By Vanessa Nesvig
Recently, we received an email from a patron who noticed something incredible about a work in our collection. The painting, titled John Calvin Stevens (1855-1940) by Portland native Claude Montgomery, is a portrait of the Maine artist and architect and is currently on view in our exhibition The Portland Society of Art and Winslow Homer’s Legacy in Maine. In the portrait, John Calvin Stevens is shown seated in an elegant interior decorated with a small landscape painting in the background to the left of the mantel. This painting-within-a-painting was originally assumed to represent a work by Stevens based on his involvement with the Portland-based painting group The Brush’uns and his dedication to the city’s artistic life.
Now, thanks to the keen eye of a visitor, we realize that this landscape image is not of a painting by John Calvin Stevens but, rather, is the iconic painting The Artist’s Studio in an Afternoon Fog by Winslow Homer. Homer’s composition is recognizable by the dark shapes, the glistening of light off of the water, and the halo around the sun—definitive characteristics apparent in the landscape near the mantel.
In 1901, Homer gave The Artist’s Studio in an Afternoon Fog to Stevens who asked for “any production of Winslow Homer” as payment for architectural plans he had drawn for Kettle Cove, a cottage at Prouts Neck that Homer used as a summer rental property. (Stevens had also worked on Homer’s studio in 1884 and 1890.) In a letter to Stevens that accompanied the painting, Homer noted, “I am very much surprised and pleased at your bill. This kind of thing occurs seldom in matters of business . . . I can greet you as a brother artist and thank you sincerely. I send you this sketch of mine that I think is appropriate and will please you.”1
1 Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. and William David Barry, “Brother Artists,” Bowdoin, Fall 1988: 18.
Image credits: (Top to bottom) Claude Montgomery, “John Calvin Stevens (1855-1940),” 1935, oil on canvas, 40 x 32 1/2 inches. Gift of the artist.; Winslow Homer, “The Artist’s Studio in an Afternoon Fog,” 1894, oil on canvas, 24 x 30 1/4 inches. Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester; R.T. Miller Fund.