This spring, the Portland Museum of Art
will present From Portland to Paris: Mildred Burrages Years in France, an exhibition devoted to the work of Portland-born artist Mildred Burrage (1890-1983), who as a young aspiring painter traveled to Giverny, France in the early 1900s. On view April 21 through July 15, 2012, the exhibition will feature more than 70 works of art including paintings, drawings, and never-before-exhibited letters from a collection of works given to the Museum in the 1980s as well as works on loan from private collectors.
While Mildred Burrage was a prolific artist up until her death in 1983, this exhibition will celebrate the crucial, formative years (1909-1914) of her life when she traveled abroad and was introduced and exposed to modern European movements. There, Burrage trained her eye on the landscape, creating oil paintings and filling sketchbooks with images in her distinctive Impressionist style. She wrote copious letters to her family back in Maine, detailing her adventures and providing vivid accounts of the artists, dealers, and distinguished figures whom she encountered, including French artistic legend Claude Monet and avid collectors Gertrude and Leo Stein. The exhibition will reflect this unique time of innocence, ebullience, and optimism in Mildred Burrages life and career, and in the American and European psyche before the onset of the First World War.
Many of the letters in the exhibition, carefully transcribed by Maine State Historian and co- curator of the exhibition Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., are delightfully annotated with drawings and watercolor sketches. The exhibition will also include a special display evocative of a turn-of-the-century artists studio and will feature works by other artists who painted in Giverny represented in the Museums permanent collection and on loan from private collectors. Mildred Burrage took her first art classes from Portland artist Alice H. Howes. Encouraged by her family, Mildred continued her art studies at Miss Wheelers School in Rhode Island. Miss Wheeler owned a cottage in Giverny, France, and invited Mildred to spend the summer painting there in 1909. Under the direction of Miss Wheeler and other painters in the area, including American expatriate artist Richard Miller who became her mentor, she painted countless paintings and sketches of the landscape and of the French villagers whom she met. Her works reflect the influences and inspiration of Miller as well as Monet, with their portrayal of light and shadow, and use of fluid brushwork and bright natural colors. She exhibited her works in exhibitions in Paris as well as submitted them to exhibitions back in the States. She traveled widely throughout Europe until 1914 when the onset of the First World War brought her back to Maine.
Throughout her travels in Europe, Mildred enthusiastically recounted her adventures in postcards and letters which she sent to her parents and sister back in Maine. In a postcard from 1909, for instance, she described with delight a day in her life painting in Giverny:
The river is a good deal wider than the Kennebec. It is the loveliest country you ever saw, the red brown roofs, the white houses, and the green fields. I have been painting all the morning, and we are just going to begin again. Tell mama Miss Wheeler said most encouraging things to me this morning
Probably we are going to Paris Sunday. Notre Dame. I hope we will be there for the music. I would give anything to have you here. It is so new and such fun. Heaps of love from M.
While this exhibition will focus on the early moments in the artistic career of Mildred Burrage, she went on to become a force in Maine through to the end of her life. An active advocate for historic preservation and a champion for the arts, she established the Lincoln County Cultural and Historical Association and spearheaded numerous preservation projects.
This project is related to the exhibition The Draw of the Normandy Coast (June 14-September 3, 2012) which will also be on view at the Museum through the summer of 2012both exhibitions will celebrate the lure of northern France for American and European artists.
The exhibition is curated by Margaret E. Burgess, The Susan Donnell and Harry W. Konkel Associate Curator of European Art at the Portland Museum of Art, and Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., Maine State Historian. A full-color catalogue will be published with this exhibition.