of nautical traffic along the Acushnet River below. Trolley tracks are visible along the center of the roadway. The view looks eastward toward Fairhaven from the vicinity of Fish Island on the New Bedford side.  


   Bridge was exhibited, most likely for the first time, as part of the American Artists Congress group show at the American Art Today Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in the summer of 1940, drawing praise from Times art critic Edward Alden Jewell as a work “of conspicuous interest” and “aptly designed.”***** Prominently reproduced in Jewell’s article, the work is emblematic of the best of Cuming’s industrial-themed canvases.  


* Some sources identify Cuming's middle name as 'Laris'.

** The New York Times, February 3, 1942.

*** Zabel, Barbara, "Beatrice Cuming and her time" (catalogue essay in Beatrice Cuming: 1903-1974 (New London, CT, 1990)), p. 9.

**** Email correspondence from Tanya Pohrt, January 25-February 6, 2024.

*****The New York Times, August 4, 1940, p. 109.



     Sometimes the story behind a work of art takes time to unravel.  While careful research can provide useful clues, serendipity can often seal the deal.  Beatrice Cuming’s Bridge is a classic case in point.


      When we acquired the painting at auction in Connecticut in 2003, no background information accompanied it.  The only available clues were the inscriptions on the stretcher: the artist’s name, a “New London” reference and the date 1931.  The date is difficult to explain, as Cuming was then in Europe.  New London, the Connecticut city to which Cuming moved in 1934, appears on the reverse of a number of her works, usually as part of her address. But the scene depicted in the painting bears no known relationship to the industrial landscape of the New London area.  


     Further research indicated that the artist was commissioned by Standard Oil Company to paint a series of gouaches depicting company plants in Philadelphia and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which were reproduced in a company publication in October of 1946.  The hypothesis that our painting was somehow connected to, or inspired by, that commission, was suggested by the presence of a Socony (Standard Oil Company of New York) billboard on the right side of the composition and the oil rigs on the left.  That, therefore, remained our best guess—until recently.


     It was a series of email exchanges with Lyman Allyn Art Museum curator Tanya Pohrt in connection with her work on a 2024 Cuming retrospective that ultimately resolved the mystery.  A photograph of the painting apparently taken around the time of a previous Cuming retrospective at the Lyman Allyn in 1990 was inscribed on the back with the name of its then owner (Alma Wies) and, in a different hand, the designation “Bourne Bridge.”  The catalogue for the 1990 retrospective listed a painting under that title, with dimensions corresponding to the as-framed dimensions of our work.  Mystery solved?  Not so quickly:  topographical evidence makes it abundantly clear that our painting is not a depiction of that oft-congested span between Cape Cod and the Massachusetts mainland.  


     If it isn’t the Bourne Bridge, then what bridge is it?  Perusal of old photographs and consultation between Ms. Pohrt and collector Jonathan Sproul suggested yet another possibility: the New Bedford-Fairhaven Bridge in southeastern Massachusetts.   Cuming is known to have visited New Bedford on several occasions, creating several works featuring locales within the city.  Photographic and topographical evidence irrefutably ties at least one of these works to a site leading directly to the New Bedford-Fairhaven Bridge (see Fig. 1).   Although our work is rendered from a different vantage point and the available photographic documentation is less compelling, various features (e.g., the structural elements of the bridge, the forms of adjacent buildings, the oil derrick on the far left, the presence of trolley tracks and the style of the streetlights) allow us to conclude that our painting does, indeed, depict the New Bedford-Fairhaven Bridge looking eastward from the New Bedford side.


     A final discovery adds a fascinating addendum.  A newspaper clipping dated August 4, 1940 in the files of the Archives of American Art reproduces the painting above a caption referencing the work as Bridge and its exhibition as part of the American Artists Congress group exhibition at the American Art Today Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1940.  Fortunately, I was able to locate the full article in the online archives of The New York Times.  Thus, we now know its original intended title—Cuming was evidently more interested in the generic concept than precise identification—and are able to narrow its execution to a date no later than 1940.

Screenshot 2024-02-07 at 5.43.50 PM.png

Fig. 1 - Beatrice Cuming, Untitled [New Bedford/Fair Haven Bridge, MA], ca. 1940, oil on canvas, 28 x 36 inches. Courtesy of Bagley Reid.

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