casein on canvas, unframed
The Porch is an exterior view of the large, two-story Porter family home on Great Spruce Head Island in Penobscot Bay, Maine. Fairfield Porter's father, James, an architect, had purchased the then uninhabited island in 1912 and built the "big house" as well as other structures on the sprawling property. Nearly every summer of Porter's life was spent on the island and it was on this porch of the main home that he first experimented with plein-air painting as a child. The island, the surrounding ocean vistas and the family residence provided rich material and constant inspiration for Porter throughout his career.
Born in 1907 to an affluent and scholarly family of Mayflower descent, Porter grew up in the wealthy suburb of Winnetka, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Porter was a strong student and graduated from Harvard in 1928. Justin Spring notes that "Porter grew up in an intellectual rather than a sensual household, to be more a scholar and critic than a man who takes his chief inspiration and delight in the color, light, and textures of the physical world, so, in a sense, he needed to disregard his education in order to free himself to paint...Porter's painterly sensuality - an incredibly particular and American sensuality-... eventually triumphed in a body of paintings which are among the most significant of twentieth-century realism" (Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art, 2000). The catalyst for this transition, according to Joan Ludman, the artist's biographer, was not only his trips abroad to study the Old Masters following his graduation from college but also his exposure to an exhibition of the Post-Impressionists Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1938. Vuillard's credo of painting "what you know" had a profound impact on Porter, who stated that he experienced a "revelation of the obvious" and that what he liked in Vuillard "is that what he's doing seems ordinary, but the extraordinary is everywhere." William Agee notes that Bonnard and Vuillard had a "message [that] was clear: paint what you know, what is given to you, and let the painting speak for itself...they mediated between past and present, offering Porter a way to translate the solid, durable world of old master art into a vital and personal modern art" (as quoted, Fairfield Porter: A Catalogue Raisonné, 2001, p. 25).
The subject of The Porch was innately familiar to Porter by the time he painted it in 1962, yet his transcription of the location was anything but literal. He liberally interpreted the hard edges of the windows, gutters and chairs into fluid lines and took obvious delight in depicting the bold, bright colors of the flower garden just outside. Porter chose to use casein, a fast-drying pigment with a viscous consistency that could be thinned to the artist's desired thickness and which permitted a multitude of textural layers on the canvas. This versatile paint, closely related to tempera, allowed Porter's quick brushstrokes to drip just enough to be visibly noticeable, primarily among the flowers in the foreground, lending a sense of immediacy and spontaneity to his imagery. In response to this aesthetic, John Bernard Myers, Porter's longtime dealer at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, recalled in his journal, "I have asked Fairfield if he would consider repainting a small drip, which bothers a collector who has lived with the picture for many months. In fact, the collector's obsession with this small drip baffles me. However, I dutifully reported the complaint. 'What a silly request!' Porter responded. 'I would no more change that area than I would think of removing a mole from a beloved's face (as quoted in, Fairfield Porter: Realist Painter in an Age of Abstraction, 1983, p. 43).
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