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Permanent Collections: Homer Not Alone

One Thanksgiving a number of years ago, I visited my brother for a few days while he was living in Rochester, NY. On the day of my departure, with a few hours until my train left, he, our parents, and I went to the Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Rochester.

I was living in New York City at the time, so I was a spoiled museum-goer. I also was a bit of a snob. I viewed my visit to MAG mostly as a way to kill time. I assumed I would see a handful of decent works. I saw much more. Not just decent art, but some exemplary achievements in both painting and sculpture.

The first gallery we visited was taken up by a dimly lit sculptural installation by George Segal. The piece apparently was on loan to the museum; I can't find it on the MAG website. I don't remember many details, just a characteristic white figure seated on a bed. The work was affecting, and I took a lot of time circling it and taking it in.

From there we moved on to the permanent collection. What's most striking to me is the breadth of paintings the museum owns. Its holdings in 17th-century Dutch and Flemish works are particularly strong, with respectable portraits by van Dyck, Hals, Rembrandt (all gifts of George Eastman), and Jordaens. The MAG also has a fine still-life by de Heem and genre scenes by Steen, and Teniers the Younger. 17th-century Spain is represented by a vibrant and dramatic late work by El Greco.

The MAG's roster of all-stars from the history of western painting continues with Tintoretto, Gainsborough, Cezanne, Corot, Courbet, Degas, Vuillard, Bonnard, Matisse, Monet, Milton Avery, Stuart Davis, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O'Keefe, and Winslow Homer, whose The Artist's Studio in an Afternoon Fog is seen above and is the focus of this edition of "Permanent Collections."

This elegant painting is composed of four horizontal bands of varying monochromatic values. The dark, almost black strip of beach contrasts starkly with the the white foam of water that slices between the beach and the silhouetted buildings above. The beach also contrasts with and heightens the intense glow of the sun cutting through the gray afternoon fog.

The painting's simple structure reminds me of abstract paintings that would be created by other American artists decades later. In fact, my first thought when seeing The Artist's Studio in an Afternoon Fog on the MAG website was that Arthur Dove must have been influenced by the way Homer straddles abstraction and representation in his work.

Thanks to the breadth of the Memorial Art Gallery's collection, visitors can see first hand the apparent influence of Homer on Dove by looking at the latter artist's Cars in a Sleet Storm, which also hangs on the museum's walls.

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