Anthony Thieme, by Judith A. Curtis (published by the Rockport Art Association) is an inspiring tribute to one of America’s greatest landscape painters.
I bought the book partly because my mother* had studied with Thieme (as she always called him) around 1935-36 in Annisquam and Rockport, Massachusetts.
However, I also fell in love with Thieme’s use of light and shadow.
The cover of the book (above) is an example. Among many artists, Thieme was respected as the “Master of Sunlight and Shadow.”
(Note: I scanned that book cover since I couldn’t find it online. Oh, I’d bought the book, new, but you can see from the evident wear, it’s been read often!)
The photos of Thieme’s artwork, inside this book, are rich and juicy. For me, they’re an example of some of the best landscapes and seascapes. His colors are authentic, and a reminder that color is a key element in any composition.
My mother always included something red — usually a cadmium red or red-orange — in every painting. She used that area to energize and balance each painting, so the eye never lingered on one spot too long. I’m pretty sure she learned that from Thieme.
Despite my enthusiasm for the paintings in this book, my mother said, “I’m sure some of these prints were from old paintings that needed a good cleaning as they are dark. Thieme’s work always had much clean sparkle of sunlight to them.”
Whether or not the book’s photos show the paintings as glorious as they were when painted, they’re still magnificent.
Thieme’s life story is fascinating, albeit sad.
He was born in Rotterdam, Holland in 1888, and — as a child — he was not encouraged to become an artist. So, around age 17, he went to Dusseldorf (Germany) and studied art there for three years. Then, Zurich (Switzerland) attracted him, and — from there — he and a companion decided to walk to Italy, painting as they traveled.
It was the beginning of a life of adventures and art.
During the following years, Thieme explored the world. His stops included Naples (Italy), New York, Rio de Janero, and Paris.
From 1929 until 1943, he directed the Thieme Summer School of Art in Rockport, Massachusetts. One of his favorite subjects — painted as many as 400 times — was Motif #1, and Thieme’s paintings helped to make that landmark famous.
Though Thieme felt that Rockport was his true home, he continued to travel abroad. For him, the passage of time and the pace of modern life were challenges, made even more brutal by his personal experiences.
In May 1940, Hitler’s forces had bombed Thieme’s childhood home of Rotterdam. According to my mother, he “lost much family in those terrible years.”
Thieme tried to balance that tragic backdrop with the exhilaration of modern living. Sometimes, fast cars weren’t enough to escape the ugliness and disappointments of encroaching modernity.
Thieme continued to paint at a remarkable pace, always finding ways around life’s obstacles and seasonal challenges, and shrugging off criticism from fellow artists. (Some called him “the puddle painter.”)
This book documents much of his originality. For me, it’s a reminder of the near endless creativity of dedicated artists.
I mean, really, he cut a hole in the floor of his car so he could stand up and paint landscapes in it, when winters were bitterly cold.
That’s an inspiring story, and just one of many in this book.
Much of the book is simply color prints of his paintings. The commentary with them is especially helpful. Though a picture may be worth a thousand words, a few pointers here and there — about using a flat sky or an all-blue palette for distant landmarks to provide a sense of depth — make a world of difference.
Thieme’s life and work have been overlooked by many art students who choose the more facile path and study more famous artists.
Whether or not the paintings are darker than they should be, this small book is a steady source of inspiration, and a reminder of why I paint.
*My mother was Muriel Joan Bernier (1919 – 2010), a 1940 graduate of Massachusetts College or Art. She was a protegee of Ernest Major, and a noted New England landscape and portrait painter.