Tuesday 17 September 2019

What lies beneath: Golden Heart Farm by Wilhelmina Weber Furlong

Golden Heart Farm by Wilhelmina Weber Furlong

Oil on canvas Courtesy Clint Weber and the Irish Georgian Society

Golden Heart Farm by Wilhelmina Weber Furlong
Golden Heart Farm by Wilhelmina Weber Furlong

Niall MacMonagle

On large canvases, placed on the floor, Jackson Pollock dropped and dripped paint from all four sides. Camille Souter prefers to paint on paper laid on a table but all artists hope that their work will, one day, hang on a wall.

For years, over a hundred paintings and drawings by the American modernist Wilhelmina Weber Furlong lay in cardboard boxes in a basement until nine-year-old Clint Weber discovered, in 1962, his great-grandaunt's work. Immediately dazzled by their colours, "as a small boy I saw the colours not the pictures", he thumb-tacked them to the wall. They were later stored under the bed but eventually Clint Weber, having spent his working life in the Navy, set about promoting Weber Furlong's work.

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Seen as the first American woman modernist, she was born in St Louis, Missouri in 1878 and when she died, aged 83, in Glen Falls, in 1962, her life and work had added up. She studied art in the US, lived and painted in Paris, Mexico City [she had been invited to Mexico by Carmen Diaz, wife of President Porfirio Diaz and her two-week visit lasted seven years], New York and taught art for over 50 years; she spoke four languages; and not caring for Wilhelmina, called herself Weber. In Paris, she knew Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Paul Cezanne and Matisse. Back in the US, her friends included Alexander Calder, Hopper and Max Weber.

When she married the artist Thomas Furlong, they set up an art colony at Golden Heart, the Weber family farm, at Bolton Landing New York on Lake George. Life at Golden Heart was a life she called "free from distractions". They grew their own vegetables, there was no electricity, no running water and their ad for summer art courses read: "Those who are looking for 'Smartness', for much frock changing, for veranda gossip, Bridge, Bohemianism, WARNING! Do not come here."

This still life, Golden Heart Farm, was painted there during the 1920s. "I start with an arrangement and then follow the mood or feeling I have at the time" was how she worked. Weber Furlong's early work of flowers, fruit, figure drawings in charcoal, watercolour, oils, was understandably conventional but Golden Heart Farm is an assured, vibrant composition. For Weber Furlong, "to live is to paint" and, here, the deliberately, almost awkwardly-placed, different-shaped objects on the table in an alfresco setting and the confident, hurried blue and black brush strokes, the landscape beyond, that bold orange on the right capture her love of the moment.

Wilhelmina Weber Furlong; Her Life. Her Art. Her Legacy. A Retrospective in association with the Irish Georgian Society at Knight of Glin Exhibition Room, City Assembly House, 58 South William St, Dublin until August 29.

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