Paradise for painters
Art lover catalogues thousands of artists who have visited Bermuda over the years
Ogden Pleissner (1905-1983) American watercolourist made several visits to Bermuda in the 1950s, painting Old Maid's Lane in St George's, among other places.
Reynolds Beal (1866-1951) American painted here in the 1940s and was both an impressionist artist, a modernist and a marine environmentalist.
Ross Sterling Turner (1847-1915) an American watercolourist painted areas such as Fairylands in Bermuda in the 1890s.
Thomas Driver (1790-1852) painted Bermuda and other British colonies in the early 1800s.
Adolph Treidler (1886-1981) was famous for painting war posters during the First and Second World War. He also painted promotional pictures of the Pierce-Arrow car. He was hired by the Bermuda board of trade in the 1930s to paint tourism posters of the Island.
Before the age of aeroplanes, Bermuda was mostly a quiet backwater that could only be reached by boat, and yet, thousands of artists found their way to the Island over the years, to paint in the sunshine and warmth.
Local art lover Jonathan Land Evans has catalogued many of these artists in a new set of books ‘Bermuda in Painted Representation', now available to researchers and libraries. He has only printed a preview edition of about 12 copies, but plans to eventually publish a three-volume history of artists in Bermuda for the general public.
“Artists didn't really become a presence in Bermuda until the late 1800s,” said Mr Evans. “We had quite a few amateur artists who were British sailors or soldiers who painted and sketched here over the Victorian period. It wasn't until the late 1800s when American artists started coming here that it became an artists' colony. It really did grow exponentially in the early years of the 20th century to the extent that you could probably say in the 1920s that Bermuda was an artists' colony. In the winter many of artists from the Old Lyme artists' colony in Connecticut would come to Bermuda. It was probably the only case of an entire country becoming an artists' colony. All these artists coming here really were quite a major cultural phenomenon. Literally, there are thousands of artists covered in my book.”
When you visit Mr Evans, his love of art is immediately apparent. The walls of his apartment are wall-to-wall framed paintings of Bermuda, some historic painted by long ago foreign artists and some modern painted by local Bermudians. He keeps the blinds closed so the artwork won't fade and everything is climate controlled.
“I easily run out of wall space,” he said. “I bought this apartment last year and if you look around you will see there is very little wall space left. Even the bedroom is like an art gallery. It is nice to have a climate controlled space. Bermuda's climate is hell for artwork and paradise for painters.”
But he says, as much as he loves art, he doesn't do any painting himself, other than hand colouring old Bermuda maps, another of his passions.
“I have always loved Bermuda history, in general,” he said. “I have been researching Bermuda's art history for about five years in a serious way. A few years ago I published two volumes of an encyclopaedia, an alphabetical listing of all artists who were active here up until 1998. From that it has expanded somewhat to a three-volume history of artists in Bermuda, as well. It will eventually be five volumes. It is quite a large subject. People probably don't realise just how many people have been here over the years. I am still working on the third volume.”
The volumes are divided up into periods. The first volume follows the garrison era and goes up to about 1888. The second volume is called ‘the Cosmopolitan Era' and goes from 1889 to 1953. The third volume will cover the Bermudian period and will go right up until 2000.
“People tend to mention American artists Winslow Homer and Georgia O'Keeffe because they were probably the big names that came to Bermuda,” said Mr Evans. “Some of them were more famous in their own times, but tastes changed. There were so many professional artists that people have forgotten about. Some examples might be, Gerard Barry who painted here in the winter of 1911. Another would be Carl Linden. He was a talented Swedish American painter who came here in 1915 and 1916. He had very dark tones in his work. He was somewhat unusual in his palettes. There was also Frank Carson, who was an extremely good modern artist in the 1920s.”
Examples of these artists' work can be seen on Mr Evans' walls. He finds a lot of artwork for his collection online, or through auction houses or through art dealers. Knowing the names of people who have painted in Bermuda gives him an advantage, because art sellers often don't know that the picture they are selling depicts Bermuda.
Mr Evans said so far local museums have been very supportive of his research project. The Bermuda National Gallery have been quite complimentary on his work. He is hoping the National Museum will eventually publish his art trilogy for public consumption when the third volume is completed. They are already planning to publish a history of old Bermuda maps by Mr Evans which has been in the works for many years. He is also a military history enthusiast and has contributed many articles to the National Museum journal.
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