DescriptionDIXIE SELDEN (American, 1871-1936)
The Little Harbor, Concarneau, Brittany, 1926
Oil on canvas
20-1/4 x 16 inches (51.4 x 40.6 cm)
Signed and dated lower right: Dixie Selden / 1926
Titled and signed on label verso: The Little Harbor / Concarneau Brittany / by Dixie Selden / Summer 1926
The Closson Art Galleries, Cincinnati (label verso);
Private collection, Callicoon, New York.
In her 1932 history of Ohio Art and Artists, Edna Maria Clark devoted special attention to Dixie Selden, the Impressionist landscapist and portraitist, President of the Cincinnati Women's Art Club, and active member of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors:
Miss Dixie Selden is one of the most beloved personages in Cincinnati. Of her Mrs. Alexander writes this happy encomium: "We always owe a debt of gratitude for her paintings. They jog us out of the monotony of dullness of everyday life into a joyous mood. There is something so very deft and gracious about them that it casts a glamour over all."1
"Joyous," "gracious," and "glamorous," Selden's paintings were nonetheless born out of years of serious training, both in America and abroad, an unusual professional distinction for her day, likening her to Mary Cassatt. From 1884 until 1890, Selden trained at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, honing her talents with Frank Duveneck, a father of American Impressionism and her lifelong mentor, who at this same time was shaping the careers of John W. Alexander, John Twachtman, Frank Benson, and Edmund Tarbell. Duveneck taught Selden the importance of vivid colors applied in broad planes and gestural brushwork, the "real foundation of a picture."2 For her part, Selden impressed Duveneck with her sympathetic, soulful portraiture, even receiving a commission from him to paint his own likeness, which won an award at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1919. Author Clark waxed poetic about Selden's indebtedness to Duveneck:
Dixie Selden speaks beautifully of her master, Frank Duveneck, and her output speaks eloquently of him, too. She attacks her work with a directness that is born from Duveneck's teaching. Her technique is fluent, her stroke is fresh, vigorous, and dexterous, whether she is painting a portrait or a flower composition.3
It was also Duveneck who helped broaden Selden's subject matter beyond flower painting and portraiture by encouraging her to travel abroad. During the summer of 1910 Selden studied in Venice with Duveneck's friend and colleague William Merritt Chase, an experience opening her eyes to the exoticism of foreign cultures. Over the next two decades, she actively sought out genre and landscape subjects in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Scandinavia, the Middle East, Morocco, China, Japan, and Mexico, often exploring these regions in the company of another Duveneck pupil from Ohio, Emma Mendenhall. Daily village life, streetscapes, and countryside vistas now offered the raw material for Selden's Impressionist creations, a variety of which biographer Clark praised in Ohio Art and Artists:
"The Garden of the Royal Washington Hotel, Granada", [Spain] is delightful in an all-over interest made by the orange umbrellas over the tables, bright sunlight flickering in between yellow-green foliage, and the black suits of the waiters enhancing the colors - the whole composed into a beautiful pattern. . . . "The Outskirts of Taxco" [Mexico] presents a church spire in the middle distance where the street lines converge; the color pattern is vivid . . . with painted sunshine on the road, the houses, and the orange-red roofs.4
Among Selden's favorite foreign locales was Brittany in northwestern France, home of the Pont-Aven artist's colony popularized by Paul Gauguin during the 1890s and frequented by such American artists as Childe Hassam and Daniel Ridgway Knight. Like these artists, Selden was drawn to the nostalgic, picturesque sites of the coastal region, with its fishing industry and peasants in traditional costume:
Of Brittany, Miss Selden has made many accurate and interesting studies. "The Blue Net, Concarneau", is a gay and brilliantly colored composition of sardine boats anchored in the bay while their sails are drying. Calm, dignified Breton peasants in colorful costumes depicted with all the fidelity of her portraits, are redolent of the very spirit and environment of that charming land. 5
The Little Harbor, Concarneau, Brittany is a brilliant example of Selden's Impressionist technique, inspired by both Gauguin and Duveneck, applied to a landscape. Compositionally, the painting speaks to Gauguin's emphasis upon the two-dimensionality of the canvas, with geometric planes of color arranged in an overall pattern: here, Selden flattens the sardine boat and water-with-reflections into a collage of brown, blue, green, and white shapes, artfully banded by the stone-colored, triangular dock below and village above. Her trademark ordering of space around strong diagonal lines activates the entire composition, pushing the viewer's eye toward the background shore, where townsfolk stand as graphic cutouts against the lighter buildings. In fact, the prominent foreground boat acts as a form of synecdoche, symbolizing, and literally pointing to, the bustling village activity created by the fishing industry. True to Duveneck's instruction, Selden enlivens her forms with bold paint strokes -- for example, in the reflections in the water -- and a vibrant Impressionist palette. Remarkably, the coloration and brushwork of The Little Harbor, Concarneau, Brittany remain completely fresh: protected behind glass in its original frame, the painting has not received any restoration, making it that much more exceptional in Selden's oeuvre.
1E.M. Clark, Ohio Art and Artists, Richmond, 1932, p. 304.
2Clark, p. 88.
3Clark, p. 303.
4Clark, p. 304.
5Clark, p. 303-4.
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