Beatrice Cuming (1903-1974)
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.
Enduring America: Selections from the Collection of Art and Peggy Hittner, Northern Arizona University Art Museum, April 7 - May 29, 2015.
Hittner, Arthur D., "Art of the Thirties: Rediscovered Masters of the American Scene," Antiques & Fine Art, Autumn/Winter, 2009, p. 170; Enduring America (catalogue); 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.
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 Allen 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 Allen 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 New York Times critic 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."***
Various features of the painting provide inconsistent evidence regarding its origin. The presence of a 1931 date on the stretcher is difficult to explain, as Cuming was then in Europe. There is another separate stretcher inscription containing the artist’s name above a reference to “New London,” the Connecticut city to which Cuming moved in 1934. The scene depicted in the painting, however, bears no known relationship to the industrial landscape of the New London, Connecticut area. The most telling clue is the presence of a Socony (Standard Oil Company of New York) billboard on the right side of the composition and oil rigs on the left. The artist was commissioned by Standard Oil Company to paint a series of watercolors depicting company plants in Philadelphia and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The watercolors appeared in a company publication in October of 1946. Although there is no specific evidence that the commission included oils, it seems reasonable to assume that the painting was executed around 1946, most likely in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, either as part of the Socony commission or concurrently with it.****
* 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.
**** I am indebted to Art History Professor Barbara Zabel of Connecticut College for her insights which form the basis for the conclusions in this paragraph (email from Professor Zabel, September 27, 2008).