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"Charles Codman: Retrospective"
2002-11-07 until 2003-01-05
Portland Museum of Art
Portland, ME, USA

The Portland Museum of Art is pleased to present the first retrospective of Charles Codman's (1800-1842) work. The exhibition will trace the evolution of this important 19th-century American artist, from his early training as an ornamental painter, to his first efforts as a portraitist, to his mature work as a landscape painter. In the process it will document the emergence of a distinctive American painting tradition in the first half of the 19th century. Featuring many newly conserved paintings never before on public display, Charles Codman will be on view November 7, 2002 through January 5, 2003.

Most likely a native of Boston, Codman began his career as an apprentice to ornamental painter John Ritto Pennimans. He continued his work in decorative painting after relocating to Portland in 1822, enjoying a brisk trade painting portraits, signs, fire buckets, and military standards. The earliest works in the exhibition include a Masonic apron thought to have been produced for a Boston-area lodge, a reverse-painted landscape scene on a mirror manufactured by James Todd's Portland Shop, and a self-portrait. Codman also explored the new genre of landscape painting, producing works like View of Twin Mountains, New Hampshire (1821), a view in the White Mountains executed in the primary colors and short-hand rendering of the ornamental painter.

One of his most important commissions was the creation of five landscape-painted "fireboards"ódecorative panels placed over hearths during the summertimeófor the Portland mansion of shipbuilder James Deering. Two of those fireboards, View of Diamond Cove from Great Diamond Island and East Cove (both 1829), survive today and are prominently featured in the exhibition, demonstrating the intersection between the fine and decorative arts at this time.

Codman's first efforts at landscape painting drew the support of art critic John Neal (1793-1876), who later claimed to have "discovered" Codman in 1828. Based in Portland, Neal was known internationally for his literary and artistic expertise, and he took the young artist under his wing, encouraging Codman to capitalize on the new vogueóand his remarkable skillófor landscape painting. Codmanís work rapidly became more sophisticated in technique and palette, and as a result Neal consistently praised Codman in his writings and encouraged him to produce paintings for exhibition at prestigious national venues, such as the Boston Athenaeum. There, Codman's work was exhibited alongside paintings not only by his American contemporary Thomas Cole, but also by Claude Lorrain, Salvator Rosa, and other European masters of landscape. Codmanís work garnered fame of its own at the Athenaeum, his Pirateís Retreat (circa 1830) inspiring poetry from the young author and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Like Pirate's Retreat, many of Codman's landscapes were composite depictions of specific and imagined landscape forms, drawing upon a number of sources in adapting for America the grand European traditions of art-making and art-collecting. Thanks to inscriptions uncovered on his paintings during conservation, and thanks to the scrupulous documentation of John Neal, Codman is known to have looked to numerous reproductive prints and literary sources, including Thomas Sully's famous painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware (used by Codman in his banner for the Calais Frontier Guard, circa 1838); an engraving after Sir Thomas Lawrence (copied for Youth on a Rocky Ledge, circa 1825-1835); the work of Dutch master Philips Wouwerman (Landscape, 1828); and the poetry of Sir Walter Scott (The Lady of the Lake, circa 1830). This practice, however, went hand-in-hand with Codman's dedication to the "real" scenes of Maine and New England, including! both landscapes (The Willey House and Notch Looking South, circa 1830-33, depicting a scene in New Hampshire, and numerous views of Portlandís Diamond Cove), and scenes of vital action or local interest (Shipwreck at Pond Cove, circa 1830, and The Entertainment of the Boston Rifle Rangers at the Portland Observatory, 1830). Both Diamond Cove and The Boston Rifle Rangers were reproduced in print form, helping to spread Codmanís fame and inspiring legions of imitations.

This exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue featuring color reproductions of many paintings never before on public display. Essays will be contributed by Jessica Nicoll, Chief Curator and William E. and Helen E. Thon Curator of American Art at the Portland Museum of Art; Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., Director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and a longtime scholar of Codmanís work; and Jessica Skwire Routhier, Assistant Curator at the Portland Museum of Art.

Charles Codman, (United States, 1800-1842),
Romantic Landscape, circa 1830,
oil on wood panel,
20 x 24 1/2 inches.
Portland Museum of Art, Maine.
Gift of Mrs. E. N. Taylor, 1943.1.

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