Masterworks is home to more than 1,200 pieces of Bermuda-inspired artwork, only five per cent of which can be displayed there at any given time. Elise Outerbridge and Tom Butterfield selected a few works from the permanent collection to reproduce in this supplement which have an interesting story to tell. From how the museum acquired its most significant work, Homer’s Inland Water, to the way locals identified with Dorothy Stevens’ Elliott Street, these treasures help offer a glimpse into this ever growing bounty.
”Inland Water” Winslow Homer 1901
This painting is one of 21 watercolors Homer did during his two visits to Bermuda in 1899 and again in 1901. They first were exhibited at the Buffalo Exhibition in 1902 where they were greatly admired. He considered his Bermuda work “as good a body of work as I have ever done.” It was on his trips to the tropics - Cuba, Nassau and Bermuda, that he perfected his skill in the medium of watercolour. He had previously been best known for the iconic marine oil paintings which pitted the struggle of man against the sea. Inland Water was owned by the US State Department who deaccessioned it as it was ”not of American content.” Masterworks acquired it first as a long term loan from the Chappell Family Trust in 1992. This single addition catapulted the foundation into a position of world recognition and truly put us on the map. Soon after the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art opened in 2008, the painting was given outright to be enjoyed by generations of Bermudians and visitors.
“Sunken Treasure” Marsden Hartley 1935
Hartley first came to Bermuda in 1917 with his colleague from the Stieglitz circle, Charles Demuth. Demuth died in 1934, and so Hartley made a sentimental journey back to Bermuda in 1935. Demuth’s death left Hartley musing over mortality and the uncertainties of life. He stayed with the Elmo Petty family on the North Shore. Petty was a fisherman and Hartley liked to go out to the reefs with him every day and observe the catch as well as admire the breathtaking scenery. Sunken Treasure is one of a series of oil paintings Hartley did and the title reflects the lyrical titles he liked to give his work. The “treasure” in this case is both the beauty and the abundance of the ocean, offering a big fat grouper for the table as well as sparkling sea anenomes.
“Maison du Gouverneur” Albert Gleizes 1917
Albert Gleizes, along with Mezinger, Picasso and Braque, were the primary proponents of Cubism. Cubism was only executed in a few places, namely France, Spain, New York and Bermuda. Gleizes had been fighting in the French Army during the First World War and when he mustered out in 1916, took his bride, Juiliette Roche to New York. We can surmise that there they heard (probably through Alfred Stieglitz) that Charles Demuth and Marsden Hartley were in Bermuda. He arrived with his new bride in 1917 and produced a fairly large body of cubist paintings based on the architecture of the island. The series of works depicting The Governor’s House is especially interesting as Tom Butterfield discovered. He was looking out the back window of City Hall and realized that the turrets in the Gleizes works lined up exactly with where he was standing. The site is where the old Hamilton Hotel stood in 1917 — we can only guess that Gleizes stayed there!
“Silk Alley” Ogden Pleissner’s c.1950
This important watercolour has added even more depth to the collection of Pleissner’s watercolours owned by Masterworks. It was recently acquired at auction, but was titled Old Maid’s Lane which we immediately realised was incorrect, but had to be directed to the exact spot by a member of the St George community and there it was, Silk Alley! Pleissner was fascinated with the Elizabethan charm of the old town and painted a number of different scenes and locations there. You can picture him setting up his easels and paints on the side of the road. He was a master at depicting the textual Bermuda stone walls and the translucent quality of light unique to the island.
“Marjorie, Louise and Joy” E. Ambrose Webster 1922
Masterworks considers the painting of three Bermudian women “our Gauguins’. The subjects in this painting are identified by name, which adds to the intimacy of the work. Webster employed a traditional Renaissance composition-Madonna and child with the offering of fruit by the saint-like figure to the left.He famously stated that he discovered that shadows were purple while in Bermuda and this is certainly evidenced in this work.
In 1995, Masterworks held a telethon at ZBM and raised $50,000 to purchase this and the other two portraits- Sisters and Couple. The contributions poured in during the three hours on air. In one case, a grandmother was making a pledge from one room while her grandson snuck into another room to offer his 5!
“Eliott Street” Dorothy Stevens c. 1940
The discovery of this painting caused quite a stir when it was acquired by Masterworks in 2003 from a dealer in Canada. When the image was placed in the Mid Ocean News with the question “can you help us identify this work?” the phone rang off the hook. The image was of a group of children paying on a Bermudian Street, and 13 members of this neighbourhood responded that they had memories of the area and some even remembered the Canadian artist who painted them!The area has now been bulldozed and is now Gosling’s warehouse and parking lot. Back then it was a vibrant neighbourhood known as Parkers Hill. We were fascinated by the wonderful memories the group shared with us.