CHADDS FORD, PA.-
The unique vision of artist, adventurer and author Rockwell Kent will be on view at the Brandywine River Museum
this fall in Intrepid and Inventive: Illustrations by Rockwell Kent. The exhibition features more than 80 drawings, wood engravings, lithographs and paintings inspired by his travels, including illustrations for books and magazines.
Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) traveled to remote locations in pursuit of personal challenges, recording his intrepid exploits in words and pictures and achieving celebrity status when they were published. He had a great influence on the art of his time and on later artists, including members of the Wyeth family.
In 1918, Kent lived with his young son in Alaska for eight months in a cabin on Fox Island. Upon his return home, he exhibited drawings and paintings and published Wilderness, A Journal of Quiet Adventure (1920), filled with evocative illustrations of the experience. He chronicled his 1922 journey to Tierra del Fuego in the book Voyaging Southward from the Strait of Magellan. In 1930, he published N by E, a richly illustrated chronicle of his 1929 shipwreck in Greenland and sojourn to paint on that ice-bound land.
The fame of Kent's travel journals prompted commissions to illustrate for leading publishing houses. He created masterful, sometimes provocative work for nearly 50 books. The exhibition includes ink drawings for the famous three-volume, Moby Dick (1930). These works reflect his keen knowledge of the sea, his experiences of elation and isolation, and his obsessive pursuits. The publication was proclaimed a masterpiece and has remained his most enduring illustrated work. The exhibition also includes illustrations for other works such as The Canterbury Tales (1930), Beowulf (1932), and The Decameron (1949).
Of the works on exhibition, many that were published in magazines such as Vanity Fair, Life, and other popular magazines of the 1920s. Kent signed these illustrations "Hogarth, Jr." in homage to the famous 18th century English cartoonist. Kent's satiric, inventive drawings reveal his view of social conventions, the foibles of political hypocrisy, the din of modern life, and the lure of attractive women. Although he initially saw illustration as a means to fund travels to paint, he discovered illustration could be a powerful means of personal expression.
In the 1950s, Kent's socialist views and controversial trip to Europe and Russia as a self-appointed emissary for peace and nuclear non-proliferation spurred officials to revoke his passport. Suspected of being a communist, he was subpoenaed by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1953. His reputation damaged and shunned by art world, Kent developed ties with the Soviet Union and donated to it a large portion of his art, including many illustrations.
Intrepid and Inventive: Illustrations by Rockwell Kent is on view at the Brandywine River Museum from September 12 through November 19. The exhibition includes many important works lent by the Rockwell Kent Collection at Plattsburg State Art Museum, Columbia University, and other public and private collections.