Art trail
Cape Ann, 1934-35, Leon Kroll
 If you go ENE Destination (G) Cape Ann Guide

Points of view

Visit North Shore sites that inspired works on exhibit at the Peabody Essex

Email|Print| Text size + By Sally Heaney
Globe Correspondent / June 18, 2006

SALEM -- Great art requires inspiration, which often comes from a specific place in the world. Many artists have found such inspiration on the North Shore, and the Peabody Essex Museum is encouraging art lovers to visit these sites.

The starting point is the exhibition ``Painting Summer in New England" on display at the Salem museum through Sept. 4 . View the paintings and, if you like, purchase the exhibition catalog for $40 at the gift shop. Then take a self-guided tour.

The exhibit includes more than 100 paintings by 82 artists from the late 1850s to the present. Although scenes from all six New England states are represented, the museum is partnering with area tourism and historical groups to highlight how the scenic beauty of the North Shore has often served as an artist's muse.

The yearlong Art Escapes promotion is , according to Elaine Aliberti , the museum's marketing manager, ``a regionwide celebration of the artistic heritage of the north of Boston region and the places that have inspired artists, past and present. " The focus is on the ``connection between art, artist, and place," she said.

A special Art Escapes website gives six suggested itineraries for visiting museums, galleries, and natural areas as well as links to hotel packages. There is also information about companion exhibits and events scheduled at many institutions north of Boston.

None of the suggested itineraries, however, tells how to find the scenes that inspired paintings in the Peabody Essex exhibition. Thanks to help from the museum staff, you will be able to do just that if you follow our tour.

At the museum, pay special attention to the seven paintings you will be comparing with real - life scenes: ``Landscape with Figures, No. 2 ," ``Gloucester Alley ," ``Old Street in Gloucester ," ``Gloucester Humoresque ," ``Gloucester Trolley ," ``Cape Ann ," and ``Venus and Adonis."

As their titles imply, most of these paintings are set in Gloucester and Rockport, two of the four towns on Cape Ann, which our tour loops around. The first stop after the museum is in Salem and the last in Gloucester, near Route 128, a convenient place from which to head home.

When you leave the museum head to Salem Willows Park , a small amusement park near the water that was the subject of Maurice Prendergast 's 1918 painting ``Landscape with Figures, No. 2."

The painting features people sitting in a gazebo and standing in clusters beneath the trees. Several gazebos in the park look almost identical to the one in the painting. But the trees are not the willows there today, and the figures are certainly from a different era.

After a ride on the historic merry-go-round and some ice cream or pizza, it's time to drive to Gloucester, a city that has long been home to fishermen and artists.

Once there, stop at the granite house overlooking the harbor that was the home of artist Fitz Henry Lane. (Until recently, art historians thought his middle name was Hugh.) At the edge of the yard is a statue of Lane painting a picture of a lighthouse . Near the statue are bronzed sandals, accompanied by these words inscribed in a rock: ``Step into my shoes and become inspired."

The Peabody Essex exhibition includes not a North Shore painting but one Lane did of Castine, Maine. You can see more of his paintings at the Cape Ann Historical Museum, the next stop on our tour. It has permanent displays of Lane's work and of several other artists represented in the ``Painting Summer in New England" exhibition.

Take time in Gloucester to walk or drive past the old houses and the spires of the churches and City Hall. The surreal ``Gloucester Alley," painted in 1943 by Karl L. Zerbe, is not a realistic portrayal of a specific street, but it conveys a feeling for the city, with its old houses, towers, and two large fish. There is also an image of an old woman, perhaps the widow of a fisherman or the mother of a soldier gone to fight in the war.

Another painting for which the exact location is not certain is ``Old Street in Gloucester," painted in 1912 by Jane Peterson. It's easy to imagine the plain frame house in the picture on one of the streets of the city.

Next, take the short drive to the North Shore Arts Association in East Gloucester, which moved into this converted livery near the harbor in 1922.

William Meyerowitz, who lived on the hill across the street, painted a lively panoramic view of the harbor, ``Gloucester Humoresque," in 1923 that depicts the association building in the top right of the picture.

Meyerowitz put himself and his summer house, which still stands at 44 Mount Pleasant Ave., in the painting.

After parking in the lot for the Rocky Neck Art Colony , which calls itself the oldest working art colony in America, walk back to the corner. There is a pinkish block stone retaining wall across East Main Street and a house that is painted blue above and white below.

Although the trolley is a thing of the past, the wall and house are surely depicted in John Sloan's ``Gloucester Trolley," painted in 1917. A low stone wall on the Rocky Neck side of East Main Street can also be seen in the picture.

After exploring Rocky Neck, continue on to Rockport, a mecca for quaint gift shops and art galleries. Visit the Rockport Art Association at 12 Main St.

The next stop is a very different part of Rockport, an old quarry at Halibut Point State Park . Leon Kroll's 1934-35 painting ``Cape Ann" shows three people on the boulders at the edge of a quarry.

The Halibut Point quarry is next to the ocean, but the painting appears to be of one of the quarries in the interior of Cape Ann, a more frequent subject for Kroll than the coast. Yet there is similarity in the rugged contours of the stone ringing the ponds in both the actual and painted quarries.

Next, head for an even more desolate spot, Dogtown Common , the uninhabited boulder-strewn land in the center of Cape Ann. Bryson Burroughs chose this place as the setting for his 1933 painting ``Venus and Adonis."

Dogtown was settled in 1693 because its inland location afforded protection from pirates and enemy navies. After the War of 1812, most residents moved back to coastal land, and it was abandoned by 1830.

In the painting, the landscape is grassland with a fringe of scrubby evergreens poking up between the boulders. Today, Dogtown Common still has the boulders, but, near the parking lot, a forest has grown up around them.

In the painting, a nearly naked Venus stands looking up at Adonis on a horse while a pack of dogs stand nearby. Adonis, the dogs, and even the horse are looking at Venus.

Trevor Fairbrother , the exhibition curator, said in a phone interview that the painting is ``sort of a spoof on New England prudishness." He said this was a humorous piece for the artist, who was a learned curator showing off his knowledge of classical artistic subjects while placing them in a New England landscape.

Dogtown Common is the last stop on this tour. If you want to see more , go to Ipswich and look for Arthur Wesley Dow 's ``View of the Marshes, Ipswich ," and ``Moonrise " (1916). Then drive to Newbury and Plum Island in search of William Morris Hunt 's ``Sand Dunes " (1875)

The quest is yours; go where it leads you.

Contact Sally Heaney at

more stories like this

  • Email
  • Email
  • Print
  • Print
  • Single page
  • Single page
  • Reprints
  • Reprints
  • Share
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Comment
  • Share on DiggShare on Digg
  • Tag with Save this article
  • powered by
Your Name Your e-mail address (for return address purposes) E-mail address of recipients (separate multiple addresses with commas) Name and both e-mail fields are required.
Message (optional)
Disclaimer: does not share this information or keep it permanently, as it is for the sole purpose of sending this one time e-mail.